April 8, 2021

Do you have recurring dreams? I have two that intermittently wend their way into my psyche – and they make no sense to me at all. I’m pretty sure that’s their purpose; but more about them later. I decided to use this blog to discuss what I like to call the many “snippets” in my life, little moments that I can’t shake, that I remember for whatever reason, often at the most inopportune times. Some are obvious in that they represent seminal moments and predictably have shaped who I am and who I have become. Others are simply fragments of time that happened to me, little occurrences that, inexplicably, have stuck around as little reminders of my past. To me, they have no real significance, yet I remember them again and again. They are my snippets. Other memories, which take up more than a few minutes and traverse an abiding intrusion on my time, I have decided to call my “snuppets,” because they are larger than a snippet, but equally hard to understand in terms of why they are such a part of my mind and soul. Don’t bother checking, snuppet is not in the dictionary. I have considered delving into the writings of Drs. Freud and Jung to see if any of what I am experiencing has an actual name or condition, or if I am, as I fear, just simply weird. So, if you’re game, bear with me on this review of my snippets and snuppets. I will try to make it snappy. None of this will be in any type of chronological order. It’s not supposed to be. That would make too much sense.

Snakes are scary.

I had seen the snake a few days earlier. He had slithered into the garage. Any self-respecting husband would have killed the MFer. Not my self-respecting husband. He simply gently guided him out of the garage. A few days later, as I blithely walk inside the house from the garage, there he is half coiled, half upright, looking at me from a doorway with those beady eyes full of attitude as if to say “you didn’t expect me to stay away did you?” They say adrenaline provides one with an exceptional boost of strength. I am here to tell you it’s true. I dropped my purse and keys, with my left hand grabbed the railing and with seemingly the strength of a bodybuilder somehow flipped my terrified self around the corner and up nine steps in what I swear was one leap – at least that’s what my recollection was. A neighbor rescued me and took care of the errant reptile. I think this story qualifies as a snuppet. It needed to be told. I still quiver when thinking about it.

The pain of losing the ones you love never goes away.

I have lost both my parents (expected), two brothers, one at 27, the other at 45, my husband and my grandson. I think of them all and have specific memories/snippets about each constantly. I have a particular “Michael Moment” when I think about my brother who died of leukemia at age 27. Whenever I reach a certain intersection, without fail, he comes rushing to mind and invariably I will have a rush of memories, shed a tear as I remember a conversation, etc. I don’t know why. It’s sad but it’s also comforting and it does help with the mourning process. A “sub-snippet” that still kicks me right in the gut was the phone call from my daughter telling me through wrenching sobs that my grandson had died. I will never forget the anguish in her voice and I will never get over the sorrow of my husband questioning why God took that baby instead of him. It was a pain like no other. This snippet is replayed over and over. And it sucks. And I cry every.single.time.

Was I destined for prison or hell?

Another snuppet. Picture this if you will: I was four years old. We were living in Manhattan and I was supposed to be napping but what I was really doing was surreptitiously chewing a piece of Dentine gum and hiding the rest of the pack under my pillow. It’s pretty well known that four-year-olds are not exactly sophisticated in the criminal behavior department. You see, I had stolen, yes stolen that pack of gum earlier that day at the neighborhood market while out with my mother and two siblings. When my eagle-eyed mommy noticed my fidgeting and confronted me, I folded like a deck of cards with the ensuing tears and the dreaded “wait until your father gets home.” (As an aside, I am proud that I never used that threat with my kids. They were equally afraid of me as their father.) So, Daddy comes home. Mommy apprises him of my dastardly deed, and I am sure that I will be spanked, dinner will be withheld and no cartoons for me. What other punishment would I face? Little did I know that I would be tested to within an inch of my little four-year-old life. It would be a frightening prospect that would scare this little girl straight. Come on people. It was a nickel pack of gum for God’s sake. Pay attention to the word “God.” So, off we go to the grocery store to confess to the manager and to return the opened package as well as a nickel out of my little piggy bank. I was appropriately contrite and solemn. We left the market and began to walk home when suddenly, Daddy spied a police officer on the corner. He chose to stop and tell him of my evil deed. Mr. Police Officer was suitably horrified and explained to me in his stern manner that every criminal sitting in prison started somewhere, maybe just like me – with that one little pack of Dentine. I listened intently, but dry-eyed. I was thinking, “OK, I can get through this. We’re almost home.” Not so fast, little one. We were half a block from home when Daddy said, “I want you to tell Father What’s His Name what you did this morning.” This is when the hysterics ensued. I begged, cried, pleaded, “PLEASE DADDY, I learned my lesson, PLEASE DON’T MAKE me!!!!!” I was traumatized. Of course, Daddy, the stubborn Irishman, was undeterred. He dragged my screaming crying ass up the steps of the church where I had to tell Father What’s His Name my terrible sin in between my hiccups, snot, tears, gasping for air and general mental distress. Today I have TMJ and can’t chew gum at all, but I still have this damn snuppet. Ugh. Thanks, Dad.

