. How Do You Mend A Broken Heart?
My mother's boyfriend, Don, was a little rough around the edges. He was a biker type of guy who hung around in pool halls and was your average hard drinking hellraiser who dressed and acted the part. Even though I still went to visit my mother in Upland after Becky died, it was never a pleasant experience for me. I was not a big fan of Karen or Don but I had no control over how my parents lived their lives.
It’s interesting to me that I have very vivid memories of most of the important and influential moments of my life but I have blacked out the time after Becky’s funeral. I don’t recall the gathering of family and friends for the wake after the funeral or anything for months after. Just like that it was just my father, my brother and myself…no mother and now no sister.
Our lives were spiraling out of control and our religion and church was the only hope and refuge that we had. Along with my father and brother, we had allowed ourselves to become holier than thou. We were under the impression and mindset, that because we were “good” Mormons we were just a wee bit superior to people that did not live up to our standards and beliefs. My mother was living in sin and abusing the word of wisdom by smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol and that made her a bad person as far as I was concerned. Of course I was a hypocrite because I was a bad person too but I was hiding it and being secretive. Not all Mormons feel this way about looking down on people and feeling superior, but because of our circumstances and all that we had been through, my father and I had built up walls to protect ourselves from the darker side of life, and rebuke it, never realizing that we were alienating our loved ones in the process.
Even though I didn't like visiting my mother because of her lifestyle and living arrangements, it became obvious to me that she was deeply depressed and lonely. She had spent the last couple of years raising and caring for Becky by herself and now she was all alone. Even though she had her boyfriend, Don, to lean on, she needed to be a mother. After my mother moved out my grandmother Morton moved in with my father, my brother and myself. We were all miserable, depressed and sad.
My father and Karen were dating and decided to get married. I can honestly say that I didn’t love or hate Karen, because I never gave her the chance or opportunity to get to know her. I was rude and distant with Karen and hoped that she would get the hint that she was not welcome in our family. My main goal has always been to get my parents back together again and if Karen and my father got married, this could not happen. But my father was in love with Karen and whether I realized it or not at the time, he needed a wife. My dad had gone about as low as a man can go without completely bottoming out. Everyone in my family was suffering from post -traumatic syndrome and none of us were able or interested in getting professional help or therapy. My brother, Michael, became even more withdrawn and quite.
Michael was always a little withdrawn and quite, but now it was obvious that he needed a little bit of attention, compassion and love. We all needed something to lift our spirits and make life right again.Michael was eleven years old at the time and he was crushed and confused. Becky was my little sister but she was Michael’s big sister. There was nothing to say that would make things better. There was no legitimate reason or explanation to give. Telling a child that it's all a part of God's plan is the worst thing you can do because it turns God into the bad guy. How can someone or something so powerful, spiritual and loving allow something so terrible to happen? If we only had some kind of assurance that everything has a purpose and a reason that will eventually make sense.
I had become extremely judgmental and self centered. Anyone who smoked or drank was a sinner and I should not associate with them. This list included Shirley and Danita, my mother, my maternal grandparents and my maternal aunts and uncle. At a time when I needed my family and their love and support more than ever, I was distancing them from my life. I was turning into a goody two shoes. As time went by I slowly started coming to my senses. Prayer had become my only outlet for expressing myself and my feelings and my frustrations. I knew that none of this was my fault but I still couldn’t help but have my doubts. I had no one to talk to and no one to turn to except for God. He knew the pain I was going through and how confused and troubled I was. I have always felt that I had a special mission in life and I prayed to God with all my heart and soul to help guide me and not let me be led astray. I took the fact that Becky died on Grandpa Lance’s birthday as a sign from God to an answer to my prayers. But what did this sign mean?
After a church conference when one of the leaders of the church spoke about what a bad influence rock music was on the children, Karen came home and threw away her record collection. I snuck into the trash and rescued about a dozen records and took them home. Albums like, Bob Dylan’s greatest hits and The Beatle’s Abbey Road. Before Becky died I had bought Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album and listened to it over and over again. At the same time I also bought David Bowie’s Hunky Dory album and The Divine Ms. M album from Bette Midler. Music was beginning to inspire me stronger than ever before and music somehow was helping me connect with my sexuality.
While Becky was still alive she had developed a special relationship with my grandfather Lance. My grandparents lived in Pomona, near Upland where my mother and sister lived. At the same time, I was doing the only thing I could to help. I prayed. And prayed and prayed. I prayed for a miracle, a sign from God, anything. Only because I had exhausted myself with prayer, did I find what happened next on the day Becky died, to be a sign from God. It wasn’t a miracle but an unusual coincidence that had a deep important meaning for me. It was my sign.
Becky died on March 19th. March 19th was my grandfather Lance's birthday. Everyone in my family thought it was interesting and special but not much more than that. I knew it was much more than a mere coincidence, it was a sign from God. I had been praying so hard for so long for something/anything that would make some kind of sense and this was definitely something. It wasn't a reason or an explanation for why these terrible things happened, but somehow it affected me in a way that calmed my tortured soul. First my brother, Michael, was born on my grandmother Morton's birthday and then Becky had died on my Grandfather Lance's birthday. If this wasn't a sign from God then at least it was a clue or at least an incredible coincidence. It was a significant piece of a puzzle that was slowly coming together. I had tremendous faith and hope and at the time…I believed that God had answered my prayers.
