The Beat Goes On
The move to Upland was difficult but necessary. It wasn't going to be easy to start over but I was ready for whatever life had to offer me...I had no choice. I think there was still some hope that my parents would get back together, but now that my father was remarried, it seemed unlikely. I enrolled in school and became active at my local Mormon church. I was trying to get on with my life but I was deeply troubled.
I wanted to be there for my mother but I disapproved of her lifestyle. I didn't like her boyfriend, Don, at all. And my relationship with my mother's side of the family was strained because I looked down on them because they weren't good Mormons. Several members of my mother's family were members of the church, but had become inactive over the years. I felt uncomfortable with my surroundings and was doing nothing to try and make things better. I didn't make any new friends and became lonely and isolated.
After a few months I told my mother that I wanted to move back in with my dad. My mother was disappointed and hurt by my decision but understood that I was extremely unhappy. Even though my mother's life was in chaos, at least now I knew that she was okay enough to get by without me.
The move back to Huntington Beach was a difficult and troubling time for me. I knew that if I was going to live in my father's house I had to at least try and get along with Karen and her kids. Having a stepfamily is hard enough to begin with and I just made things worse because of my attitude. I didn't need or want another mother, and I definitely didn't want a replacement for my sister, Becky. I didn't know where I belonged or fit in.
I continued to occupy my time with church and school activities. I worked backstage on several theatrical productions at school and thought I had finally found my niche in life. Even though I was not sexually active I had secret crushes on several guys at school. I also started smoking cigarettes. Yes, I was beginning to cave in. I was a secret smoker and never let my friends or family see me smoking. There's nothing good about smoking cigarettes but it was an important step for me to take to help me break down my superiority complex. I also found great relief and pleasure from smoking. It became a way for me to combat my pain and frustrations. It was the perfect taboo I needed at the time.
I had been giving many members of my mother's family the cold shoulder because they smoked cigarettes and in my mind, that made them bad people. Now that I was smoking, I realized that just because you smoke cigarettes doesn't mean you are a bad person. This can be a difficult world to live in and sometimes you need a crutch or a vice to help ease the pain of struggling to survive. I was innocent and naive enough to let my father's anger and resentment toward my mother taint my own judgement. My father once put liquid soap on my mother's cigarettes when she started smoking, to show his disapproval. At church I would notice how people would make faces and have a look of disgust if someone would come to church smelling like cigarette smoke. It was obvious I still had a lot to learn about life.
I was cast as an apostle in the summer school production of Jesus Christ Superstar. This created some conflict in our household because of the content of the rock opera. The story of Jesus told in this play was blasphemous and disrespectful as far as my father and the church was concerned. We came to a compromise and I did the play, but I couldn't rehearse on Sundays. This was the first play I had ever been cast in besides small church productions, and I knew I had the acting bug inside me. The rehearsals, the performances, and the camaraderie with the fellow cast members were something that really interested and inspired me.
I would visit with my mother on weekends and vacations, and each time I would visit I would become a little more comfortable. I began to look beyond the cigarette smoke and could see that I had been unfair in my misguided attitude. When I had previously moved in with my mother, we were both in so much shock and disbelief that we could not emotionally be there for each other. I knew I couldn't stay at my father's house forever. Many of the things I was interested in, like acting and music and boys, were not things the church or my father encouraged or accepted and I knew it. My father had become a supermormon and I could no longer be his supermormon sidekick.
I talked to my mother and told her how unhappy I was. She wanted me to come back to live with her, but didn't want me to keep flip flopping between my dad and her the way I have been doing. I had to make a final decision. My mother agreed to let me move back in with her, but now I had to tell my dad. I put it off and put it off until one night my mother called my father and told him about my plans.
The next morning my father woke me up and was very angry with me. He helped me pack my bags and as soon as I was dressed he was going to drive me to my mother's house. He was sick and tired of the fact that I couldn't confide in him and kept surprising him with my decisions. I talked my father into letting me go to seminary that morning so I could say goodbye to Shirley and some of my church friends. When I saw Shirley we talked about my predicament and she agreed that it was probably the best thing for me to live with mom.
