Category Archives: Family Stories and Essays

Stories and essays about family and growing up on the road.

brothers grimm tree girl fairy tale

Justice And A Dictionary


brothers grimm tree girl fairy tale

 

Webster’s Dictionary 1947.
Justice; jus’tis n. (L. justitia, from justus, just.) The quality of being just; justness; propriety; correctness; rightfulness; just treatment; vindication of right; requital of desert; merited reward or punishment.

“Justice is just a word in the dictionary, Morgain.” A lawyer once told me. He continued, “You can go look it up in a dictionary if it makes you feel better.”

The man who molested me and attacked the eight year old girl in front of me when I was six is dead. I am free. Or supposed to be.

The detective in California who is hunting the serial killer told me the man who attacked the eight year old girl in front of me did horrific things to other children. He did terrible things to a lot of people, before and after us.

The other detective got quiet and looked me in the eye and he said, “I believe you.”

He told me he believed me and I started crying in that little room. At forty two, it was the first time I had ever heard anyone tell me that they believed me and that I was doing the right thing. He told me it good thing that I was reporting the attack. It was documented. It happened and I had survived it.

He came back into the little office interview room, the kind you see on Dateline with the weird acoustic polka dots in the walls and handed me a brown paper towel roll, the kind they have at school that cuts your face, to clean up all the tears.

They told me things I intuitively knew, but things I needed to hear that my family refused or was unable to say to me.

The detectives told me he did terrible things before and after us and was a horrible person and as bad as the serial killer they are hunting, he said, but alas, not the same man.

Their stories fit and overlapped each other. They both moved around, they destroyed lives, they attacked people and violated them wherever they went, and they continued to destroy. They did horrific things to people and then they died.

“You let them in your head.” My sister told me. “You weren’t raped.” She said

It was my fault I couldn’t let it go. I let them in my head, it was my fault for not forgetting. I wasn’t a good forgetter. I had a good memory and I remember every horrific thing that happened and the damage that happened.

“Let’s go to Chico’s !!” My aunt said when I told her I wanted to tell the police, just so it was documented and to find out what happened to him and to prevent it from happening to another child. “Nobody will believe the word of a six year old, Morgain.” She said. Then she gave me some Suzanne Somers books.

Some nights I wake up and I feel his hand on my throat, I hold my breath and I am six again.  He’s kneeling by the bed with a flashlight and he looks like Jesus. I’m too scared to move, too scared to breathe, holding my breath so I die so I don’t have to hear the sounds of the eight year old girl being attacked next to me.

He was living in our garage and our mother was in the next room sleeping. He was another drifter my mother had picked up and she already knew he had molested other children, but she needed him to do insurance scams for her. So, it was a tradeoff. He got to attack children and my mom got a proficient henchman.

My aunts lived nearby and visited frequently and they told me when I was an adult that this man terrified them. He terrified me too, but since I was six I couldn’t drive away and go back to my own safe home like they could, I tried to hide in the backseat of their cars when they left so they would take me with them.

Every time my aunt visited our house with her kids, we’d hide with our cousins in the back seat of her car on the floorboards under a blanket and try to go home with her when she was leaving. But she’d learn to check the backseat and halfway back to Aunt Peggy’s house, she’d flip a u turn and we were always marched back up to our own front door, back into the house with the madwoman and the scary pedophile man and whomever else was living with us at the time.

The attack I witnessed changed my view of the world when I was six. Before then, I felt safe when I slept. My cat would sleep on my chest, my sisters and I would snuggle like kittens and fall asleep laughing and whispering, but after the night he came into my bedroom with a flashlight, I never slept well again.

But he is dead. He died two years ago. I am free, or supposed to be.

Quotes and endorsements from good people.


Endorsement Page

“A fascinating and unapologetic insider account of a family run wild by a Borderline Mom and a philandering Hollywood Dad, that makes your typical dysfunctional family look like a day at Disneyland.” –Jim Clemente, FBI Profiler (Retired), Writer/Producer.

“Morgain is a driven and passionate actress and person. She has a keen awareness of entertainment industry and is working hard at her craft”-Scott David, CSA
 Casting Director

“Funny and heart breaking. The Travelling Roadshow Of The Countess Maritsa is a strangely relatable story for those of us who grew up in weird families. I loved it.”– Kirsten Vangsness ( “Garcia” on Criminal Minds) Actress. 