My prayers became much more intense after Becky died. I found that not only could I talk to God openly and freely but also now, I could talk to Becky through prayer and tell her things I never would have had the nerve to say while she was alive. I began to fall more in love with my sister in a very profound way I never imagined was possible before she died. Sibling love can be awkward and complicated to say the least, but now that Becky was dead, I could tell her how much I love her without getting embarrassed or feeling dorky. I wish I had felt that freedom while she was alive but it is better late than never. I knew there was a reason why Becky had died on Grandpa Lance's birthday and finding out what that reason was became an obsession for me.
Immediately life was different for my father, my brother and myself. There was no more joy and laughter and good times or anything that resembled the life we used to know. No more Sunday drives, triple movie popcorn drive in movie nights, no more water fights or hours sitting by the radio listening to Doctor Demento. Our hearts were broken and aching and none of us had the know how to find the support or comfort to help heal our souls. We were lost and more than anything I was concerned about the dark place my father had been drawn into. Seriously, my father was the combination of Robin Williams, Jack Benny, Johnny Carson and every other classic comedian that has ever existed, and to have that rare talent missing from my life was devastating. The only thing that kept me going was the signs god had been giving me. God knew I was sincere and naïve and innocent and gullible enough to absorb the essence of what was brewing.
I wasn't the only one who felt Becky's spirit was still with us. I would see Shirley Charley almost every day at Church, seminary and at school. She had been placed with another family and needless to say it was sort of awkward but also a reminder that everything had changed whether we liked it or not. There was one time when I came to visit with Shirley during seminary before school and she told me not to sit in the empty chair next to her. She told me it was for Becky. Shirley wasn't crazy. Becky was there. Her spirit was everywhere. She was such a force of life that her very essence was still with us. Comforting us and helping us mend our wounds. I believe that. My sister was up to something and guiding me every step of the way. Unfortunately we never talked about Becky much with my father. A huge piece of my father died the same day Becky did. Before my father married Karen I was very concerned about him. He was alone, lonely, troubled, tormented, tortured and destroyed. He did his damn best to be the man in charge of the family but my father was crushed. I wish I could have reached out to my father and explained to him about my prayers. I wish I could have said, “Daddy, I prayed for a sign and God gave it to me when Becky died on Grandpa Lance’s birthday and also by Carol Burnett coming into our lives.” But I couldn’t. I was so troubled and confused myself at the time I don’t know how I even existed and survived.
After my father and Karen were married, my grandmother Morton moved to San Diego to be near my aunt Lola and uncle Bruce. Karen had three children from three previous marriages, Nikki, John and Gary. Along with my dad, Michael and I tried to be a family. It wasn't easy and I didn't help matters. I was a bitter smart-alecky little jerk who was always mentioning how much more fun our house was when my mom still lived with us and so on and so forth. I wasn't very nice to Karen or her children. This was my father's life, not mine. Many, many years later I actually apologized to Karen and her kids and they all said they never really noticed me being mean…they said I was the fun one compared to Michael. It’s funny how much agonizing we do over nothing.
The summer of 1975, I spent two weeks at Brigham Young University as part of a church seminar program. Both Karen and my father volunteered to be chaperones and this would give us the chance to spend time together and try to get along. We stayed in dorm rooms on the BYU campus and one day my roommate and some friends decided that I was skinny enough to fit through a cubby hole in the wall that led to the next room.
I barely slid through the cubbyhole and unlocked the front door. My friends and I proceeded to trash and vandalize the dorm room beyond recognition. We threw clothes everywhere and sprayed shaving cream on the windows and mirrors. Suddenly someone yells that security is coming down the hallway. Everyone scatters and tries to run away. I panic and jump in and hide in the closet in the room we had just trashed. Then all of a sudden I hear a group of men coming into the dorm room and start to investigate what had just happened. At this point I am holding a coat in front of me as if that would fool anyone who might happen to open up the closet door. The closet door thrusts open and there I am trying to hide under a coat. I was the only one caught and came this close to getting kicked out and sent home. Luckily my father was able to smooth things over but this was just the beginning of a bupy week.
At the end of our two-week stay at BYU, we had a fast and testimony meeting. There were hundreds of other Mormon teenagers from all over the country who attended these seminars with us and now we were gathered together to bear our testimony and express our love for God and the church, before we returned to our homes. Bearing your testimony is not mandatory but I always took advantage of the opportunity whenever I could. I had a lot to be thankful for. I was actually a “Bearing Your Testimony” geek/nerd. Whenever I had a chance to bear my testimony I would be the 1st in line. But I also knew about timing and sometimes I would time my testimonies to conclude the meeting. I never revealed what I was really praying about which was, why do people have to die, and do people get divorced and why for god’s sake did I have a crush on every cute boy at school and in the teen magazines?
I had been in contact with my mother recently and she knew how sad I was living with my father and his new family. We had decided that I would move in with her as soon as my trip to BYU was over. Instead of talk to my father privately I decided to announce my decision to the entire congregation at this BYU seminar. As I stood at the lectern before this crowd of my fellow Mormons, I dropped a bombshell on my father and Karen, who were in the audience. I had decided to move in with my mother. I was going to miss my family and friends, but my mother needed me. My father, at least, appeared to be getting on with his life, while my mother was still engulfed in grief and despair and all by herself. I returned to my seat and my father held and comforted me. He was disappointed that I had announced my plans the way I did, but he understood that it was something I had to do. This is where I want to put a link to my 1st haircut because this was nocturnal, instinctual and passionate Brian screaming at the top of his lungs…”Somebody please help me…this is not how I want my life to be!!!”