Sunday, November 15, 2009

1968

Martin Luther King
There is no way to describe 1968 to someone who wasn't there. To be 16 years old and already freaked out in 1968 was a formative experience.

I stopped going to school. I would leave the house in the morning so that my parents thought I was going to school, and then come back home after they left for work, and drink all day, many times with lots of friends. (It wasn't as difficult to obtain alcohol under-age as it probably is now - I always had friends who could get it for me.) By April, my parents were told that if I missed one more day of school I would be expelled, so they allowed me to drop out. I should have been a junior in high school. I don't believe I had any credits at all. I had lost all of my freshman year due to the move from a Catholic to a public school, I dropped out in my sophomore year due to pregnancy, and now I was dropping out in my junior year.

Not only did my life seem hopeless, but frankly the world seemed hopeless. The chaos was so frightening. In April, Martin Luther King was killed. This is in the history books and everyone is keenly aware of this today. But I think what has been forgotten is the fact that in response to the killing, there was rioting, looting, and torching of cities. Cities were burning. At this time, I left Chicago to visit my brother in Ohio, and flew over the midwest... from the air it was horrifying to see the smoke rising from the midwestern cities of the United States of America. (I found the above photo in a publication from the UK.)

It was shortly after this that I attempted suicide for the first time. My parents sent me to stay with my sister in Boston and to be seen by a psychiatrist there. He diagnosed depression - what a brilliant diagnostician! And prescribed antidepressants. This was 1968 and there were no fancy schmancy SSRIs, I was started on a tricyclic, which caused me to sleep for 3 weeks. At the end of 3 weeks, I lied and said I felt much better and could I please go home? While I was gone, my parents had found an all-girls Catholic boarding school for me in Wisconsin - which I absolutely refused to go to. The psychiatrist agreed that it would be futile.... he said there would be boys in town and I would find a way to them even if I had to climb over walls. Nice. So, I was sent home with a bottle of pills.

A week or so later Robert Kennedy was killed.

It might sound like these killings were political or external issues, but to a 16 year old depressed girl, they were terrifying.

And another week or so later, I met a young man at a club I was fortunate enough to attend weekly in those days. Honestly, I have no idea why there was a teen club with world class live music at an affordable price - that you could stand and dance to! What? It seems so crazy now, but it was real. I saw some really great live music there. Anyway, I met a young man who had just graduated from high school and was going away to Southern Illinois University in the fall. He was an award winning student. He was a poetry writer. He was a speaker of foreign languages. He thought I was pretty cute, but thought I needed to make some major changes in my life. Gosh, writing this, I can maybe see why he seemed like a good guy....

He insisted that I knock off the drinking - at least when I wasn't with him. He insisted that I knock off a lot of the drug usage - at least when I wasn't with him. He insisted that I go back to school, which for me, was basically starting high school when I should have been starting my senior year. He insisted on a lot. And for some reason, I complied with a lot of this.

The really sad thing is? He "fell in love" with me and on the night before he was to leave for college, he decided he couldn't leave me and didn't go. That made me sick then, it makes me sick now. What a horrible, horrible mistake. Where were the adults? Why didn't his parents MAKE him go? This brilliant kid got a job at the post office and went to school at night at a community college.... oh good grief!

I did clean up quite a bit, with the help of this young man. In the fall, I went back to school. I signed up for every credit I could get. I signed up for night school - I took things like sewing and typing classes for easy credits, anything to get me to my goal, which was to graduate in 1970, only one year later than I should have - which was a lofty, lofty goal.

I have a photograph from Christmas of 1968. I am sitting by the Christmas tree with my mother and father. I look healthy and happy. I am certain my parents were relieved that I was back in school and so focused on my goal of graduating. I think they didn't really like this new boyfriend of mine, but weren't going to complain because he seemed to have a good effect on my life. And my life had been in dire need of good effect. Things were looking pretty good right then.....

9 comments:

Pam said...

I am so loving your writing Mary. The story though sad, is your personal story and you are telling it well.
It makes me realize that there are people walking into our program everyday with a personal story as well, and I need to remember that what I see is often times the result of their road thru life.

Beth said...

wow, great post.

Mike Golch said...

Mary,what a great posting.I admire your poeness for it.I too was a teenage when the Rev Dr.Martin luther King and Bobby Kennedy were killed.I thought that the world had gone completly mad.

Ed G. said...

Because of your wonderful writing, I remember my fear and confusion and all the ways I tried to cope.

I think this is a good thing.

Blessings and aloha...

Scott W said...

JFK was gone and that was scary. MLK and RFK made it scarier. Vietnam was looming large in my brain. I just wanted to be a hippy. Find utopia in San Francisco. Thank God I was too young...

Lou said...

I absolutely love the way you are weaving the history of the time into your personal story.

During my teen years, every time I opened my mouth it was to tell my parents a lie. That was before adults understood we really meant it when we said "sex, drugs,and rock n roll."

Oh, and thank goodness you have a better memory than me.

Mary LA said...

I remember talking to somebody who had grown up black in Watts -- the terror of that civil rights struggle. Missisippi burning. And in South Africa we had Sharpeville and the anti-apartheid protests.

Human beings at the heart of history.

Syd said...

I am sure that writing and remembering this isn't easy. I can remember some of 1968 but it seems long ago and not very significant compared to today. I guess that I have buried the past to an extent.

Just Another Sober Guy said...

I can just close my eyes and almost see it, like a movie in my mind. Incredible!