“Morgain has traveled the world, lived the craziest life and made it out alive and sane… Not many can say the same. It was truly my pleasure to welcome you into my home in Paris. We were young and we had fun, except for the theft :). I always wondered what happened to you and your Mother. I am so happy to know that you grew into such a great woman and a brilliant writer. Thanks for the memories.” – Liskula Cohen

A Facebook Memory Popped Up


morgain and nora hilton head 1990

Webster’s Dictionary 1947.
Justice; jus’tis n. (L. justitia, from justus, just.) The quality of being just; justness; propriety; correctness; rightfulness; just treatment; vindication of right; requital of desert; merited reward or punishment.

This picture was taken right before everything went from bad to horrific.

If I could tell myself anything in this picture, it would be to run far from my family and never look back. I would tell that sweet 16 year old girl who worked two jobs that summer to run fast and to not look back ever again. To find a new family or some form of family that was safe and who loved her for exactly who she was.

I would tell that sweet 16 year old girl who worked two jobs that summer to save herself 25 more years of grief, scapegoating, gossip and pain from the three adult women in her life who would be the greatest cause of heartache, anger, disillusionment and fear and who caused her the greatest damage.

I would tell that sweet kid that her aunts and her mother would be part of the cause of her mental breakdown in her late 30’s and the cause of the greatest sadness of her life. And I would tell that young girl that her mother only got worse and more dangerous over the years and that she destroyed many more lives and dreams and as many as she could because she enjoyed destroying people and their happiness because she was criminally insane.

There aren’t a lot of pictures of me from when I was a teenager. This picture was taken by a friend from high school who kept it somewhere for the last 26 years. Any pictures I have of me as a child or teenager were given to me my friends or people who kept them over the years.

There aren’t a lot of pictures of us when we were little kids either. My mom was mentally ill and frequently in and out of prison and mental hospitals, so we moved every 3-6 months usually leaving everything behind in a hurry because my mom was wanted by the police so we just split and left everything behind. I have nothing from my childhood and nothing from my teenage years except a Greyhound bus ticket stub from when was 18 and came to Los Angeles.

Mom never took a lot of pictures of us anyway, she was usually in bed in a dark room with 20 bottles of pills next to her bed, so I have no real photos from the past, only bits and pieces of what people have given me over the years or what they shared with me and my sisters on Facebook.

Before this picture was taken, my sisters and I had been homeless living with our mother in various cities and motels ranging from Australia to Los Angeles to Upstate New York and South Carolina. We had been homeless at 13 and 15 when my mother had checked herself into a mental hospital in New York and left us to fend for ourselves a year earlier. Our two older 17 and 19 year old sisters tried to care for us.

I would tell myself to look for happiness elsewhere because no matter how many times I would go back, it would always be the same. They would always accuse me of being my mother and resent me for looking like her and for existing.

At this point in this picture in 1990, I was 16 and working two jobs. We had already lived in three houses in a year on Hilton Head in this picture, and the worst was yet to come. But this summer was fun, when I was off.

My little sister was 14 and after the police started raiding our house shortly after this picture was taken, she moved up north with our older sister and got away from mom. I was the only one delusional enough to believe that Mom was really going to turn things around in England and start a new life.

My Aunt Maggie had already accused me of stealing from her house at this point but I didn’t know it at the time. She didn’t have the courage to ask me or even accuse me outright that something was missing from her house in California when we visited her a year earlier, she did it a cowardly way, they way dysfunctional families operate. With gossip and insinuations and scapegoating behind your back but super friendly to your face.

She had told everyone in the family, except me, that I had stolen a ring from her house but never confronted me or even told me that something was missing. I had no idea. I just remember always wishing she was my mom and that I wished I had a safe bedroom and home to go to like her house.

I didn’t know they had already marked me as bad and that for the next 26 years, the family would dump all of their anger and hatred they had for my mother on my 16 year old shoulders from then on in this picture, and that it had already started and I hadn’t even realized it.

A year later after this picture was taken, when mom went to prison in London and I was starving and homeless in London in 15 degree weather and I called my aunts for help.

They turned me away, asked me where the ring I had stolen from Aunt Maggie was and then left me to fend for myself and deal with their psychotic sister on my own, when they should’ve taken care of this problem 20 years earlier when they had known what a dangerous person she was and how badly her children were being abused. Alone, penniless, homeless, underage and in a foreign country for the next three months. If I could tell myself anything in this picture, it would be to run far from my family and never look back because it would never change.

