The Raw Vegan: Part IX, Alone in the Projects

We had moved to the projects in August 1972. DH made it through his junior year at the university and DS1 was in the second grade. DS2 had bad luck with his pets. One of his gerbils expired and Henry Aaron, the guinea pig, was done in by a neighbor girl. She freaked out when she saw him rooting around under a shrub and flailed him with a pooper scooper. He didn’t survive. That set the tone for the months to come.

Beech D18The summer started out okay if appearances were any indicator. DH had kept advancing in his flight training and eventually obtained ratings in Single Engine Land, Multi-Engine Land and Instruments. He quit his job as lineman since he could be in a plane in the sky rather than maintaining them on the ground. He was hired to fly the mail. This was back in the day that mail didn’t go by air unless extra postage was affixed and “Airmail” was written or stamped on the item. He and another pilot flew an ancient Beech D18. When I think of airmail, I think of letters but the plane would be loaded with packages of all shapes and sizes, too. When everything was stowed there were times they two of them had to crawl into the cockpit through the window. Not much chance of getting out if there had been a problem.

Over the winter, he had torn the motorcycle down in the living room and had parts strewn everywhere. I wondered if he would ever get it put back together but being the meticulous person he was, there was a place for everything and everything got put back in its place. The bike was running beautifully, though it was multicolor because of the parts he’d replaced. He got them from some kind of motorcycle junk yard. He’d ride it to the airport most days so I had the car. The boys and I would explore the surrounding area and found some nice places to go.

It sounds fairly idyllic but my problem with mind-altering tendencies kept intruding. I believed I didn’t have a problem but I was kidding myself. We’d have parties and I’d cook. Our place became the favorite hangout for a lot of the university crowd. The summer months slid on by.

DH’s best friend who had also been his best man got in touch with him about going west again to learn more about hanggliding. Always loving adventure, DH jumped at the chance. He had been hooked on it when he was out there before. I was, understandably, crushed. They were to meet in North Carolina at the best friend’s parents’ home and leave from there. I was to keep the car and he’d go on the motorcycle. I remember standing in the back yard and seeing him disappear from view. I’d gone in the house to cry my eyes out and find something to numb my feelings. After maybe 15 minutes, I heard the motorcycle drive up. Naturally I thought he had forgotten something. When I went to see what was going on, he was unstrapping a huge watermelon from where he had bungeed it onto the back of the bike. He knew how I loved (still love) watermelon and had brought me a peace offering. After he carried it in, he hugged and kissed me goodbye one more time and left. That watermelon was one of the sweetest I’ve ever eaten while bringing with it the saddest feelings. It was our 13th month wedding anniversary.

Since DH wasn’t there to fly the mail, I needed to find a job. I couldn’t depend on friends to watch the boys while I pounded the pavement so it was decided they would go stay with my mother and stepfather. It was a wrenching feeling to take them across the mountains and go back to the projects all by myself. I’d never been completely alone before. I didn’t know what to do.

I quit cooking. It seemed futile to cook for one when I’d always had a family to cook for. I ate toast, eggs, and cereal. Then I’d have eggs, toast, and cereal. After that, it would be cereal, eggs, and toast. It was an endless round and it all tasted like cardboard.

Badge PictureWhile I still had my cosmetology license, I decided I would try for a job that gave me more security. It didn’t take long to find one in a clothing factory. I was making the princely sum of a dollar an hour. First, the plant manager decided I would be trained to sew. That shouldn’t be a problem. I could sew. I was good at it. I’d won first place in a dress revue with my French fell seams. Sewing on a commercial machine is a world away from curling up in a chair and doing handwork, though. The instructor had me sewing on paper. I’d step on the pedal and the the teeth would grab the paper. Away it would go at about 100 miles an hour. There was no way I could guide it and it wasn’t long before the instructor wrote me off as a bad pick.

The floor manager saw some potential in me in spite of what Ms. Instructor said and put me to applying iron-on interfacing to garment pieces. It was something I had a real talent for and it wasn’t long before I was “making production”. By that time, the base rate for everyone had been increased by a quarter so I was assured I’d bring home $1.25 an hour. $50 a week before deductions. It wasn’t too bad for 1973. Especially since I usually did twice that with piecework.

First Day of SchoolI’d go to see the boys on weekends as often as I could. DS1 had started second grade. DS2 was to be in kindergarten but it didn’t begin at the same time. He was so anxious to go that my mother made him a lunch so he could pretend while his brother had his lunchbox and books. I missed his first day of “school” but she took a picture for me.

My poor eating habits resulted in weight loss of striking proportions. The smallest jeans I could find were size 6 and I had to take them up. The girls I worked with were getting concerned. I got sick and one of them told me to go home, drink a hot toddy (she told me how to make it) and go to bed. I stopped by the liquor store for the first time in my life and bought a pint of peach brandy. I had no idea what I was doing or what the consequences would be. Since there was no way I could drive two hours to see the boys feeling the way I did, I went home to apply the Cure. I ended up drinking the whole pint and spent most of the night on the bathroom floor. I decided I didn’t like alcohol.

DH had asked his friends (mostly male) to check on me while he was gone and help me out any way they could. A couple of them thought they could be more help than I needed and I had to turn them down. The man next door (Mr. Smith’s successor) must have gotten the idea that I was a loose woman and he offered his services, too. Not wanting to make an enemy of my neighbor, I told him I was flattered but I’d have to say no. I missed my husband but I wasn’t about to let anyone else in my bedroom.

The phone would ring often and I’d have cards and letters but they didn’t fill the void. I’d been alone since September. October, November, and then it was December. Would DH be gone Christmas, too?

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