Archive for March, 2015|Monthly archive page

Bridge Over Troubled Daughter

In The 60's on March 27, 2015 at 12:35 pm

I was a weird kid, that’s for sure-I had quirks and habits that must have driven my parents nuts, but at least I enjoyed being alone in my room (reading, making up fantastical stories of my parallel, imaginary, perfect life) and hey- I wasn’t clingy. Give me a book and you won’t see me for days.

What kind of quirks am I referring to, you might ask?

Perhaps the most maddening -because it was a daily occurrence- was my strange eating habits. I was completely obsessed with my food not touching. If a kernel of corn slid off the top of its little pile and collided into the meatloaf and/or mashed potatoes- bedlam ensued!

Even if I was starving (or super-hungry- let’s face it, no middle class kid is ever starving!), I would not (could not) touch either the corn, potatoes or meatloaf. As you can imagine, this did not sit well with my father, who would bellow “Ah, fongool, Annie! Just eat your damned food for chrissakes!”- but I could not. Knowing that a kernel had touched the meat was akin to witnessing deadly contamination-similar in revulsion to a cat peeing on my plate. I have no explanation for this ‘phobia’, but it felt painstakingly real.

My mother became exceptionally good at segregating the items on my plate, but it wasn’t foolproof, what with gravity and all. In some cases, after my alarm, my mom would slice off the offending corner of the meat, and toss the kernels with tell-tale dots of  potato shrapnel- but I would gag just thinking about them. It was best if she brought my plate into the kitchen and pretended to bring out a new plate of food, though my father saw this as cow-towing to a five year old, and the only person who should be cow-towed to in this house was him.

He tried to reason with me by pointing out that all of the corn kernels were touching each other and I could eat them, so what’s the frikken difference-( “jesus christ! Annie!”-he bellowed, because called me by my middle name) but logic wasn’t involved. I also hated milk (unless it was infused with Bosco) cereal, mayonnaise, gravy, onions- the list went on and on.

That being said, I had zero compunction when it came to eating an old, melted-to-the-cellophane butterscotch disc found in between the seats of the car, and I’d sneak  my grandmother’s dog, Peppy’s green, red and gold dog biscuits (shaped like bones) when visiting her cabin in the woods. I’d been known to pluck a dusty plastic grape or two, from my mother’s basket of fake fruit on the dining table- which I would argue was entrapment.

And this: I loved the smell of gasoline. Whenever we pulled into a gas station, I would roll down my window and breathe in the sweet smell of petrol like it was Chanel #5. The station attendant would be filling up the family car, and I’d be sniffing the air like a police dog in a grow house. How lucky this man was to be working in a place where he could smell that magical scent all day long, I’d think! When I grow up, I’m gonna be a gas-pumper!

Sometimes, I’d try to casually loiter around the gas cap of my father’s car in the driveway, just to see if I could get a few whiffs. If my dad caught me, I’d be told in no uncertain terms to stop lurking around the car or I’d  be in for a fanny whacking.

“That’s all I need is to pull out and run you over!” he’d yell “I need that like I need a hole in the head!”

I guess he thought a) I’d be invisible on the driver’s side of the car and b) I loved the smell so much, I wouldn’t notice that my father just opened the door, got into the vehicle, slammed the door, started the engine and threw it in ‘R’)

How ashamed he would be the day I got into Mensa!

Just kidding!

The only other way I could get my ‘fix’ was by actually being in the car when it needed gas. This led to requesting we drive to other states, the farther the better. Why not Disney World? That would require several glorious fill-ups! My parents probably feared I’d grow up to be a huffer, but thankfully that wasn’t the case. (The fact that I’m often ‘in a huff’ is a different thing entirely)

Another foible: Being afraid to cross bridges, especially the big ones that led from Manhattan into New Jersey, where we had relatives. As a kid, I’d have terrible dreams about bridges crumbling as we crossed them in the family car, so I would panic when I saw the majestic George Washington looming in front of us in real life, knowing with every fiber of my being that we’d soon be plunging into the Hudson river. I can’t overestimate how real my fear felt.  My heart beating loudly in my ears,  gray with flop-sweat and nausea, so by the time we paid the toll and rolled onto the bridge, I’d be weeping.

This may have garnered sympathy the first couple of times, but it got old quick (thankfully we didn’t cross large bridges too often) I would try and gulp in my fear, but once the toll was paid I would freak out, and the whole family would be in a frenzy ‘thanks to me’.

My father was unable to comprehend what a wuss I was- “Jesus Christ, Annie! Quit your blubbering!”, while my mother would be telling my father to stop yelling at me (and then she’d yell at me), and my two brothers-tasting blood in the water, would dig their P.F. Flers in for a good old fashioned Sister Takedown.

‘Scaredy Cat!’ morphed into ‘We’re gonna crash!’ by the next round. It didn’t occur to them that they, too, would be plunging into the river below- I guess they felt it was worth the trade-off of mocking me.

Halfway across the bridge I’d be belting out the sobs, as my father threatened to ‘pull over the car and wallop us all’, while my mother massaged her forehead with her index finger and thumb, shaking her head, no doubt wondering why we couldn’t be more like the family she’d actually had in mind.

Once we made it across the bridge I’d be relieved, even good-spirited, and the waterworks would dry up like a four o’clock downpour in the Panhandle.  I might even try and lighten the mood by joking about my phobia, elated that we’d survived, high on relief. My parents weren’t falling for it though- they knew the scene would be repeated later, on the return trip. And then it would be a long time before we went into New Jersey again. Which some might say I should be thanked for. (Not me. I loved Jersey- never more than when it when it coughed up one Mr. Jon Bon Jovi to MTV in 1984)