My Aunt Maggie accused me of stealing from her house again when I was 35 and that’s when I started to realize that my family was dangerous for my health and bad for me spiritually and as a human being. The best thing I’ve ever done is to take necessary legal steps to keep dangerous people with documented histories of mental illness by metal health professionals to keep safe distances from me and my happiness and home.

Over the years running my own business, I’ve created a life for myself working with animals and nature, writing and creating and my life is rewarding and nurturing.

I learned how to put myself first after years of making mistakes. and even though it’s a job where you never get a day off, ever, it’s a job I love doing and it’s incredibly healing.

Being outdoors and nature and trying to disengage from electronics has really helped me overcome having difficulties in life, and I think the more mistakes I make, the more compassion I try to have for others. I think after years of trauma, finding a profession or a job were you have a a steady income is essential for survival and finding areas of my life to enjoy and fun hobbies are necessary for being part of being a human and creating a happy life.

I think I would tell my 16 year old self in this picture that it was going to work out because she was an incredibly resourceful girl who was a hard worker and to pay the food expo guys more to run the food because the hands and wrists give out way too early from waitressing so long. I’d tell myself that I was really proud of her and how hard she came and for how long the road was.

Whenever I’m trying to work on my  most whole and relaxed and confident self, I just remember the warm feelings of love when I’m surrounded by my animals and true friends who support and nurture my spirit.

Learning these things along the way shows you what a bad relationship is; when you’re happier away from them because it’s so painful to be around them.

The put-downs and insults and dysfunction; after awhile it’s not worth the price of your happiness anymore.

Whether it’s with a guy or family members;  I had to learn how to walk away if it doesn’t change. From now now I’m not wasting any more years being mean to myself.

 

 

Garden (for the gun merchants)


Red Apple and Silver Bells. A book of verse for children ... Illustrated by A. B. Woodward

The Child World. [In verse.] ... Illustrated by C. Robinson

Garden

(Song for the gun merchants/Rock Opera)

Kindergardeners
stand at the end of your bed
middle of the night
poverty cycles
Treason & Texans
look in your eyes
its your garden

Throw some seeds
Throw some seeds
Watch it grow
Watch it grow
You reap what you sow
you reap what you sow

Just like Isis
Just like the gun show
Just like the news
Just like your Gods
Just like your slaves
You reap what you sow

kindergardeners and slaves
stand at the end of your bed
middle of the night
Poverty cycles and prisons
look in your eyes
its your garden

Throw some seeds
Throw some seeds
Watch it grow
Watch it grow
you reap what you sow
you reap what you sow

Mojave Phoenix (For Sylvia)


Desert flower rocks

You can be happy
or you can be right
my sister told me
about wanting to win
one dark night
A housewife mantra
to get though the day

But later
after the deaths
and the poisons
and my outrage
her mantra washed over me
like the Mojave

You have to respect 
anything
that survives 
in the desert
my father told me

The searing white sky of noon
flashed light milky blue
Like Lazarus winking
The old one-eyed cat
who stared at me
from under the house
and who’ll survive us all

The mountain range
dry and still
as a rusty dustbowl handsaw
left behind on the horizon
to orient the Van Nuys pilots
who buzz by
racing their small gasoline
lawnmowers of the sky

The wind 
scatters my old scales
over scorched earth
little parts of me

flaked off, blown about
this no mans land
Lot’s wife awakening
Flakes of stone

flakes of gold

flakes of silver
baked off
brushed off
scrubbed off
raw new skin exposed

underneath the cracked sage
and bleached pavement
gathering dew
from cool spots and quiet shelters

When the purple evening finally comes
the crickets under the sage and chaparral
tune up in their ancient amour
and they start to sing to me.

 

The Day The Animals Came To Save Her…


Nature hikes can heal you.
Nature hikes can heal you.
My animals
My animals

This is the beginning of the story about how I started my company, “Moon Dogs Pet Sitting & Urban Farm” and how several animals came into my life, unannounced, unexpected and completely overwhelmed my life with love when I needed it desperately.  This is the story about how they saved me spiritually and financially.

I’ve been playing around with different titles and ideas, but so far, this is the best one I could think of that shows what happened.