Was I invisible or just insignificant?

Most people who meet me in adulthood refuse to believe that I am basically shy. I was painfully shy – withdrawn – as a child. I was so ill at ease that I would do everything I could to escape scrutiny. My comfort zone was being a helper – to my mother, teachers, neighbors, siblings. I was not comfortable in social settings, in my own skin. Conversation with adults and peers was painful. I just did not have the tools to master the skill. Today, you cannot shut me up. I am not sure where or when I turned the corner. Maybe I needed to grow up – or experience a few unpleasant moments that have since manifested themselves into my basket of snippets that continue to remind me of who I once was. There was that time when I was three years old. This was before we were living in Manhattan. We were living in the Finger Lakes region in Waterloo, NY. I even remember vividly what I was wearing – a red and navy plaid two-piece toddler ensemble, very fashionable I am sure, along with complementary red sneakers. I was leaning over my mother’s shoulder as she was feeding my newborn sister. In hindsight, I am guessing my mom was exhausted and urged me to go play across the street with my “friend,” Cindy. Cindy was the Alpha in the relationship, and I was her willing lapdog. She had beautiful blonde curls and I worshipped her. So, I blithely skipped across the street to visit my queen. I knocked on the door, giddy with anticipation. Cindy’s mom answered the door, alerted Cindy to my arrival and I waited outside preparing to soak up the greatness that was Cindy. Nope. Nope. Nope. Cindy sashayed to the door in all her four-year-old perceived haughtiness, stared down at me as if I were dog excrement, and told me in no uncertain terms that she was playing with so and so and she didn’t like me anymore and proceeded to slam the door in my face. What makes this story all the more pathetic (I was such a loser) is that my mom witnessed the whole sad scenario from our doorway. I stood there for what seemed like an interminable amount of time just staring at the door and shifting my weight, thinking I suppose that somehow, my Queen would have a change of heart and that I was just dreaming when I heard her say that she didn’t like me anymore. Surely this wasn’t happening. Years later my mom told me how she wanted to rush over and hug me, because I looked so sad and pathetic. What a loser.

Then there was that one Christmas. I was about nine years old. Some of my friends have heard this story. But the pain remains, and it bears repeating. Certain slights that have morphed into snippets, or in this case, a snuppet, leave a mark that smarts. I think I may have mentioned this to my therapist once or twice as well. I remember it well. It started in August. I told my mom that all I wanted for Christmas was a Patty Play Pal doll. For the uninitiated, a Patty Play Pal doll was a life-size doll which could wear clothing the average two to three-year-old could wear. I dreamt about the one I wanted. She had honey brown long, straight hair with bangs. She had freckles. She was so cute. I would be her nurturing Mommy. We would have a magical relationship. There were other PPP dolls, but honey brown hair was the one for me. Despite being from a large family, I was confident that my wish would be granted, because my parents were good about providing us kids with a good Christmas each year. Fast forward to December 25. We all waited with giddy anticipation to enter the living room where Mom and Dad and Santa had dutifully arranged all the gifts into well-organized piles around the tree. When we were finally permitted to enter, I turned the corner and saw with joy that my wish had been granted. There she was! Patty Play Pal with the beautiful honey brown hair stood in the corner in a pink and white pinafore waiting for me to embrace her! I was filled with joy as I ran towards her! In fact, there was another PPP too, her sister with short curly blonde hair, I suppose for my middle sister, six-years-old, who may have, in passing, mentioned to Mom, that she wanted the doll for Christmas too. Wait! What were those words I was hearing? “That’s not for you, dear. Your gifts are over here.” My mother motioned to a gift area on the other side of the room. But, there must be some mistake. There was no Patty Play Pal doll here. Instead, there was a record player, which apparently was deemed more appropriate. MY Patty Play Pal was given to my three-year-old sister, who was understandably over the moon with happiness. How could I squelch her joy by making a scene? So, I kept my mouth shut. I was devastated. No one ever knew. I hated confrontation and I didn’t want to cause trouble. But it still haunts me. Hence it is part of my snippets and snuppets. Sigh. I never got over it.

A quick snippet. My parents were entertaining some relative(s), whom I don’t recall. It was chaos as usual. We were grilling steaks, which was a treat for sure. The food was getting passed around and somehow, I kept getting bypassed because I was helping Mom with the little kids. I never got any steak or potatoes. The only thing left was some tomatoes and lettuce. And I was starving. No one noticed. I think I am starting to sound like a martyr. Stop it.

My first and only experience as a bully – and it changed the course of my life.

All the studies on bullying suggest that the bullies are in pain, have been bullied themselves and are insecure. I am certainly not an expert, but from my brief time as a bully, I think I can safely say that it’s true. When I started high school, I was still suffering from shyness and insecurity. I was a total dork – skinny as a rail, braces, no discernible sense of style, limp hair, zits, and no social skills. So, where do I go to high school? That’s right: an exclusive, upscale all-girls, Catholic school attended by many upper crusty young ladies. I obviously was not one of them. I was not to the manor born. I was a poor schmuck from the burbs – and did I mention I was a total dork? But, I must say, I for the most part enjoyed my time there – for the most part. After four years, I managed to carve out an existence, make my mark, find a group of good friends and get a good education. It was difficult in the beginning, but I managed. It was that whole insecurity, shyness thing. One day in the cafeteria, I demonstrated the classic bully behavior. I chose to make myself feel better by victimizing someone weaker than myself. It was almost too easy. She sat alone as she often did. She was hunched over, eating her lunch, her eyes downcast. She was likely very similar in her demeanor as I, insecure and shy times ten. Physically she wasn’t attractive by common standards – swarthy complexion, the dreaded unibrow, hairy arms and legs. And her uniform had a huge ink stain on the blouse portion. As we stood in line next to her table, which is a shy kid’s worst nightmare, being forced to be the center of attention, I felt and heard the words coming out of my mouth. I don’t recall exactly what I said, but I know they were sarcastic, snarky, unkind, and hurtful. And they were designed to embarrass her. And to make me feel important. Well, let me tell you, it didn’t work. In fact, before the words even crossed my tongue, I had instant regret. I KNEW it was wrong. I KNEW they were sarcastic, snarky, unkind, and hurtful. And I KNEW they were designed to embarrass her. And they didn’t make me feel important. They made me feel awful. They made me feel like a jerk. But the thing that surprised me the most was her reaction. Her reaction? Her reaction was NO REACTION. She just kept eating her sandwich as if nothing had happened. Was it because she was used to this type of treatment and had learned to simply tune it out? I will never know. But what I do know is that that moment in time changed me forever. It taught me so much. It taught me to treat others as I wish to be treated and to be empathetic. I raised my children with the Golden Rule as their standard and to stop and count to ten before they consider treating someone badly. That day changed me forever. (If any of my classmates from high school want more information, contact me privately)

Keep reading. That day in the cafeteria didn’t end my “relationship” with that young girl. Who knew that irony was going to kick me in the ass sixteen years later? John Belushi had just died. My second child was sixteen months old and had been admitted to the hospital with a serious bacterial infection and was dangerously dehydrated. As the nursing staff and various physicians were ushering me out of the room to prepare to hook my screaming daughter up to IV fluids, I am approached by the attending physician who was there to explain to me what was next in a very calming and professional manner. She was quiet, dignified, and obviously very caring. She made me feel better immediately. I looked into her eyes. There was something familiar about her that I could not put my finger on. It would come to me. Right now, I had to concentrate on ensuring my daughter’s well-being. Over the three days of my daughter’s hospitalization, my husband and I were both impressed by this doctor and her care of our baby girl. She established an instant rapport with her. She had a soft, melodic voice and achieved a level of trust that is difficult to describe but suffice it to say in a 16-month-old’s world, she was her buddy. She spoke to us at every juncture of treatment and always kept us informed. She was kind, friendly and had a beautiful smile. And then it hit me. She was my bullying victim from high school. She had grown into her looks, was quite pretty and was someone who obviously had more compassion and empathy that I could even hope to possess. As this realization washed over me, I realized I had to say something. But what? On the day of discharge, when things were less rushed, I simply asked her if she had been a student at our mutual high school, knowing full well what her answer would be. She acknowledged she had but stated she transferred to another school in her junior year. That was it. I struggled for several years over whether I should have used that moment to apologize to her for my horrible behavior back in tenth grade. I still don’t know what the right answer is. I will, however, be forever grateful for her kindness to my daughter.

This blog is getting a little long-winded, eh?

Nobody picks this girl’s pocket and gets away with it. Hell no!

So, then there was the time I was in college. It was a Friday night. We had cheap tickets to some off-Broadway show. We were getting on the subway and it was mobbed with people. I always try to be aware of my surroundings. As I am getting on I “just knew.” I had a purse on my left shoulder and it suddenly felt lighter. I turned around and the “gentleman” behind me is suddenly turning around in the crowded train, making a U-turn and making his exit. Without a thought, I grab his arm and in a loud, but ever so polite voice, say “Excuse me, sir, may I please have my wallet back?” My roommate is shocked and muttering “what the hell?” My other friends and passengers are all wondering what is going on and stop screwing around and the nearby cop is approaching. This is all taking place in a matter of seconds. The thief is dressed in a suit and has a coat over his arm. He reaches under his coat and at that moment I am flinching because I am convinced he’s either going to shoot or stab me. But this dude needs to understand that my father will be REALLY PISSED if I lose my wallet. I don’t need that kind of bullshit right now. It’s far easier to deal with a pickpocket than the ire of my pain in the ass Irish dad. So, the hand comes out from under the coat, holding not a gun, not a switchblade, but my wallet, which only had two bucks in it, because earlier I had taken the twenty-dollar bill and put it in the front pocket of my jeans. Anyway, lesson learned; now I only buy purses with zippered tops.

Another empathy-teaching moment

I am not sure if it was this specific order of nuns, but the sisters that taught me in grade school were, I am convinced, particularly cruel and in the cases of some problematic students, often borderline sadistic. One snippet in my memory occurred in the fourth grade. There was a boy in my class who was clearly troubled on so many levels. Thinking back and utilizing what we know in today’s jargon, I would say that he was on the spectrum. He was also overweight, awkward, and a poor student, but overall, a likeable, sweet, and sensitive kid. I always had a soft spot for him. He sat behind me in class. On our first day back to school after Christmas, he was fidgeting with the new watch he had received instead of paying attention. Without warning, Sister Mary Inflict Pain walked over to his desk, raised her ¼ inch thick yardstick and wielded it over her head in all her angry sexually repressed fury and brought it down in one fell swoop onto that poor boy’s watch, shattering it, all the while screeching at him in her Irish brogue. I will never forget his bereft cries and later the look on his face as I turned around to help him clean up, after the bitch walked away. He was just so sad. I couldn’t understand why a so-called person of God would do that.  I often wondered what became of my classmate. If he became a serial killer, I think the nun would have some explaining to do. What a cruel human being.

A few final thoughts – maybe call these snippettes?

That time I got hammered with then Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell. That dude can drink. It was at a function where his then wife and several other people, including a friend of mine were being honored. I had the good luck of being seated at the same table. A good time was had by all. He and I were the life of the party.

That time I inadvertently insulted an 83-year-old woman on an elevator on a cruise ship implying that my eyesight was better than hers, (because I was younger) when attempting to see the buttons. A textbook case of open mouth insert foot. She was pissed off, rightfully so, and boy did she let me know it too. I was appropriately embarrassed and made a half-hearted attempt at an apology. Sometimes I just don’t think. I keep telling myself that I wasn’t trying to hurt her feelings. I just engaged the mouth before the brain. It wasn’t the first time and sadly I predict it won’t be the last.

Recurring dreams – what do they mean?

At the beginning of what I believe is my longest blog to date, I mentioned that I have two recurring dreams. I have no idea what they mean. Anyone with any experience in the study of dreams (Oneirology) and who has a theory about these two, very different scenarios, please reach out. The first is pretty benign. I’m young, under ten, in Riverside Park in NYC and a Good Humor truck drives in and my mom buys me a Creamsicle. That’s it -pretty uncomplicated. The second is a lot darker, much, much darker. In fact, it’s downright disturbing. In this dream I find myself in the middle of the Charles Manson murders of actress Sharon Tate and her friends in 1969. But I am upstairs, in bed, reading. I hear the commotion, have the presence of mind to turn out the light, remove the sheets, unscrew the light bulb and stuff myself and the sheets and hide under the bed to escape the slaughter. Does anyone have an answer? Was I destined for greatness somehow and wasted my life or am I just a weirdo?

I am questioning myself a lot these days. Decisions I have made, what my future holds, what more I want to accomplish in the time I have left. What I do know is that revisiting my snippets (really, I don’t have a choice, because they are always with me) provide me with some clarity, but always some questions too. If you read this long blog through to the end, I thank you for your patience and indulgence. This has been one of my more personal endeavors which I have found strangely cathartic. Thanks for reading/listening. Now, where is the bourbon?

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