After I talked with Shirley, I sneaked out the back door of the church and ran to my school where I hid in the theater. Even though I had talked about moving back in with my mom, I wasn't sure what I really wanted. All the friends I had grown up with were in Huntington Beach and I was beginning to enjoy life again for the first time in years. I was upset that my father and my mother had “helped” me make that decision before I was ready. After a few hours, I surrendered and my father drove me to my mother's apartment. It was a long ride and we didn't know what to say each other so we just drove in silence. I had never put myself in my father’s shoes before and I don’t think I can even imagine the pain that he was dealing with, not only the divorce and the death of his daughter but the distance between them during the last year or so of her life.
My mother and Don had broken up by now and that made things a little easier for us this time. It was just the two of us. My mom worked as a security guard at Lockheed, and just barely made ends meet. My mother was a survivor though and we managed to create a nice little family with just the two of us. My aunt Helen and uncle Tom lived nearby and we all became an extended family. I went to church and seminary by myself because by now my mother had become inactive.
Even though I had some friends at church and school, I didn't develop any lasting or significant friends at this time. I spent a lot of time by myself, writing poetry, and listening to music. It was 1976 and I had just bought my first Beatles album. The White Album. I was enjoying my newfound freedom now that I did not live under my father's God fearing control. Things seemed to have settled down by now and my mother and I were finally getting on with our lives.
My aunt Helen decided enough time had gone by and gave Carol Burnett a call. Carol was so glad to hear from our family that she invited my aunt Helen and my mother out for lunch. My mother and Aunt Helen were worried about me because I did not get out of the house much and did not seem to have any friends. So while Carol, Helen and my mom had lunch, my cousin Jack came over to our apartment with several of his friends. Jack was a year older than I was and his mother encouraged him to welcome me into his circle of friends. Some of Jack's friends were Monty, Greg and David. They had all grown up together and were very close. We all sat around my apartment and part of the bonding process with this group of friends was to smoke pot.
I had recently smoked marijuana for the first time and it was like a gift from God as far as I was concerned. The effects of marijuana gave me a feeling of freedom and euphoria that I needed desperately. Of course because of my Mormon upbringing and my personal views it was a scary step for me to take but once I took my first hit I found a friend. Some friends of my mother named, Bev and Duck, stayed with us for a few weeks and during their visit was the first time I smoked pot. My mother was with us but she did not smoke. It was a very liberating experience for me and it was something that felt right. I was able to loosen up and be silly again. My mother told me that Becky used to steal pot from Don and she and Corina would get high when they would visit each other. I personally found it comforting to know that Becky found something that helped her through her pain.
Jack, his friends and I were sitting around watching television when my mother came home from her lunch date with Carol Burnett. She told us about her lunch with Carol and my aunt Helen, and then she said something that took me completely by surprise. My mother said that during their lunch Carol Burnett told them that she felt troubled by her association with Becky and sought out a psychic to help her get some insight. As a celebrity, Carol Burnett was besieged by requests from fans and the like for her time. But Becky was different and special because there was a bond and attraction that was unique to this situation.
The psychic told Carol a story about how, in a previous lifetime, she and my sister were mother and daughter. And some kind of tragic accident occurred that caused my sister to injure or kill someone. Apparently, Becky was so wrecked with pain and anguish that when she died, she came back as my sister so she could suffer from the disease of Leukemia as a way of paying penitence and gaining self-forgiveness.
As my mother was telling my new found friends and me this incredible story, I slowly began to cry. My eyes welled up with tears and my throat became constricted, and I could hardly breath. I tried to hold it in but it was uncontrollable. I burst out crying and the second I realized what I had done, I ran out of the room. It did not matter if this far-fetched story was true or not because I had been praying for so long and so hard for a reason or an answer as to why Becky had to suffer from such a horrible disease and why her death was so untimely and painful and as strange as this story sounded it touched my inner soul like a bolt of lightning.
The only answers or reasons I got from my religion, were that God had a greater calling or mission for my sister and she was needed in the next life more than here. That is such a general “we have no idea”, explanation, that lacked any substance or comfort. For the first time, the thought entered my head that there could be a specific reason for the things that happened. That it all wasn't just a random act of violence and destruction. Mormons do not believe in, or even at least acknowledge the possibility of reincarnation. But there was something about this story that touched my heart and gave me hope and something extra to pray about. Of course my daily constant prayers continued and were fueled by this new twist.