It was a very unhappy time in my life. I was coming to terms with my abusive family, no money and hated my stand-in job. Being a stand in is like being starving and having someone cook a bacon wrapped filet in front of you for three years while you watch. It’s frustrating being on set and so close to the job you dedicated everything in your life to; but everyone treats you like a ghost. They don’t see you. You are a prop for lighting.

Late one night, driving through the ghetto at two o’clock in the morning, a little scruffy white dog ran in front of my car from under broken down car where she was living…..

Le Conciergerie Act I & II


Gargoyles Notre Dame
Gargoyles; Notre Dame.  Photos by Kimberly Lewis

gargoylesparisconciergie

Le Conciergerie
Act I

         The gargoyle winked at me.  Her twisted faced startled me at first when she came to life; and I wasn’t sure what she was trying to tell me; but then I realized she wanted to be my friend.

She had an old stone face and had seen many to their deaths; but somehow, she knew I was innocent of this crime. I still wasn’t sure why I had been arrested; but I knew it had something to do with my mother.

She ruffled her wings like she had been sitting there for three hundred years waiting for the guilty to come by so she could heckle and hiss at them. She was very excited that they had a new visitor and hadn’t seen many American teenagers.

She was small for a gargoyle, smaller than her family members who lived in the eaves of Notre Dame across the street. Her family across the street were the rock stars of French gargoyles, the big ones; you’d see their pictures splashed across postcards and artwork; but this little one was an authentic gargoyle that not a lot of people saw.  You would have to know where to look and where the real door to the staircase to the prison was, and only real prisoners of Le Conciergerie who had stayed in the her belly knew.

The good-looking blonde gendarme who was taking me through the small side door into the ancient prison didn’t see the wink; but I saw her little bat face and she saw me. She was trying to get my attention and flittered her wings a little, and winked at me again. It happened in a slowed down second; like the kind they talk about right before you die or think you’re going to die.
If you weren’t looking, she could have easily blended in with the magnificent stonework of this ancient building, but she was the guardian of the door and I saw her, because I was supposed to. The artist who created her had perched her perfectly so her face was the last thing you saw on your last day of freedom.

You only saw this little one when when you realized you were looking at the sky for the last time before you died in prison from sickness or were about to be publicly guillotined.
She stretched and blinked a few times and looked around; then she became quiet and still and morphed into a little stone garden gnome again. The cops were looking up at her when they followed my eyes and she was just a little piece of stone again.

A piece of architecture.
The cops opened the door and gestured for me to go inside.
I looked up at her once last time.

She winked at me again and nodded to the officers; to let me know it was going to be okay, right before they led me down the circular stairs to book me into the prison of Le Conciergerie.

Act II

       “Nom.”  The little French nun with the sweet face looked at me and handed me a pen slowly; like an elaborate ritual. Like getting your first communion.  The sweet faced nun didn’t speak English. None of them did and I only knew a few words in Latin and French.

I laughed softly because it sounded like she said “gnome” and I thought of my little friend above the door outside who would be very upset if she were called a gnome and probably would hiss at a nun if she were provoked.

We were sitting and the book was in front of both of us. It very large book that two of the nuns brought out and were huffing and puffing when the police had brought me in to them when the nuns asked the police to uncuff me.
The police had left and said they’d be back tomorrow.

“Zis is where we put bad girls.”  The grumpy one had said, and gestured around the ancient prison.

The cops all laughed but then quieted down when the nuns gave them a look; then they turned and left and went home to their families.
I watched as two of the nuns struggled to carry the massive book into the underground cavernous room we were in and put it on the desk.

It was a huge book that took up most of the desk; the kind you would see at Hogwarts. I had never seen a book that old or big and they wanted me to sign my name.

The book’s pages were old and cream colored and smelled like books from an antique store.The familiar smell wafted up and made me feel like I was safe.
This book was special to them and when they opened it to my page; was filled with signatures of people I would never meet but would know them in an instant if I ever did.

I took her pen and started to write.

New Rock Opera Song. “Scapegoat”


PinkCatStroller

Scapegoat

What you gonna do when your scapegoat’s gone?
What you gonna do when your scapegoat’s gone?
Everyone’s gonna know what you did,
by the end of this song

Go find another girl to abuse
You’ll find a new girl to abuse
Try my sisters;
They’re used to it too.

You think this song is about a boy; but you’re wrong
It’s about wicked people who’ve abused too long

You have three mansions and a car
You have three mansions and a car
but I know what you did to get it.

I know what you did to get it.

You lost your ring, it’s my fault
You lost your mind, it’s my fault
You lost everything, it’s my fault

My favorite day

was when I was six

going to your house

but not anymore

~Morgain McGovern

London in Winter

London, February, 1991 Homeless


London Winter Night

London, Feburary, 1991

The icy slush water from the High Street Kensington sidewalk seeped into my boots again as I made my way out of the tube station and the cold blast of air that hit me as I came up the stairs was a reminder that night time was coming and almost here.

My hands were raw and cracked and they wouldn’t stop shaking. They would go from red, to pink and then to white when I warmed up, but the most irritating thing were my feet, I couldn’t warm them up, no matter what I did.

They were frozen, wet and numb and a large hole had worn in the right sole of my worn out boots; which were now thin from constantly walking and taking the subways and couch surfing at my friend’s houses. The left boot had a crack higher up on the left side near the seam and sole, so it wasn’t as terrible as the hole on the bottom of the right boot, but both feet and my socks were frozen and wet; all the time. The icy wind rattled right through my chest; and the combination was making me colder.

I knew wet and cold and sleeping outside and in doorways and hallways was not a good thing from all the war and history books I had read in the motels and when we were on the road growing up  in the van with Mom and my sisters. I was Joan of Arc. I was a French Soldier fighting for freedom. I was not a match stick girl. I was a fighter who could handle this. I was not a victim.

I hurried along the sidewalk, while the last of the precious warm amber light of sunset was fading into dark purple shadows in the old stone buildings; and it was already incredibly cold outside. The city lights were on and little warm orbs of lights coming from the street shops comforted me. It was early evening on the high street and everyone was going home to their families.

I found out years later that this was some kind of freak, icy cold winter of 1990 and 1991 in London and I was just one of many unlucky homeless teenagers to be caught in it. February was the worst and the coldest.

I was trying to get to my school, Ashbourne Tutors to use their phone, I had to call my mom’s sister, Aunt Nora, and beg her for help.

I didn’t have a place to sleep that night and all of my friend’s parents had let me stay at their places already and my situation scared their parents. Their parents wanted to know where the rest of my mom’s family was and why weren’t they here trying to help me? I didn’t know how to answer them.

I ducked into Marks & Spencer to try to get warm inside, and pretended to be a shopper. Sometimes I would hide the department store bathroom first to warm up and clean up.

Nobody bothered me because I was blonde and white. They thought I was just another rich American teenager. I used the makeup in the beauty counters and pretended my mom was coming soon to meet me and we’d buy some stuff as soon as she got there. The pretty ladies behind the counter would give me smiles but then when they saw my scruffy boots, they knew something was up. Rich kids don’t wear old boots like that. My coat and black ensemble leggings were passable, but the beat up boots gave me away.

My mom was in prison, the cops had taken my passport so I couldn’t leave the country in case they needed me to testify against mom.

It was two months after my  seventeenth birthday and I wasn’t old or savvy enough or emotionally stable enough to get a job in a foreign country. Every time someone asked me where my family was, I would start crying and mumbling.

I was trying to make it to my school, Ashbourne Tutors, before they closed, so I could use their phone and call my Aunt Nora. She would help me and save me. There was nobody else to call, she was the only one left who could help me.

My father was a raging, abusive alcoholic and the last time I saw him, he had his hands around my mother’s throat and was trying to throw her off a balcony in California.

My mother’s father had died; but he had stopped stepping in to clean up her horrible messes when he got remarried about 10 years earlier.

My mothers’ brother Bernie lived in Connecticut and was wealthy and had a good job, but he and his wife, who was my godmother, didn’t really seem to like me. I think they thought I was like Mom, and apparently I had too much emotional baggage for the people of Darien, Connecticut to handle.

Mom’s family would handle her regular arrests that left her children defenseless & homeless by throwing some money her way when we lived in motels for months, but it never really helped the actual problem, because she would always fail, again. We’d move into a house and live there for three months, and then move again when we got evicted.

