Thursday, February 16, 2012

Belinda's Horrible, Dickensian Childhood

In a sense, we are all born into a world of pain and suffering. But some more so than others. John Lennon was literally born during a World War II air raid.

Belinda Carlisle found herself in a war of a more personal kind. Hers is the classic case of two parents who simply didn't have any clue what the hell they were doing. I find her succinct, evocative description of her early childhood quite affecting. For better or worse, it reminds me of my own.
When I was five and a half, we moved to Thousand Oaks, fifty-mile drive northwest over the hills from out Hollywood apartment. It got us out of the city and into a fairly rural area with dairy farms and post-Korean War housing developments. Our neighborhood was the low end of working-class and we were among the poorest of the poor, though at my age I didn't know rich from poor.

We moved into a small, pink and brown 1950s tract home at the end of a cul-de-sac. The street was lined with trees; I thought it was beautiful. The backyard was a hardscrabble mix of grass and dirt with a cheap metal swing set lodged in the middle that was like an island of fun. The problem was getting to it. My dad had an extremely territorial pet rooster that roamed the yard with an ogrelike temper and threatened us kids whenever we went back there.

My dad had a similar temperament. He didn't threaten us, but he left no doubt that he ruled the roost. Even on good days, there was always an undercurrent of tension. I know my parents could barely afford the house, but that was only one of their problems. My mom didn't trust my dad, or his explosive temper. Sadly, I felt the same way after I was literally caught in the middle of one of their more physical arguments, with one of them pulling my legs and the other my arms until it seemed I might split in two pieces.
Sounds great!
Our move into the Valley coincided with my dad working at the GM plant in Van Nuys, though he didn't last there long before he started a carpet-cleaning business. I don't know whether he left or was laid off. I remember my mom hand-painting a logo on the side of his van. It was like the christening of an ocean liner because after that he spent most of his time on the road.

As part of the change, my mom sought comfort and companionship with the handsome carpenter who lived across the street, Walter Kurczeski ... He was at our house for dinner and often still there in the morning. He was more of a companion to my mom than my father was. I grew used to him being around without really thinking about why he was there. Of course, in retrospect, I know why. My mom and dad had split. I don't know if they had officially separated or divorced, but they weren't together anymore ... My mom never mentioned it. Walt's presence was assumed. He continued to show up after we moved to Simi Valley, and then to a rental in Reseda, and yet again to an even smaller home in Burbank ... Just as we were never given an explanation of Walt's presence, my brother, sister, and I were never told why we were constantly moved around.

It wasn't until I was an adult that I asked my mother for an explanation and she finally gave me one. She told me that her split from my father was volatile, and she felt the need to hide us while she tried to work things out with him.
Heaven may be a place on Earth, but that place is probably not Thousand Oaks.

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