Soon after this lunch date with Carol Burnett, Carol invited my mom, Aunt Helen, Uncle Tom, my brother and myself to visit her at the studio where her television show was taped. I had never met Carol before and felt scared and nervous. She had always been my favorite entertainer but now she was something more. I had always thought that Becky was setting us up for some reason and now it was all coming true. We arrived at the CBS television studio and were escorted to the soundstage where we met Carol. She was so kind and genuine that she immediately helped ease my nervousness about being around her.
We spent the day sitting in the empty audience seats watching Carol Burnett, Vickie Lawrence, Harvey Korman and Tim Conway rehearse skits and sketches for their next show. Watching Carol Burnett and company rehearse skits was like winning the lottery. It was during the rehearsal process that these talented actor/comedians would come up with the ad lib’s and sight gags that made the show so funny and popular. Tim Conway in particular could take a simple idea and turn it into a classic comedy routine. The secret though, to the success of the show was that it was the perfect ensemble. They would work off of each other and allow each other to share the spotlight.
Sammy Davis Jr. was the celebrity guest star that week and Carol brought him down to where we were sitting to introduce us. As Sammy Davis Jr. reached out to shake my hand I told him I couldn't wait to get home to tell my friends I just met O.J. Simpson. For just a split second, Mr. Davis looked at me like I was a pint sized Archie Bunker, then I started laughing and he realized I was joking.
We strolled through the halls of the studio later on and saw the soundstages for the Cher show and for Three's Company. After we ate lunch in the studio commissary we said goodbye to Carol and thanked her for being so nice to us. It was the first time I was on a television or movie set and it was not going to be the last. Carol Burnett invited us to visit several more times and I will forever be grateful for her generosity and kindness.
During one of the rehearsals Vickie Lawrence was doing a sketch where she went to an acupuncturist. After going to the acupuncturist Vickie drinks some water from a water cooler and water starts pouring out of holes all over her body. It was a very funny visual comedy routine but in order for the water to come out of all the holes in her dress the prop department had to connect Vickie with a water hose apparatus. Her dress was made with multiple opening for the water to come out. During the rehearsal a water tube needed to be inserted between her legs and up her dress. The one liners and improves that Vickie came up with while this apparatus was being inserted were so funny and risque that none of them would have been allowed on primetime television.
Before I moved back to Upland this last time, I was performing in a vocal jazz ensemble at school and performing in school plays. I was slowly but surely finding my footing in this life. When I enrolled in Upland High School I was disappointed to find out they did not have a very progressive musical or theater program. To be fair I was in such a state of upheaval and confusion at the time that I just wasn’t in the state of mind to a shit about anything. I slowly lost interest in school and most of my classes were electives like art, poetry, and drama. I used to get A's, B's and C's, and now I was getting mostly C's and D's. I was absolutely lousy at math and never got past the basics. I had so much disorder going on in life that school had become a distraction.
We were invited to visit Carol Burnett again. This time the guest star was singer, Helen Reddy. Carol was so kind and gracious to my family and me at this time, and it was greatly appreciated. No one else was aware that I felt Becky was looking out for me with her three wishes. It may have just been wishful thinking on my part, or maybe Becky and I were closer and more alike than I had realized. Whatever “it” was or whatever was really going on didn’t make any sense but I knew in my heart that something was going on and something was going to happen. And now this person who I had idolized as an entertainer had become a part of our lives and I knew better. I knew something special was happening but I could not put my finger on it.
I was able to get tickets for the live studio audience tapings' of the Carol Burnett show on several occasions. I would invite kids from my seminary class to join me and it was always so much fun. Before the show started, Carol would come out on stage and take questions from the audience. Every time I would visit a taping of the show, I would ask Carol the same question. I would say, "I have a double jointed hip, and I understand you have a double jointed hip too." It was at this time that Carol would invite me on stage to do the bump with her and pop our hips out of joint to hysterical laughter. None of my appearances on her show ever made the final cut, but it was a start.