Our mother was unemployable and mentally ill, and everyone in her family had looked the other way for most our lives and gave her minimum amounts of money to move us out of motels;  but the real problem was that she wasn’t a fit parent and nobody wanted to step in and raise four physically and emotionally violated girls; especially when they resented their sick sister so much. They last thing they wanted to do was to raise her four daughters.

Mom’s family didn’t step in when were she had the Charlie Manson types living in our garage when we were toddlers, or when we were homeless kids living in motels and dangerous situations.

They weren’t going to step in now. They had made it really clear that they had their own families and I wasn’t part of it.

My mom’s other sister, Aunt Maggie lived in California and was a schoolteacher. I had seen Aunt Maggie when we had gotten back from Australia when mom was on the game show there; and she wouldn’t let us sleep at her house when we got back. We had taken a shuttle from the airport after a 24 hour flight and she turned us away and told us to go to a motel. It looked like she was done with Mom abusing her and said stuff was missing from her house after the last time we stayed, so we weren’t welcome there anymore.

Aunt Nora was the only one I remember with any warmth, she used to take us roller-skating in Balboa Park, all of us four girls and our two cousins, little Maggie and Matt. We’d all pile into her green Volkswagen Bug and putter off to the park to skate. She was magnificent, beautiful and tall, with flowing strawberry blonde hair that gleamed in the sun. We’d listen to the album Hair and watch her dance and spin around with her hair fanning out and spinning like a gleaming hummingbird. We would make up dance routines and I planned my own rock opera and Aunt Nora would be the star of it.

Aunt Nora was there at the hospital when I was born and the first memory I have. She had lived with us until I was six years old. But in 1980,  she moved away to Texas and married the computer guy from MIT and they started their own computer company and they started having their own kids.

She was my mother’s youngest hippie sister who married a smart guy from MIT when he was on his bike; when they were in their 20’s and were now a multi-millionaires. She and her husband owned multi-million dollar a year semiconductor brokering business in Houston that they started out of their kitchen. My oldest sister Meagan was close to her. Meagan was moving to Houston soon to go to college and be Aunt Nora’s nanny. She might’ve even been there now, I didn’t know. I hadn’t talked to them in awhile because after Mom got arrested the day after Christmas; the cops locked the house we were renting and I moved in with friends and started couch surfing.

My oldest sister Meagan was a waitress at Pizza Hut and putting herself through community college. My second oldest sister, Katie was 19 and just had a baby and was raising my youngest sister, Erin, who was 15 and living with her in upstate New York. We all had been working since we were 14, because we had to. Sometimes Mom would ask for our tips.  My sisters couldn’t help me, and I didn’t want to call them to tell them I got tricked by Mom, again. They already knew. I was the only one who really thought Mom would spin our lives into gold and we’d magically start a new life in England and she’d get a job as a writer.

I had fallen for the story again. The one where we moved to a new city and she started over and became the parent I needed her to be.

But I knew Aunt Nora would save me, she would come out here and help me get out of this horrific mess and take me home to live with her and her family, she loved me. I could help nanny too. I knew she would save me from Mom, homelessness and this terrible, terrible cold shivering that I could not shake. She would send help.

My hands stopped shaking when I finally got to the third floor of my old school, Ashbourne Tutors, above Kensington market. They had these old fashioned heaters that hissed in the hallway when you came in and I would sit there and warm up until I felt better.

The Headmaster was a kind Canadian and had let me go there for free after he had found out my Mom was in Holloway Women’s Prison, but I didn’t go to class anymore.  I couldn’t sit in class with all these super rich happy kids who had houses and parents and a bedroom to go home to and things to look forward to. They showed me everything I didn’t have and parents I would never have.

I would go to the school to get warm and see my old friends. I used their phone when I needed to and leave as soon as I could. I was the homeless kid of a con artist and didn’t belong there.

Lately I was going to the school to use their  phone at night, before they closed, so not a lot of people would still be there. I didn’t want to see my old teachers anymore. Late evening was the best time to come into the school, get warm and maybe steal a hot cup of coffee from lobby without seeing too many people.

The teachers at this school were so kind to me that I would start to sob uncontrollably. It was embarrassing. I didn’t know why it hurt more to have someone be kind to me than to tell me what a loser I was.

London To Paris-On The Run


March 1991

London to Paris
On the Run

March 1991-London

Most people seldom realized my mother was insane when talking to her, but I knew.

When I was young, standing around my mother’s knees, I loved listening to her voice and watching people fall under her spell. At the time, I thought everyone loved her as much as I did. She had a smooth throaty voice that was rich yet feminine and it could turn into velvet when she wanted something.  It wrapped around you like the warm blanket of an opiate high.

With all the adventures and carpetbaggery and pills in her life; she still could keep all the lies together in that racing, manic mind and spin tales so casually when dealing with her newest victim.

Mom told tales of woe that were simple for others to understand- but her specialty was finding people with money and getting it out of them.

My mother was a master illusionist. Most people who got swindled by her would agree later on; she had a way about her.

She was witty, educated and articulate-with a genuine protectiveness for the uneducated and downtrodden.

Her face would captivate you; she had bright blue eyes of a true Irishwoman and the smooth white alabaster skin of her Mother’s Polish roots that had bewitched many a lover during her days in Greenwich Village on Jane Street. Despite being heavy later on in life, she was always considered beautiful because she carried it well.

On the day she jumped bail after several months at Holloway Women’s Prison, she called me from a pay phone at her bail hostel in Oxford. If she stayed for her court date, she said, she’d be locked up for more than a year. She told me to start packing, because she’d be by to pick me up in an hour.

Looking back now, I realize I would have done serious time had I been caught helping her escape, but, I was seventeen and thought I could save her from herself.

Anyway, I knew it was time to get the fuck out of dodge; it was just a matter of time before I caught for performing the traveler’s check scam she taught me. The con had kept me fed while I was on the streets, but it was still considered theft in the eyes of her majesty’s courts and I didn’t want to end up sharing a cell with my mother.

It was around mid-afternoon when I heard her pull up to Amanda’s apartment in a black shiny London taxi. I was rushing around, packing up the last of my shit, when I looked out of the open window, down to the wet street and saw her getting out of the cab. I dropped my cigarette with a shaking hand and stared at her.

The few short months in prison had changed and hardened her, she’d lost weight and her face was ashen. For the first time, she’d been in prison for months, not just the few days that she was used to. I had told her over and over again that the computer age was upon us, but she kept running her old scams and ended up in all the systems. I began to believe her when she told me England was trying to kill us.

“We have to go,” Mom said as she walked in Amanda’s East end apartment in Stoke Newington. She looked around at the bare living room and her eyes settled on me, she was edgy and restless. “Now.” she looked at her watch. She didn’t bother to chat with Amanda; who was by the window, smoking a silk cut.

I looked at Amanda and she understood. She and I were the same age and became friends in a strange way. Our mothers were cellmates together at Holloway.

Mom had begged Amanda’s mother to let me live with her daughter, because it was winter in London and I was sleeping on the streets or at friend’s houses. Her mom showed great compassion and Amanda and I bonded immediately.

We had a lot in common-we liked to get as drunk as we could on Thunderbird, smoke hash and laugh at the absurdity of life.

Amanda had a thick Cockney accent and was of mixed race. She wore matching Addias hoodie tracksuits and always had her hair up in a ponytail. She was Sporty Spice.  She had creamy cafe latte skin, with a spattering of freckles across the bride of her nose and her eyes were hazelnut colored with flecks of copper. She should have been a Bennetton model, but she was stuck in the ghetto and didn’t know how to get out.

Amanda had talents and one of them was being a professional when it came to rolling spliffs. She taught me how to roll quick, small ones you could puff on and toss in the bushes if a cop was nearby. Pipes were too much evidence to carry and get busted with.  Joints, as we Americans call them. Spliffs in England.

The Brits also have a different way of smoking out. When you smoke weed in a circle of friends in the U.S, you take a hit and pass it. In England, one holds on the joint for a few puffs and smokes 3 or 4 hits while everyone chats. If you pulled that shit in California, you would get your ass kicked for Bogarting the joint. Puff, puff pass, bitch. Everyone needs to get high. Now.

Oh, and they don’t have weed, grass, chronic or any of the green stuff over there. They smoke hash. And if you smoke too much or try to smoke it like grass, you will puke in a few hours.

Reality was something we didn’t like to deal with while our mothers were in prison together, so we got high. And drunk. But high during the day. We knew that if you drank during the day, you were an alcoholic. So we smoked hash.

Amanda would pull out a brown sticky square of hash and flick her lighter over the end corner of it. She would carefully sprinkle the crumbly brown hash over tobacco, which had been ripped out of a Silk Cut cigarette. She rolled it up in a Zig Zag paper and  light it. She squinted as the cloud of smoke wafted in her face.

She took a long drag of a joint and held it in as she spoke,  “Morgain, I’m just a half caste girl living in the ghetto. ” She blew it out and her eyes watered. “What kind of job can I get? I ain’t got nuffink, mate. No fucking education, no fucking money, not even me Mum.” She shook her head ruefully. She looked up at me, like maybe I had the answer.

I replied,  “At least your mum left you a house to live in when she went down in flames, my Mom left me holding a bag of shit. Pass that spliff.”

We’d dissolve into the giggles and insulate ourselves against the harsh world with laughter. The highs from the hash would take us to an innocent place where we could be like children again. She was the only girlfriend I’ve ever had that also had a mom in prison and we could tell each other the truth.

I’d smoke and smoke, taking deep long hits into my lungs, so it would fill up the aching in my chest. The fuzzy, creeping feeling that spread through my body made me feel safe.

I felt bad that Amanda didn’t have any sisters to share the misery of having a parent in Prison. At least I had my three sisters when Mom got arrested in the States. I thought about them and knew they were worried about me, but there wasn’t anything they could do. They didn’t have money to send me and were trying to stay alive themselves. And, I was too ashamed to tell them that she’d tricked me, again.

Now, Mom was back. I wasn’t sure why I felt so uneasy around her, but I could tell that she was in the dark places of her mind where not even I could reach her. My mother was gone, replaced by a strange, sinister woman with a wild, leaping look in her eyes.

Usually when it was time to run, Mom would laugh and say to us, “Let’s get this show on the road, kid!” or “You go where I go amigo!” but not this time.

I was packing my stuff in the bathroom and I caught my reflection in the mirror as I looked up from the sink. I was very pale and my eyes had a strange glimmer to them as well. They weren’t my eyes, they were like a street cat’s, skittish and not sure who to trust. Mom’s long stay in prison must have changed me too.

I said goodbye to my friend, thanking her for saving my life and from the bitterly cold London streets where I had been wandering, humiliated after I had to leave my posh school and friends in Kensington. I lugged my suitcase down the stairs and we got into the waiting taxi.

As the taxi puttered along to train station, I took a long last look out the window. When we fled from the detectives in the States, Mom told me she was going to turn her life into something good here and get a job as a writer. I had loved this city and all the hope it held for us in the beginning. Then everything had turned dark, like it always did before we had to leave in a hurry.

Waterloo station was coming up and I thought of the long trip before us. Getting out of England was going to be hard. Mom was supposed to be back at the bail hostel by now and it was getting dark. They would start looking for her soon.

Mom and I got out of the cab and headed towards the train station. She was slow and creaky from age and I turned around to wait for her. The wind whipped her grey hair up in tufts, in a comical way, like a picture of fun times from the rollercoaster rides at an amusement park. She smiled at me and I knew I couldn’t leave her. Another round in prison would kill her.

We could start over. Mom would never be able to get a job with all the police and detectives looking for her, but somehow, starting over sounded right.

Going to France would buy us some time to come up with a solution. Maybe the detectives would realize she was mentally ill and needed help, not prison.

She was supposed to be back at the bail hostel in Oxford by dusk, and it was definitely dark now. We still needed another hour on the train south to the ocean.  Then we had to get on the ferry in Portsmouth.  Somehow, we had to get on the boat without Mom getting caught through their checkpoint and sent back to Holloway Women’s Prison.

When we got to the Waterloo train station, I realized sporting events were finally good for something. The British were invading France for the weekend so see their soccer team.  A massive crowd of  rose-cheeked men from Liverpool in soccer jerseys were flooding the station, trying to get on the last trains to the ferry. The were jumpy and excited, looking for a fight and a fuck.

These Celtic men were on fire and they were determined to stay as functionally drunk as possible. They carried cases of beer under their arms and most had backpacks filled with more supplies in case they ran out on the nighttime ferry ride over.

For once, the ancient rivalry between these two countries helped women. Well, they helped two Irish American gypsy women evade the law. Thanks, soccer.

As we went into Waterloo Station, I hugged her. Then we went over to the ticket window to buy our tickets to Portsmouth, where the ferry would be waiting.


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