What I've learned at Bosch
Ironically enough, I attended my community's annual weekend at Bosch on what would have been my 27th wedding anniversary, had I made the mistake of remaining married to a man with a very serious mental illness and addiction issues. In all these intervening years, I only remembered the day my divorce was finalized. If anyone asked me what day I married my ex, I would tell them very honestly, that I didn't remember. I didn't want to recall something that turned out to be so nightmarish.
Please keep the above statements in mind while I get on with the story. In August 1994, seven years after my divorce was granted, I began my first semester as a graduate student in English at California State University, Sacramento. This was a major achievement for me, especially since I was the first member of my family to attend post-graduate school. There are other family members who have attended college and came close to finishing, but only my uncle Tommy and I have actually received college degrees. I knew that moving beyond a bachelor's degree was uncharted territory, and I was nervous, yet looking forward to the challenge.
Actually, to say that graduate school was a challenge for me is a huge understatement. I was an "economically challenged" single parent who had to take out a lot of loans and work 30 hours a week as a graduate teaching assistant/academic tutor in order to meet the financial demands of continuing my education. But finances weren't the only problem.
My oldest child, Clarissa, was thirteen years old at the time, and I had developed serious mother-daughter communication issues with her. I had become convinced that someone had kidnapped my little Punkie and replaced her with teen-aged "replicant" of my daughter, whose biting sarcasm and moods that swung from sullen disdain to volcanic outbursts made each day a test of endurance. And I didn't like the company she chose to keep, a motley collection of girls who were on the fast track to teen-aged pregnancy and drug addiction, an observation that turned out to be prophetic. I was right about all except one. But the one I was wrong about liked to find abandoned kittens and kill them. There was no way I could have predicted that.
Clarissa said that I was too "judgmental", and didn't want her to have any friends. Needless to say, we had some tear-the-roof-off-the-sucker battles. My other two children, Marc and Chenelle, were easier to deal with, but they still required attention and guidance. I didn't have enough of either to give them, unfortunately. Of course, I "coped" (if you can call it that) with all it by eating too much sweets, too much bread and pasta, too much cheese and butter, too much of everything. Feeding my addiction also divided my time and energy. Then there was the hours upon hours of study, and working on research papers. I felt like I was being split fifty different ways, with no effective method of resolving all the demands on my time. I existed on two to four hours of sleep and several pots of coffee a day.
In spite of everything, I made it to the final semester of my program. I even applied for graduation, even though my thesis was still a work in progress. My mentors in the English department were encouraging me to start looking for PhD. programs, even though I secretly felt that I could never make it through a doctoral program. It was too hard to get through the Master's program and keep my grade point average at a B+, which was best I could do under the circumstances. But I smiled and thanked them for their faith in my "ability".
Then it happened.
I received a call at work from Clarissa: "Mom, Dad broke into our house and took our computer!"
My heart stopped. I didn't even question why she felt it was her father who broke in. She knew, just like I did. He's done it before, except that he was desperate enough to try it while the children and I were asleep. I always woke up and caught him in the act. It's funny. You would think he would be embarrassed to be caught trying to steal from his ex-wife and children, especially since he never paid a penny in child support. But he was completely without shame, in fact, he acted as if I owed him money. "I need drugs, dammit, I'm an addict!" That's what he told me. But he left when I picked up the telephone to dial 911.
That time, he made sure neither the children nor I were home. He busted out a window in Marc's bedroom, went into the living room and took my old 368 DOS computer. I worked on my thesis at home because I never had time to do it while I was on campus. I had added another ten pages to the paper the night before, and went to bed without making a copy on a floppy disk. I was extremely tired, and I figured I would make a back-up later. That was such a mistake.
All that work, I thought as I looked at the empty desk top where my computer used to be. All that work gone down the drain. It took me a long time to figure out what I liked enough to spend copious hours of doing research and even more time putting my ideas about the research into a coherent document. I finally decided on doing a paper on my all-time favorite book, "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison. (I absolutely revere her writing!)
