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The Great Gilly Hopkins

13 Jul

This book. Oh This Book. It meant so very much to me in 1978 when I was just a young child in foster care in Maryland. This book. Oh, this book. The parallels were beyond similar yet Gilly Hopkins and I were so incredibly different.

I was mean. I was angry. I was weary at such a young age. I was a fighter. I was bad. A twisted rebel rouser. Brewing. Ticking.

So Gilly Hopkins and I–though I loathed parts of her–were twins in print.

In the same year this book was released and I discovered it, I was sent to my very first foster home and my first group home after my kind gentle social worker removed me with police escort from the evil biological mother’s place. When I look back on this book and read the summary I realize that it was not just written in the very same year I went through similar turmoil, but that just like in my life the story took place in Maryland, of all places. Wow-ah.

All I know is this book was a light in a tunnel. It was a hand being reached out to me as I thrashed in a ditch. To be a kid and come upon a book that speaks to you in such a profound way. Oh! One day as an adult this book just popped into my mind, the details were murky except I remember the girl was just like me yet unlike me and that she was in foster care and she was troubled and that the cover of the book showed a girl blowing a huge bubble gum bubble and that she was a bully and that she didn’t like her foster care surroundings. That’s all I could remember in detail; it was the deep resonation of the book that I couldn’t shake.

Children book writers have the sheer power to save a life. Or two. Or thousands.

It’s like having18 toes and hobbling around in a world of 10 toes, feeling all lonely and different and abandoned, and then strolling into the school library one day and discovering a book about a person with 19 toes and how they survive while presenting their 19 toes to the world. As art.

Remembering Michael Jackson: Circa 1977

25 Jun

In the summer of 1977 I was sent to live with the Birth Conduit a.k.a. my biological “mother” (and I use the quotes generously) by my maternal grandmother who was getting sicker by the year. I was just too much for her to bear. I arrived at the Birth Conduit’s (B.C.) ugly near empty apartment in Maryland and sat there on the couch staring at the walls. Literally. I had a few things I had brought with me from my grandparents’ home. Just a few things. The B.C. made me throw out most of my precious belongings out of sheer cruelty. I wasn’t allowed to play outside. There was no TV watching allowed. No arts and crafts. Definitely no conversation. No affection. No food variety. Same ole crap every day. It was quite a hideous existence, suddenly.

There are so many things to write about such an evil person but bandwidth slash time slash not-the-place-here prohibits me from doing so. Not to mention this is a blog about my predominant right sideness, not my monstrous unstable childhood. But the point is, I sat in that solemn apartment in totally unfamiliar surroundings with awful punishments like being forced to stand in a corner of the living room–nose to the crevice where two walls met–for hours with not much but a couple of Jackson 5 records.  I also had Judy Blume’s book Blubber and Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy but those Jackson 5 records were my absolute lifeline. 

Though he was several years older than I, Michael especially was a kid (though on vinyl) that I could somehow relate to.

I had always been obsessed with M.J. and his brothers, but particularly him. His perfectly high pitched voice and his flawless dancing and his gargantuan soulfulness carried me through that new hell. It was already a doozy of a summer. Elvis died. Freddie “Chico & the Man” Prinze died. My childhood had its first real death. Child abuse began– instead of on an occasional visit the B.C. made to my grandparents, now it was on a daily basis.

So I listened to those two or three records on a tiny record player over and over and over careful not to scratch the precious vinyl.

“2, 4, 6, 8 who do we appreciate?’

“Got to be there”

“I’ll bet you”

I learned every single beat, chord, breath, sigh in each and every song. I could imitate Michael’s singing voice so well that it sounded like him singing over his own voice. On Christmas day I actually wondered what he was doing, if he was opening presents or eating cranberry sauce like I used to at my grandmother’s. I was obsessed with him, even before Maryland. In my grandmother’s living room. I acted out one-girl skits to each Jackson 5 song. (Sure, there were other albums on hand like Chicago and Helen Reddy and even Spike Jones but I’m talking about J5 here, the most prominent and exciting music for kids under our roof.)

I probably would’ve jumped out of that top floor apartment window and splattered on the pavement below had it not been for Michael (& his brothers). So even a year later his death feels like a stabbing, a robbery, a twister, a gaping hole-like devastation. Some people will only remember his latter weirdness and peculiarity; I can’t forget my childhood with Michael. I don’t want to forget.