Then I had to come up with some sort of innovative take on literary theory and apply it to some aspect of the book. I spent almost all of my preciously infrequent "free" hours (often with all three children in tow), in the library, poring over sociology and anthropology texts. Finally, I found it. I would take an anthropological definition of "play" and apply it to the Ms. Morrison's depictions of the three girls in novel, Pecola Breedlove, Claudia MacTeer and Frieda MacTeer. Those depictions of the girls at play would be a demonstration of an anthropological and sociological definition of "play" in the culture of the African diaspora. My graduate adviser accepted by thesis proposal enthusiastically, and the race for the final prize, that Master's degree in English, was on.
All that work literally burned up in my ex-husband's crack pipe. I hunted him down, which wasn't easy. Crack addicts have numerous holes to duck into around town, but nothing in this world is more blood-hungry than a pissed-off ex-wife. Under my demanding questions and threats of extreme psychic punishment (I can make the CIA look lame when I'm angry), he admitted that he took the computer.
"I'll make it up to you, Angela, I promise. I'll buy you another computer."
Yeah, yeah. I've heard many variations of that line over the years. He still hasn't made good on that promise. I never thought he would, actually. I filled out a police report, which was added to his pages upon pages of felony charges and arrest warrants.
After that, I finished out the semester, but not my thesis. I was simply too exhausted. But more than that, I wanted my ex to pay. Wishing him dead was no longer good enough for me. I wanted to be one responsible for his demise, and this became my all-encompassing mission, one that would obsess me for the next six years.
One night, I got my chance. My sister saw my ex in a restaurant with a woman (another one of his co-dependents) and her family, which consisted of her mother, her sister and her son. My ex was talking to the woman's son as if the boy were his own.
"I just lost it," my sister told me when she called. "He doesn't even help raise his own children, and he's playing "Daddy" with someone else's kid? I don't THINK so!"
So she got up, went to a telephone booth, and called the cops. She knew he was a criminal and more than likely wanted for a number of offenses, including breaking into my place and stealing my computer. And she was right. While the police were en route, she called me. At that point, I had just walked into my house with Chenelle. Marc and Clarissa were out with friends, and Chenelle and I were going to watch movies. Those plans were forgotten as the all too familiar blood-red color flashed before my eyes. I practically dragged Chenelle back to my car and burned rubber down the street.
"He has got some nerve! Steal my computer...my thesis...he has got some NERVE!" I was so engrossed in rage that Chenelle's voice sounded as it was coming from a faint long distance telephone connection.
"Mom, what's WRONG with you?" "Mom, slow down; you're actin' crazy!"
I couldn't stop. I didn't want to stop. Everything I had been through with that man was flashing before my eyes. Taking our rent and bill money, beating me up, sleeping with other women, using drugs, inviting all types of shady people into our home...I was beyond reason. I wanted to take him out. Permanently.
As I sped down 34th Street towards 30th and J, I began planning his execution. How would I do it? Did I have a car jack in my trunk or a tire iron? No. I had old newspapers that I kept forgetting to take to the recycling bin. I didn't have anything that I could use for a weapon. Then the thought came to me: I didn't need no damn weapon! I AM THE WEAPON! I began laughing out loud, which terrified Chenelle.
"Mom! What are you doing; what's going on?"
He was at Lyon's restaurant on the corner of 30th and J Streets. There is a huge, ancient oak tree on that corner that is probably 200 or more years old. Yes, that would work; that will do it! I could pull that tree right out of the ground, roots and all, and beat him with it until there ain't nothing left to pick up off the sidewalk. Nothin' for his momma to cry over; not even enough for the crows to eat. I could do it. I felt power surging through me, crackling like a live current. Yes, I can and will beat him with that tree, I said to myself. I even smiled in anticipation.
My sister was waiting for me near Lyon's outdoor patio dining area. I parked my car (illegally), and got out so fast that I nearly forgot to turn off the engine.
"Where is he?" I screamed. "Where is that piss-colored bastard?"
I stormed around the perimeter of the restaurant, certain that my piss-colored ex was hiding from me. Then I saw the police car. He had to be in there. And I was going to get him out, the hard way.
"Oh, hell no! He's not getting away from me like that!"
In my mind, I saw myself opening the back door, picking up the police car and shaking my ex out of the back seat. Yeah, when I get done with him, he's gonna WISH he was in jail, I thought.
I got close to the car and saw that the back seat window was open. I poked my head to get a good look at him before I tore his body into minute pieces. But he wasn't there. The backseat was completely empty. I screamed in frustration and gave the car two vicious kicks, on general principal.
A few minutes later, I was driving my sister home and muttering to myself about how lucky the piss colored bastard was that night.
"You didn't see that dog?" Tam, my sister, was staring at me in amazement.
"What dog?" Her question was irritating me. I wanted to beat my ex within every inch of his natural born life, and there she was talking about some damn dog.
"That big ole' German shepherd sittin' in the backseat of that police car? You mean to tell me you didn't see it?"
"There was no dog in that car! That seat was empty!"
"Angie, I'm telling you, there was big ole German shepherd sitting in the backseat! I thought for sure he would bite your face off when you poked your head through the window!"
"No, there wasn't anything there! I would have seen a police dog if it was there!"
"I don't see how you could've missed it; it was there, big as day!"
But even Chenelle said that the dog was there, in fact, it moved AWAY from me when I stuck my head through the window. Maybe the dog thought, uh, no. Big, black angry woman, not today, thank you. You can't give me enough doggie treats to make up for that kind of abuse.
I wish that were the end of the story. But it wasn't. I spent the next six years regretting the fact that the police had already picked up my ex and taken him to jail before I arrived. He was charged with all sorts of crimes, but none of them even remotely related to my stolen computer. I was so livid about the injustice of it all that I couldn't pull myself together. How could God deny me vengeance, after all that man did to me? It wasn't right. It just wasn't right.
I stayed angry, every day, every month, every year. Through working to buy myself another computer, through getting one dead-end job after another to pay the bills, through rapidly deteriorating health and inability to hold a job, through getting evicted, and having to move in with my sister because I had no job and nowhere else to go. Yet I burned with malice and rage. Continuously.
In fact, I was so angry that I couldn't bring myself to work on my thesis again. The years slipped by, and my health kept getting worse. My body began to break down, and saving my life became more important than beating up my ex or finishing my thesis. One day, after being stuck in my sister's house for weeks on end, I decided to check in with the graduate studies department at CSUS to see about finishing my degree. I had Paratransit take me to Sac State, and I rolled myself in my wheelchair into the elevator that took me up to the grad studies office.
A very nice young man looked up my transcripts on his computer. His face fell when he saw them.
"I'm so sorry, Ms. Shortt, but all of your graduate units have been removed."
I couldn't believe it. All that work, for nothing. It was gone, all of it. I couldn't even speak. There was a huge knot forming in my throat that made talking impossible. I backed my wheelchair out of the office and into the hall so the nice young man wouldn't see the tears streaming down my face. Gone. All those long hours of study, stacks upon stacks of books to read, working on papers until two, no, three o'clock in the morning,then getting up at six to wake up my kids and get them ready for school. All of that work, pain and struggle. And it was gone.
That's the story I told my community about attachment. I became attached to anger, rage, revenge. And what did it get me? Nothing. Well, that's not true. It got my graduate units removed from my transcript because I couldn't stop being angry enough to finish writing my thesis. If I had constant communication with God, and asked him to take my anger and show the next right action to take, I would have been able to finish my thesis. That's the difference between Angela then and Angela now. Today, I ask for God's help with everything. I had to lose almost everything that was dear to me in order "win" by submitting to God's will.
Trust me, it's a hard lesson to learn. Don't do what I did. Ask God for help. It's a lot easier than "self-will run riot".
O BOND SLAVE OF THE WORLD! Many a dawn hath the breeze of My loving-kindness wafted over thee and found thee upon the bed of heedlessness fast asleep. Bewailing then thy plight it returned whence it came.
The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh