Feature stories

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Silver Screens

By Terri Rimmer

I miss the drive-in.

You remember, those huge outdoor theatres where your dad lifted a heavy box into the driver's window and Hollywood came to life while people milled around outside?

I can picture my daughter's face one day scrunched up in confusion when I try to describe the magic that was this experience.

From the time I was in elementary school I was taken to movies, my first drive-in movies being "The Godfather" and "Walking Tall" with a family I was staying with while my parents were on vacation. I remember being scared of some of the loud noises in those particular movies and being homesick. To remedy this, the wife of the family took me to the concession stand and bought me something. I fell asleep later in the back with her kids, the seat of their station wagon folded down for comfort.

When my sisters and I would go to the indoor movies sometimes we'd skip around and watch different films, something you can't get away with now. We saw all the Herbie Volkswagen movies, "Benji," "The Way We Were," "Logan's Run," "Song of the South," "Mary Poppins," "Bedknobs and Broomsticks," and "Pippi Longstocking" to name a few. We always went to the matinees. Looking back I probably saw a lot of things I shouldn't have. Luckily I didn't see "The Exorcist" but I remember every time the commercial was played on the stereo at home I jumped out of my skin. Years later I tried to watch it but covered my eyes through most of it.

My dad and I went to the movies a lot but he always had to go take smoke breaks, missing some of the movie and I'd have to tell him what happened.

When "Jaws" came out I remember standing in the long line with my sister and stepsisters in a crowd that wrapped all the way around the theatre almost. My stepdad wanted to teach me to water ski when I was 12 but because of a scene in "Jaws 2" I wouldn't let him even though we were going to a lake. A lot of the classics I didn't see till I was older and mature enough to appreciate them like "Marathon Man," "All About Eve," "The Sting," "Bonnie and Clyde," "Altered States," and "Midnight Cowboy" among others. And remakes just aren't the same. I think they should leave great movies alone like "Psycho" and give their creators respect they deserve.

I'm pretty picky about my movie choices, though. I don't like any of the run-of-the-mill, plug the same formula in over and over movies like all the teen features you see advertised now, have never been a fan of westerns, and don't care for any of "The Matrix" films. On the other hand, when "Star Wars" came out I was hooked on that series and my dad redecorated my room with some of the theme of the movie at my request. He took me and my sister to see "2001: A Space Odyssey" when I was seven and, of course, it was way too old for me. Years later I saw it and loved it though.

And for some reason even though I know scary movies are going to give me nightmares I just can't resist some of them. I still shudder when I think of "The Shining," "Halloween," and "Carrie." When I was a girl scout during a camping trip one night a bunch of girls ran around with ketchup on their faces and shined flashlights under their chin, imitating the Carrie character. It was spooky! I do remember seeing "Freaky Friday" with my sister and stepsisters and back then it was a novel idea. I love all of Hitchcock's creations and on Sundays I used to watch Shirley Temple on t.v. in the late afternoons.

I'm a huge Robin Williams fan and even like the movies the critics don't, which is normally the case anyway. My favorite of his is "Good Will Hunting" but he was also great in "Awakenings" and "The Fisher King." I saw "Good Morning Vietnam" with a guy I was dating at the time during a snow storm and loved it.

Movies have always been a great escape for me, a way to forget about my problems for a few hours, a cheap therapy, speedy salve. For a moment in time you're suspended into another world and nothing else matters except, you, the dark, and popcorn. It's only when you venture back out into the light you realize, "Oh, yeah. There's the world again."

My sister Cindy and I saw "Terms of Endearment" when it came out and cried along with Debra Winger's character toward the end and to this day we still talk about scenes from "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles," "Stripes," and "Jaws" sometimes.

When I was in middle school midnight movies were popular among the high school crowd and my sister took me to see them from time to time. They weren't the same kind of movies you'd see during regular hours, but offbeat, sometimes independent films, some of which later became well-known like "Harold and Maude" and "Phantasm." I didn't see "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" till I was 22 and had my first apartment, always listening in wonder when my friends would sing some of the music at parties. And you have to see it in a theater. It's just not the same if you rent it.

Some movies are better viewed in a big screen theatre rather than restricted to the small tube of your living room. Ones with great animation, special effects, and 3-D features are so much more appreciated in the darkness of a cinema. Gone are the days when no one could reach you at the movies on the phone. Now cell phones ring through the dark silhouettes of people watching their must-see movie. And it seems like trips to the concession stand take longer now besides being more expensive. How many times have you tried to find your seat again in the sudden dark that descended upon you as you came back down the walkway? It's funny to me now the movies that used to be rated X in the old days and now have an R or PG rating. What was considered so risque then, is so acceptable now.

I was never a fan of British comedy until I saw "A Fish Called Wanda" and now I love it.

And you don't have to wait as long for movies to go to DVD now. Gone are the old Betamax players and so many people gave up the VCR. Now if you want to see the magic of makeup artistry or how a movie was made you can catch that too on DVD.

My two favorite movies are "Thelma and Louise" and "American Beauty" and I've seen each one three times. Also whenever I see "The Color Purple" I cry every time through various scenes. My dad and I saw "Friday the 13th Part 3" in 3-D and they gave each ticketholder a pair of three-dimensional glasses as they entered the theatre. I kept the glasses for a long time as a keepsake.

Now movies are so expensive to me that I just rent DVDs, checking out most of them for free at the library. The library I go to still has videos, too but they aren't the first choice patrons make as they cruise through the titles, searching for the perfect way to spend an evening. It is only if they see that there are no good choices among the DVDs do they venture on the other side of the bookcase to survey the many more videos still crying out for attention.

Now a lot of the classics are being transferred to DVD and before long videos will be obsolete and I will explain to a child one day about the "archaic" invention of the VCR and how we really did lug those "large" tapes around.

But I've read it won't end with the DVD, that one day we'll watch movies in an even more compact way, making all things invented up till now obsolete.

I miss the drive-in.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Chords

By Terri Rimmer

From the time I was a kid, music has been a focal point to what was going on in my life, serving as a backdrop against an array of experiences, good and bad, often healing, sometimes bringing up tears of happiness.

I can still remember songs that were popular when I was just three years old, each one reminding me of a past I used to live like the song about going round in circles that played over the sound system when our family went to Six Flags. Another similar one flashes me back to a little boy in a stroller at the amusement park who I saw when I first heard a song.

When I was born in 1966 famous groups were The Birds, The Beatles, The Monkees, and other trios like them. It marked a time of innocence, experimentation and, later Woodstock. I don't remember The Doors in their heyday, though now I'm a big fan, always feeling like I was born in the wrong time period, a true hippie at heart. I do recall my older sister Debbie blasting loud rock music from our stereo in the living room when our parents weren't home as she cleaned house. It was a sound I got used to and when I went to my first concert of ZZ Top and Foghat at age seven with my sisters those notes took on a new meaning. Since my dad worked at The Omni at the time we got to go to free concerts and other events. I think partly as a result of being exposed to good music at such a young age, my three favorite groups are Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, and Aerosmith.

When I was 5 the family liked for me to sing "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" which for some reason they got a kick out of and would want me to sing it at family gatherings sometimes.

Then when I was in first grade, "School's Out for Summer" came out and it seemed to bounce off our stereo speakers on a daily basis. We used to sing it together, my sisters and I. Recently a website dubbed it "a scary song" though I never thought of it as such. When I was little my parents often had parties in the basement of our house, my dad hauling the big stereo and speakers downstairs and they and their friends would all dance to various music I grew accustomed to. It was all one big mystery as strobe and black lights danced on the concrete walls of their cement walled party.

When I was about six my dad and I sang a song together on his tape recorder complete with a miniature microphone which was a big deal back then. My sister Cindy and I would always sing "I've Got You Babe" and it became our special song as dedicated fans of Sonny and Cher. Then she and I would rehearse songs to perform in our self-made "C & T Show" for our parents and later her best friend would join in and it became "The C,T, & R Show." We even rehearsed Christmas carols for two weeks before going out in the neighborhood to perform them. Then there was "Delta Dawn" which my cousin Tracy and I had down to a science in the mimicry department. Her mom, my Aunt Sybil used to perform in nightclubs in the 60s and 70s, wearing those long yellow flowing shirts like Diana Ross used to wear.

One time Cindy, a diehard Bobby Sherman fan at the time, sent off for his 45 LP plastic record offer from a cereal box. She played that record over and over. She just loved him. We had a blue record player and one of those organs that you plug in and as it hummed along noisily we'd try to bang out tunes from the book of "Silent Night" and other noteworthy songs.

If I hear 1975's "Listen to What the Man Says" on the radio today, my mind goes back to swimming at Lake Lanier with my stepbrothers. My stepdad owned a houseboat at the time and we were there every weekend practically. All kinds of pop music blared against the wooden docks as we swam, fished, cooked out, and got sunburned. The theme to "Jaws," the movie that came out that summer is a big memory of that year. Anything related to disco and I'm back in time skating at the local rink, swimming at the nearby pool, or remembering when my dad and his girlfriend after the divorce used to go dancing late at night. And when "Saturday Night Fever" burst on the scene, who knew three years later my sister and I would be cracking up as actors made fun of it in the movie "Airplane?" The whole disco era was filled with late night trips to The Varsity Restaurant, riding bikes as music blared from apartment windows, and memories of my dad and his girlfriend perfecting The Hustle so they could dance at popular nightclubs in Atlanta.

The first time I heard the song "Fame" I was nine years old and later saw David Bowie perform as his alter ego on "The Midnight Special." For some reason the song scared me toward the end but it will always remind me of Francis Ann Apartments and going to eat out late at night. When I was ten I saw John Travolta sing "I'm Going to Let Her In" for the first time on "American Bandstand," something Oprah Winfrey recently had a clip of on her show when she had him on as a guest. In 1976 my stepdad, stepbrothers, sister, and I sat around the house making comedy eight-track tapes just for the fun of it. I would pretend to be different actresses, mocking their accents as my stepdad would play interviewer. Then there was David Soul's "Don't Give Up On Us Baby" which came out around the time we used to watch "Starsky and Hutch," which he co-starred in.

Music seemed to be a popular antidote to accompany house cleaning as evidenced by my former stepsister who also used to have the huge stereo blaring with her favorites as she mopped, vacuumed, and tended to every room in the house. When I was 11, I got one of those big plastic jukeboxes that became popular to play LPs on. As the record played a strobe light would light up in front of the box. That was the coolest back then. In 1977 my stepbrother David and I used to listen to Fleetwood Mac's tape as he sped along the highway recklessly in his tiny truck, me scared to death but loving the tunes. I never really cared for the song "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" as a kid until I heard it years later in the summer of '96 at the Democratic Convention on t.v. watching former President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary dance.

When I turned 12 "Grease" came out and I loved it, buying the album and memorizing every song after seeing the movie with my best friend who used to sing the lyrics with me. That Christmas I got a battery-operated radio that I could play eight-track tapes in which I listened to a lot of times with my headphones as our family drove out of town. The night my sister Cindy and I went to see the movie "Halloween" we came home and made cookies to the music of Billy Joel's "The Stranger," an album she owned. We became long-time fans and have seen him in concert together twice. Cindy used to keep a scrapbook of various mementos when she was in foster care like concert stubs from concerts like Bread, Barry Manilow, Joel, and Simon and Garfunkel. She and her former foster dad and foster brother recently went to see Simon and Garfunkel in concert and reminisced about the old days.

I had never heard of Pink Floyd when I got the album "The Wall" from my stepbrother for my 13th birthday. But I remember roller skating to Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" among other hits of his.

And to this day whenever I hear Dan Fogelberg's once popular 1980 song about a couple reuniting around the holidays I am back in time to my 14th Christmas living with my dad, my Kiliban comforter draping my boxspring on the floor and me a member of the chorus. That year as I sang in a concert in the high school choir, my knee-high panty hose fell down around my ankles. The day John Lennon died I was 14 and had never heard of him but I have made up for lost time, now loving his music and wishing I'd known of it way back when. Earlier that year my sister got her first apartment with a roommate and to this day "Funky Town" and any Blondie song from that spring reminds me of that time period. Every time I hear the opening chords to AC/DC's "Back in Black" I think back to the first time I heard my high school basketball drill team dance. They wore Levis, white t-shirts or sweatshirts with their names in black letters depending on the season, and their hair in ponytails, each of them moving in unison across the gym floor at pep rallies.

When I was skinny people used to tell me I looked like a young Bette Davis so when Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis' Eyes" came out when I was 15, I used to love to sing along. That same year I became a huge Rick Springfield fan, listening to him constantly and watching him on t.v. I used to sing along to "Jesse's Girl" in my room, speakers squealing. And I wish I hadn't gotten rid of my Styx "Paradise" album that came out that year which I played to my teenage heart's content. I was 16 when Springfield came in concert but couldn't attend so my friend gave me pictures she took of him on stage which I still have. But the next year I was able to go and didn't get home till 3 a.m., an experience I will never forget. In 1983 I got in a Def Leppard phase and bought their "Pyromania" album, listening to it over and over. I started wearing skin tights jeans and low-cut shirts, strutting around like I owned the place or something.

Then there was the whole "Flashdance/Footloose" era where I would fantasize I was a dancer as I sat in the theatre watching people twirl around to their hopes and dreams. I was getting ready to go off to college at the time and envisioned myself a revolutionary. In 1984 Madonna burst on the scene when I was 18 and I loved her immediately and still do, each early song an index of my high school and college years. Also that year I was dating an Italian guy Nick and he, my sister, and I went to see Cyndi Lauper in concert. The opening act? The Bangles, whose music I later enjoyed as a sophomore.

"Take My Breath Away" will always remind me of the summer of '86 when I was attending West Georgia College and totally enamored with a guy named John. In 1987 around my 21st birthday there were certain songs that will always take me back to being snowed in at school, road trips,various classmates, and a guy I dated at the time. We played a lot of Madonna, "Rocky Horror Picture Show" tunes, and the "Animal House" and "Big Chill" soundtracks at our college parties. I used to relentlessly play the "Animal House" tape in my first car, a black Volkswagen Super Beetle with red interior. When I hear "Heaven is a Place on Earth" I see myself walking in my blue denim skirt into Nick's, a popular college nightspot back then. In 1988 I saw "Good Morning Vietnam" and to this day whenever I hear "What a Wonderful World" I think about that movie.

As I worked at a rehab with teenagers in the fall of 1989 Phil Collins song "Another Day in Paradise" which played on the airwaves around that time will always remind me of the gratitude I had back then for my life. That same year I saw Melissa Etheridge in concert for the first time when she had black hair and hardly anyone knew her. My hairdresser at the time, Tommy, took me to my first gay nightclub as the words to "Like a Prayer," a song he and I used to sing together in the car, jumped out at me from the dance floor and I saw the throng of people responding to its incredible beat. That same year my sister and I did one of those homemade recordings in a studio of Lee Greenwood's "I Owe You" as a Father's Day gift for my stepdad. He played it recently and my sister and I still agree that we both sound like hound dogs. During the original recording we kept cracking up and the studio manager was getting frustrated because every time we started to sing the first verse we couldn't keep from bursting out laughing.

My Janet Jackson tape "Rhythm Nation," a gift from my boyfriend at the time in 1990, got so much play in my car that I wore it out. In 1990 when Sinead O'Connor became popular with "Nothing Compares 2 U" I used to sing along, bemoaning my failed relationship at the time.

If I hear Vanessa Williams' song "Saved the Best For Last," I remember my husband Michael proposing to me in the rain in June 1992 as two of my sisters waited in the car, having no idea he planned to do it. Michael wound up dropping the car keys and we got soaked, laughing as we ran around looking for them in the pouring rain. For our wedding day in 1993, Michael had one of the songs that reminded him of me - "In Your Eyes" - play as I walked down the aisle and we played Patsy Cline and Jon Secada at our reception. Michael and I saw Robert Plant in concert in 1993 which was great but I always wished I could've seen him in the glory days when he was lead singer of my favorite band. Michael and I bought lots of CDs of the classics which we shared in common like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin for me, INXS, and U2. I saw U2 in concert in '92 and they were amazing.

Then there was Sheryl Crowe, who burst on the scene in the fall of 1994, who I became a big fan of right away. The day Kurt Kobain of Nirvana died I became one of those "fake" fans who got into his music, having not listened before. I bought his tapes and have read a lot about him since then, now becoming the true fan I would have been. And Madonna's "Take a Bow" brings back memories of the famous "Friends" first season finale when "Rachel" and "Ross" can't seem to get together. That same year my stepbrother turned me on to Stevie Ray Vaughn who he models his music after and now I know all about him and his music, having picked a few favorites of my own.

Often songs bring back multiple memories like Shania Twain's "I Feel Like A Woman" which reminds me of my sister Cindy and I dancing during a visit to her house in 1999 and a separate episode when I saw a drag queen made up very convincingly as the famous singer lip synch and dance to raise money for AIDS awareness last year.

This year my sister Cindy and I went to see Melissa Etheridge together in Florida, which was a blast. We stood for a long time in line then stood for several hours on the floor since all seats had been removed from the theater. It was worth it to be right at the stage, a truly spiritual and rewarding experience I will never forget, a birthday present from my sister. What a gift! Cindy has been all over the country to see Melissa because she's a huge fan and even got to go on stage with her once. She has an autographed t-shirt in a frame in her house and I send her articles on her idol in the mail when I spot them.

Although never a fan of country music, I had to give my daughter the words to "I Hope You Dance" not long after she was born. The lyrics say it all as to what I wish for her.

I think I always wanted to be a singer but the truth is, I can't carry a note. But I love to sing in the car - at night when no one can see my lips move. I wish I had that gift. I would love to know what it's like to be on stage with millions of people screaming to hear my cherished voice.

But for this life I guess I'll just continue to live vicariously through these famous musicians, each chapter of my life laid out beautifully by their creations.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Cottage

By Terri Rimmer

They told me it was a nice place, that there were Shetland ponies and lots of room.

That it'd be like a private school dorm, there would be people my age, lots of activities, and I'd like it there.

I don't remember if they told me the name ahead of time but I remember the huge sign that read Elks-Aidmore Children's Home in fancy blue scroll against a white backdrop with uncut grass behind it as we rounded the curve. There were individual little "houses" (cottages) divided between gender and age, a tennis court, game room, administration building, pool, trails, and lots of room to walk.
It was owned by the local Elks Lodge and a large, booming man named Milton oversaw the large staff who supervised us for better or worse.

There was Ron, a handsome staffer, later accused of child molestation, Ginger, who had cerebral palsy, Maxine, a twenty-something with long, flowing curly hair but the others I can't remember.

One time one of the teenage residents and I painted a deck bright red earning some money in the summer sun that beat down on our backs as we later argued about who did what and how much.

There was a piano in the main room of our cottage and a big living room where we had dorm meetings when everyone would go around the room and tell you what was wrong with you but never what was right. The hallway was tiled and there were bedrooms up and down the hall and offices and a nurse's station in between. The large dining room seated young girls on long wooden benches as we passed bowls of food to one another on a long brown table. The kitchen was where we prepared our own meals, each of us taking turns depending on the week. Some of us had KP duty, cleaning up the mounds of dishes and pots and pans before heading off to one activity or another or just back to our rooms to dream, write letters, cut or dye our hair, or play our radios too loud.

One time my roommate Melody caught me reading her diary and told everyone about it. I thought she didn't like me so I read her diary to see if she did, which after that, was a moot point. We had posters all over our walls of John Schneider, Shawn Cassidy, different rock and t.v. stars, and we shared a small bathroom which had been made frilly for us girls.

No one ever talked about why we were there, only when we were leaving and how. Everyone dreamed there parents would pick them up one day and tell them they could magically come home.

Orabelle had been there ten years and she was 17. She and her roommate, Teresa, got kicked out one night after the staff caught them in bed together.

One time my friend Kelly and I faked being sick but the staff rubbed Vapor Rub all over us and made us stay in bed during school time.

We laid there for a few minutes in silence until Kelly said, "Terri?"

"Yeah?" I said, turning her way, slowly.

"That shit burns doesn't it?" she asked, laughing.

"Yes!" I exclaimed and we raced to the bathroom to scrub it off then went back to bed, hurriedly.

We took a lot of field trips - to movies, skating, to the Elks Lodge for barbecues and pool parties where some of the members would sing "You Are My Sunshine" and give us gifts and cards. One of the social worker's daughters, Marjorie, age 6, once stepped in a pile of fire ants with her sandals on and screamed bloody murder. On the 4th of July we had watermelon at the pool, cooked out, and swam all day. We weren't supposed to think about parents who left us there temporarily or permanently, depending on the child.

While I was there I developed anorexia to get my mom's attention, hoping that if I starved myself she'd let me come home but all it did was land me in the hospital for two months and I went back to the children's home as a bully. The staff used to drag me out of bed at 2 a.m., weigh me for my anorexia, and if I'd gained a pound, haul me down to the pool and make me swim six laps. Then I was allowed to go back to bed.

They kept telling me "We're going to put you in the hospital if you keep losing weight and they'll have to stick a tube down your throat to get you to eat. A feeding tube." I didn't believe them so I kept losing weight. I didn't think I was fat, just wanted Mom's love but it never worked.

Kelly and I terrorized a girl Rebecca who reminded me of myself, by chasing her on our bikes, teasing her unmercifully as I was teased, and generally making her life miserable briefly. I was 14 and wanted to fit in and I, Kelly, and Jackie, another resident, started hanging out together. I soon became the ring leader of the bullying, going from victim to victor in my adolescent mind.

I did see the Shetland Ponies but never rode them.

I remember a twin sibling set - a pre-teen brother and sister. The little girl was blind and the boy had a speech impediment but he was the sweetest. They were going to be adopted soon, they told me.

This boy, Joey, liked me but when I found out he didn't wear underwear I set my sights on Jack, a cuter boy who always did stunts in the pool. But Joey told Jack that I dumped him (not true) so Jack wouldn't speak to me again.

I remember "The Shining" and "Friday the 13th" movies came out during that summer of 1980 but the staff wouldn't let us go see them. Turns out a couple of the older teenagers managed to see them somehow on their own during a home visit.

We had different levels which granted us various privileges. The higher the level, the more you were allowed to do. Then there was Punishment Level which you could be bumped to any time you did something you weren't supposed to do. Needless to say, it had no privileges.

I kept all the letters my sister Cindy wrote me. She came to visit me too although I only remember my mom visiting once or twice.
Cindy was my savior, my God, my confidante.

One houseparent couple, Bernie and Sandy, had a baby daughter and later had another. They took some of the residents to their huge church once and we sat up in the balcony, trying not to fidget after a breakfast of pancakes. We rode in a white van to all our outings and the name of the home was inscribed on the side so that everywhere we went, people stared and whispered as we got out. I was embarrassed and ashamed but the other kids didn't seem to be bothered by it.

All these years and I could never write about any of this, like a dark secret hidden away underneath a bunch of memories you'd rather forget. I can still remember everything as if it were yesterday - the rolling green hills and the promise that "this was a good place, a fun place, like camp." But as the months and for some, years, ticked by we knew this camp was like no other and that is what made the difference. I remember the faces, some names, the rules, the meals, the hope of one day going home and I wrote every day, my many stories, fantasies, poems, and prose. It kept me sane in an insane time, breathing, living, hoping as I told myself I was different from "them," from all the other residents who did or did not have parents. I repeated all this to myself regularly, silently, wistfully, hopefully as I hung on to my sister's letters of hope and inspiration. While my friends were spending the summer with their parents and their friends who lived in real houses and had normal summers, I was in a children's home with numerous others who all had the same hopes and dreams of one day going home. We never asked one another "Why are you here?" because we didn't have to. We knew it was because we were "bad" or "too much trouble."

Sometimes I'd hear my roommate cry and one time I laid in silence, crying quietly with her. We turned our passions and anger inward and some of us turned them outward in the form of acting out, being creative, or simply surviving.

One resident, Serena, had an older sister who was killed in a car accident while she was living there. I remember how quiet Serena became after that and how the staff wanted her to bounce back so quickly after a brief period of hugs and kisses they handed out gingerly and hesitantly.

Sometimes I wonder what happened to all those girls and boys. Did they go to other institutions like me or did they become the good children we were all supposed to be? How many others traveled through those halls since me? How many went on to lead "productive" lives? How many kept their souls bottled up until they felt safe enough to express their grief? And how many saved their kids from such fate without having the skills to raise them on their own?

I still question authority and I still rebel, looking for that loophole that keeps me from losing myself, spirit, and sanity as I write.

And l hope, dream, and contemplate about the home that doesn't exist, that is, until I build it.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Passing Through

By Terri Rimmer

Two months before my sixteenth birthday my mom placed me in a juvenile delinquent home for girls which was housed in a private home in a regular neighborhood.

There were five other girls besides me, all with histories of behavior problems or their parents simply didn't want them.

The house was made of cedar wood and giant Brown Recluse spiders used to hang out in the rafters which I found out later much to my horror. One crazy roommate I had thought it'd be cute once to put one of these creatures on my bed.

The first time I met the residents and staff before moving in, my mom and I were given a tour of the two-story home which included six bedrooms, three bathrooms, a rec room, dining area, big backyard, garage, small kitchen, and living room. The girls complimented me on my hair and I tried to act all tough like they were but I was scared inside and I didn't belong in this place, either. I has just sabotaged my second foster home placement with a couple in their 30s who couldn't have kids but always wanted to adopt. I was only in that home two months when my mom made the decision to have me placed in this facility after getting through the holidays with me at her house.

It was January 1982 and me and my familiar blue, battered suitcase was moving into yet another institution - the Cobb-Douglas Girls Group Home in Douglasvillle, Georgia. I was being transferred to Lithia Springs High School, a huge school which they later said if it ever caught fire would simply explode because of how it was built. The day I started there, a memorial service was being held for three students killed in a drunk-driving accident. They were drunk and high and one of the girls had been celebrating her 16th birthday.

It was bad enough that the name of the group home was written on the white van we rode around in, which meant that every time we got on or off the bus we were met with curious stares by the other kids. This place was on the level system, too, much like my other placements where you earned privileges and moved up or down a level depending on your behavior. A newbie like me started out on Punishment Level, not really good for the morale, I thought. This meant no privileges. The age bracket was 12-17 but even if you had your license you couldn't have a car there. I pushed the envelope later that year when my sister and I advocated with the staff for me to be able to work my first real job at Six Flags, riding with an employee. The staff didn't know what to think of me, an intellectual juvenile delinquent who worked in the summer and took acting lessons in Atlanta.

What was wrong with this picture?

I took the MARTA train twice a week to acting lessons in the city much to the bewilderment of the staff at the group home and though I couldn't act my way out of a paper bag, according to my teacher, the experience was fun and helped me forget where I was living. Of course, in my job at Six Flags I got to forget even more and often tried to push things even further by coming in late and trying to stay for employee nights when they'd shut down the rides to the public and open them only to employees. One time I went to a midnight movie with a guy and thinking that the substitute house parent was cool, thought I wouldn't get in trouble if I stayed out past curfew. I was wrong and was put on Punishment Level for this charade.

Another time I got stuck at a co-worker's house after work when I didn't have a ride home and had to spend the night there. I missed the first day of school as a result and once again got in trouble at the group home. In the fall I wanted to continue working there but the staff would have no part of it. But I applied anyway then had to bail at the last minute and tell my boss I couldn't continue working there.

There were many odd girls at the group home. Beatrice, a religious fanatic, was overweight, shy, and had a speech impediment. She was not a juvenile delinquent, her parents just didn't want her. She didn't fit in with the other girls, of course and was always getting ostracized, even by staff. Sandra, was a bleach-blonde who wanted to be a hairdresser. She was kind of hard around the edges, wore skin-tight Levis, and was loud. Very loud. She was also my roommate who once turned against me in a stupid argument. Pam was tall, thin, had frizzy hair and liked to smoke pot. She also had gotten into some hard drugs in the past and was pretty popular with the other girls. Denise was a short, thin girl with a sarcastic wit. Not attractive, wore a lot of makeup and liked to go around saying, "I hate it for you" rudely whenever someone complained about something. Rhonda had Herpes, wound up living there with her younger sister, Kim later, and had a boyfriend who was a troublemaker.

Tammy, my roommate, was shy, funny, odd, eccentric, and later tried to convince staff she was possessed by the devil. It worked and she was placed in a mental institute after a memorable night scaring the staff and girls half to death. Her sister, Reba, later came to live there too and she had a drug problem big time. She and Tammy were close. Dina was a chubby 13-year-old whose parents later gave her up to the state in a sudden decision that devastated her and she was moved later to a juvenile facility. Cindy, another resident, was perhaps my greatest enemy. She had bleach-blond hair, dated African-American boys, and was particularly hated at the windowless school we attended. She was best friends with one of the houseparents' daughters, Janet and the two of them would spend hours applying makeup, doing their hair, and gossiping, while listening to rap music. She wore skin tight jeans, heavy black eyeliner, and had a loud laugh that I can still remember today. Rachel was 13 and knew way too much for her age. You could tell at one time she used to be quite innocent but it was taken away too young.

The residents were homophobic and once when they even thought a girl who lived there was gay (she wasn't), they tormented her to no end.

The plan was for me to be there two years until I graduated from high school. I wound up only staying a year and a half and in that time saw a lot of girls come and go. I became known as the veteran since no one stayed more than a few months.

My saving grace was my sister, Cindy, who visited, called, wrote letters, and got the staff to let me come visit her in Florida twice. Once during spring break on a visit to her dorm in college I attended some classes with her, one of which was a Psychology class. The professor brought up the topic of group homes and asked the class if anyone knew what those were. They all sat in silence and I looked at my sister. I wasn't about to raise my hand and say, "Yes, I'm quite familiar with them. I'm in one" so I just looked down at the floor, awkwardly. Cindy and I talked about it later and about how weird that experience was. She even went with me to acting lessons once when she was visiting for the summer. She also picked me up with her boyfriend when she visited from college and we'd all go out to eat and see a movie frequently.

The group home had two sets of houseparents - one for weekdays, one for weekends. Nancy and Robert, the weekenders, had a six-year-old bright redheaded, freckled son, John who played softball. He was full of energy and all the girls liked him like a little brother. Nancy chain smoked, had favorite girls who she allowed to do different things, and had a memorable laugh herself. Her husband was quiet and just went along with whatever she said. Sandy and her husband, a couple of old Hippies, worked the weekday shift. I didn't get along with her spouse at all. He liked to embarrass me in school by saying hi to me which at the time in my teenaged frame of mind was the equivalent of saying, "Hi, I'm your house parent," something I didn't want anyone to know. He also taught math, my worst subject. They had a baby girl and later, one on the way. To this day cranberry juice and bagels and cream cheese reminds me of Sandy and her husband. She was quiet but her husband was loud and he was the main one who enforced the rules. If Sandy observed something or found out about something she didn't like, she'd just tell him and he'd take care of it.

The housekeeper was a large African-American woman named Willie and she didn't like me either although she liked telling my mom and step dad that she was fond of me. She used to get so mad at some of the girls when they interrupted her cleaning by walking across her freshly mopped kitchen floor. She hated when they laid out on the deck with baby oil to sun and had the radio blaring and she liked locking them out during those times. Once in awhile we'd get substitute house parents for a weekend when one of the other couples had something going on, but this was rare. On one of these auspicious occasions we had a female couple, also Hippies, who were so laidback and made vegetarian dishes all weekend, took us to see "The World According to Garp" and to a health food store, the latter of which none of us had ever been to. We didn't know what to think about them but we liked them.

Too bad we never saw them again.

In between school, group therapy (which I hated), individual counseling, field trips to movies, bowling, shopping, the store, swimming, softball games, and various other events, I got really good at playing Bumper Pool in the basement of the house, something we did to pass the time a lot. In that area was a stereo, washer, dryer, storage area, bathroom, furniture, and fridge with two bedrooms adjoining the living room area. Smoking wasn't allowed in the bedrooms but the smokers always sneaked around and did it anyway. If they were caught they got put on Punishment Level.

We took turns cooking and grocery shopping was always a chore. Willie wasn't physically fit to unload the van when she would shop so we all had to carry in the bags she bought up two or three small flights of stairs. Then we had to put everything away which took awhile.

Everyone always fought over the one t.v. we had in the living room so I rarely got to watch anything I wanted.

Then there was the counseling staff who managed the facility. Debbie was a chipper one who always had a smile on her face and would tell you whatever complaint you had wasn't valid. Dale, the director of the home, later worked with my sister and told him, "I never could figure out Terri. She was an intellectual delinquent." Martha was a counselor I started seeing at 12. Donna was the receptionist with a wild streak who had a little girl she was raising on her own.

Once us girls all got to go to Six Flags before I started working there and it was tolerable. During this time period I also tried out for plays in school and was taking drama with aspirations of being an actress to add to my ambition of being a writer one day. But I had no acting talent and was just deluding myself. I also tried out for majorettes, another dream of mine, but didn't make the cut. The tryout song was "Another One Bites the Dust."

I never told my friends where I lived until I absolutely had to, but then I didn't have many friends anyway but tended to befriend teachers. One guidance counselor I had at school wound up letting me visit her home frequently and hang out with she and her kids. I even went with her husband once to pick his son up at the airport. His son was in an international boys' choir, attended a private performing arts school, and had a major role in our high school production of "The Music Man" in which I played a townsperson.

During the spring of my sophomore year of high school I went "parking" with a guy I liked and we kissed but that was it. I later got in trouble for staying out too late. I just wanted a normal teenage life really but every time the bus dropped me off I'd walk a block so the other kids wouldn't see where I lived. Sandra, one of the residents, used to laugh at me and tell me that the people on the bus knew about us and that I was wasting my time. Another time I tried to get out of a camping trip we were going on but they corralled me anyway and I had a miserable time. My step dad let the cat out of the bag when a house parent called the house and found out I'd gotten a ride there without their permission. Again I was just trying to lead a normal life. I was treated like the Black Plague during the whole camping trip by the staff and other girls making for a long weekend.

In the fall I tried my best to fit in when mini skirts and baby doll shoes came back in style but I could never pull off the look even though I was skinny. What looked good in a magazine never looked good on me somehow.

I became friends with a drill team member, Penny, who I admired. She was gorgeous, outgoing, an overachiever, and popular. I don't know why she talked to me but she did. Once I called her over the holidays and she told me her life wasn't so perfect because her dad was cheating on her mom. That Christmas, my first one at the group home, we all got tons of stuff and I went home to visit my mom and step dad just for a few days. I hated going back to that home and it was so hard when it came time to return. I started seeing girls leave all the time after they worked their way up to the high levels and I realized no matter how much I worked I was never going to get to leave because I signed a contract saying I'd stay two years.

I began to feel like, "What was the point?" and that life was futile.

In January 1983 I marked my one-year anniversary in the group home, much to my depressed state. At this point nothing could really scare me except the girl in the home named Cindy, who I was so thrilled with later at the news she was leaving. When she left it was like a weight had been lifted. She was such a bully and could give me looks that would kill. Anything and everything ticked her off. A girl named Sharon came on board later that year. She had a juvenile record but we got to be good friends. She was dating a guy named David, whose mom later wanted to adopt me and have me date her son. Sharon who was about 15, seemed nice enough, not at all like a juvenile delinquent would be but she was always in conflict with staff which wasn't hard to do anyway.

I found out at one point that the staff was writing lies about me in their daily logs - all kinds of things not just about me but the others. Outrageous, bald-faced lies of behaviors I supposedly engaged in, lies I allegedly told, and plans I made. I was astounded but then furious when they caught me and put me on Punishment Level. No one believed the truth. I became even more bitter. In the process of living at the home I had become totally shut down only I didn't know it. I became friends with a couple of potheads at school and started taking speed, something I did for six months and put down with no problem. I never got addicted, thankfully but I was so naive that a 12-year-old druggie once sold me Red Hots and my friend would have to tell me I'd been had. We used to make drug deals in the bathrooms and in front of the principal's office, we were so bold.

During this period my second set of former foster parents, The Vines, were trying to adopt a baby, only they were having problems with the adoption agency because when I lived there they couldn't handle me so the agency staff wrote in their file that they couldn't handle kids. My former foster mom, Peggy, asked if I'd write a letter to the agency explaining that it wasn't their fault that I had problems with them and that I was just rebelling and acting out my anger. I agreed, quickly, wrote the letter, gave it to my mom to mail and hoped for the best. My mom never delivered the letter because she was jealous of The Vines though didn't want me in her house so it took them a long time to get a baby. Peggy, thinking I didn't write the letter to begin with, was furious with me and refused to speak to me again.

One fateful night at the group home the other girls thought it'd be funny to make Beatrice, one of the girls, think she wet the bed in her sleep. So they all urinated in a glass and poured it in her bed while she slept soundly. They told me to hold the blanket up which I did not want to do. But they threatened me with physical violence if I didn't, so I reluctantly did it, much to my disgust and guilt. I later told a house parent about it after these girls got discharged, like a year later, and the house parent made me call Beatrice, who was living somewhere else by now and tell her what I did. Like the saint she was she said she forgave me but it didn't take away my guilt.

During the spring of 1983 I was skinny, wearing skin-tight jeans, low-cut shirts, listening to Def Leppard's album, "Photograph," and had my own room. I had been moved upstairs, something only the higher level girls got to do but it took forever. Then Sharon became my roommate and my life was never the same. She introduced me to her boyfriend's mom, Jane McHatten, who I loved from the start and who I wanted to adopt me. She would hug me and take me with her family to the flea market, shopping, out to eat, and to visit her son in the hospital when he had hernia surgery. She never liked Sharon apparently but liked me from the start. Her daughter, Robin was pregnant with her first child at 18 and unmarried. I loved this family and wanted to be a part of them. David, Mrs. McHatten's son, was a mamma's boy and his mom doted on him. The family would all gather in the living room and watch movies, pop popcorn, and just act like a normal family. I never wanted to leave but would always have to return to that group home.

One day my fate was set through no control of my own. Sharon, on the way back from an outing in the van, sitting in the back, started whispering to me crazy stuff like setting the group home, a government facility, on fire. I thought she was just kidding, just high on drugs or something but then she pointed to some gasoline cans she had stolen and stashed behind the seats.

When we arrived home everyone filed out of the van only she lingered behind, mysteriously.

"What are you doing?" I questioned.

"It's the only way we'll get out of here," she said, gesturing to the gas cans.

"Are you crazy?" I asked, now scared of this girl.

I backed away as I watched her pour a bunch of gasoline in the basement.

"Yeah, that should do it," she said, smoothly.

She didn't light a match. She just mosied her way upstairs inside the house, leaving me to smell the fumes.

I told a house parent they might want to check out the basement, but that was all I said and I went to my room.

When they discovered what she'd done and determined it was her she was arrested, of course but I was dragged to a counselor's office for questioning where my dad sat and demanded to know my part in this scheme. I told them I didn't know anything about it ahead of time, which was partly true. I didn't know she was serious, I didn't know she was going to pour gasoline in the basement but she had implicated me somehow and was determined to drag me down with her. Since the staff didn't believe me they kicked me out and I went to live with my dad who continued sexually abusing me for three weeks until I escaped his clutches once again with the help of my sister. Sharon was sent to juvenile hall and her ties with her boyfriend and his mom were severed, of course. I wanted to stay in contact with the family and Mrs. McHatten still wanted to adopt me but my dad would have no part of it. I was really sad about all this and never got to see her or her family again.

I can still remember what she looks like though and how she was to me, her infectious laugh, how happy she was that I could spend the weekend once, and how she hugged me, rocking me back and forth and smiling.

Sometimes I wonder how my life would've turned out if that family had adopted me. Would I have married her son and had a bunch of kids? Or would her house just be another stop in my young life like all the rest?

Friday, June 24, 2005

Research

By Terri Rimmer

It started out innocent enough.

The ad asked for paid volunteers to experiment with a form of birth control known as the "O ring".

They didn't tell me that it was easier to put in than to take out, something I found out, wriggling around on the cold floor of my bathroom later.

It was one of many research studies I've been involved in since 1992 to earn extra money.

Each one has their own criteria, their own rules, limits, risks, interesting data, and various pay, of course. With asthma, I found I was either too chronic or not chronic enough, a frustrating discovery. One asthma study required me to keep blowing into a machine to make balloons on the computer screen "pop." This determined whether or not I would qualify for the study. After much pain from blowing, I did not and was sent on my way.

An allergy study I was in required me to not take any antihistamines weeks before the study, something I, who suffer from severe allergies, could not do.

The study I get the laughs from other people on though is one I've been involved in for three years. It's a gynecologist study and involves allowing med students to examine you invasively (pap smear, breast exam) for several hours. The pay is $100 per four hours and this year that enabled me to visit my sister in Florida. The first time I volunteered in the study I felt a bit like a prostitute but now I tell my friends who are hard up for cash and they're grateful later. I've met some interesting people through this particular study. One woman volunteer, trying too hard to control the procedure and thinking she was helping the shaky med student lifted her body up to avoid being pinched by the speculum as he was bringing it out of her. The speculum then went flying across the room and hit the wall, much to the student's horror.

One student I had was pouring sweat and he was only on the question and answer period, having not even started the exam. I heard one of the doctors tell someone in the hall that the student got sick earlier and he didn't think he was going to be doctor material. Another student could not say the word "sex" to save his life, which hindered him greatly in the verbal sexual history question and answer period. Some volunteers would change up their story to give the students variety, which they were allowed to do, like the volunteer who told a student she was a lesbian just to get her reaction. The student raised her eyebrows and was totally taken aback at the volunteer's statement and it definitely threw a monkey wrench in her line of questioning.

I also participated in some focus groups for extra income, which also pays well. Once I drove to Dallas to take part in a mock jury group where they fed us lunch and paid us $100.00 for four hours.

I recently tried to take part in a stomach study but found out I'd already tried the medication they were touting, which disqualified me.

The first time I got to see the inside of my gallbladder via medical camera was when I was a paid volunteer in a gastrointestinal study last year. The camera viewing only lasted a minute but it was a very long minute! I was required to log my symptoms daily on a palm pilot then download them into the phone which emailed them to the research study supervisor. At first I was intimidated by the palm pilot having never used one but I got used to it in no time. One good thing that came out of the study, which I was later discharged from due to being too chronic, was the research assistant gave me some paid editing work to do for her son, who was aspiring to be a published science fiction writer.

I called one time on a pain study but wasn't in enough pain, according to the criteria. A depression study I called on rejected me in the pre-screening process, something that should have depressed me, don't you think?

Recently I answered a bunch of intimate questions over the phone to determine if I could take part in a lingerie study but after being embarrassed through all my answers was told I didn't qualify for whatever reason. Seems like they should have offered me a condolence gift for being "violated," you know? Maybe a nice teddy or something.

Having gone through an adoption three years ago I was qualified to take part in an study in Dallas this past spring. They paid me $100 for an hour and a half of questions involving a blind fold, visualization, and somewhat rude questions by the interviewer. As I glanced at the sign-in sheet I recognized three birth moms' names who I knew since an ad regarding the study was posted in the local paper the week before. The money helped me pay some immediate bills.

I was later called by a group in Illinois who offered to pay me $75 to participate in a skin survey via mail. I filled out a questionnaire over a ten-day period, drew pictures, made intricate collages for various questions, and painstakingly reflected in writing daily about my skin including what my fantasy skin would look and feel like, how I felt about my body, and what kind of products I wish were on the market. I had no idea it would be so hard but who really gives skin this much thought? When I was done I felt like a scientist. A very strange mad scientist.

I called a study recently that wanted to interview pet owners but didn't qualify for that one. When I called on an insomnia study the interviewer who pre-screened me didn't like that I took naps and told me they couldn't use me. Oh well. I wasn't willing to give up my daily nap. I hesitantly called on a study about weight last month. After a few series of questions I was told I didn't qualify.

More often than not, I don't qualify for a lot of studies but I keep giving it a shot until I strike gold.

Besides, I know that every spring I will get called back to make that few hundred dollars at the amusement of those med students pursuing gynecology, affording me to fly the friendly skies once again to see my sister in Florida, a trip that is well worth the invasion of my precious reproductive system.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Summer of Love

By Terri Rimmer

After many placements back and and forth between my mom and dad and various other places, I continued with my third foster home in the summer of 1983.

I had just wrapped up a three-week stint with my dad who was getting ready to buy me birth control pills so he could have sex with me finally when I called my sister Cindy and she rescued me from his sick clutches once again.

This time we sat in the lobby of the Department of Family and Children's Services (DEFACS) awaiting our turn to speak with a social worker. She ushered us in professionally and told us about my soon to be new foster parent, Doris Strickland. Mrs. Strickland and her husband Bill had been foster parents for many years, had grown kids and grandkids, lived out in the country, and had several foster children living with them. Bill would soon be retiring from a trade profession and Doris never worked outside the home.

"They're on their way to come get you now," the social worker told me after a phone call. "You can just sit out in the lobby with your stuff and soon Mrs. Strickland will be here."

Surprised, my sister and I went back to the lobby and waited for the arrival of my latest foster mom. It wasn't long before the glass door opened and a heavyset woman with glasses and a ready smile pushed open the door.

"Are you Terri?" she asked me.

"Yes," I said, hesitantly, clutching my familiar bags.

"I'm Doris," she said as the social worker rounded the corner.

"Oh, Doris, you're always so prompt," the social worker said as Doris pushed her eyeglasses up on her nose.

"I'm Cindy, Terri's sister," my sister said, holding out her hand to Doris who took it, amused.

Before I knew it, we were off, me saying goodbye to Cindy once again, Cindy promising to visit, call, and write, which I knew she would, and me getting into a car with my familiar blue, battered suitcase. I don't remember if Doris and I had much of a conversation on the way to her house. I know I was shy and intimidated by her stealth and the prospect of where we were going.

After what seemed like a long drive to me, we arrived at her country home which was out in the middle of nowhere but in the same school district as my sister's high school alma mater. The house was small but had been added on to again and again to accommodate the numerous foster kids the couple had taken on through the years. I later found out The Stricklands had won numerous awards from DEFACS for their years of service.

"Okay, let's go," Doris said, gently as she helped me carry my bags in from the steep driveway.

A couple of teenage girls eyed me curiously then went back to chores. Two teenage boys, Jackie and Mark, who had been there the longest since the age of preschool, were loud and obnoxious but friendly as I entered the small doorway leading to my next home for now. Kandy, Doris' chubby granddaughter, was ten and quiet and used to all the foster kids dominating her grandparents' time. We entered through the back door and I took in the small backyard, large screened in patio that had been made into a giant rec area, and tiny kitchen with an addition for the washer and dryer on the side. The dining room was small and the house originally had only a few bedrooms but The Stricklands had added more and even opened up the attic to add another room later. The living room was tiny with a wood burning stove, tile floor, and windows that looked out over the hilly front yard. There were only two bathrooms which caused a lot of commotion in the mornings.

Two foster brothers enjoyed calling each other Faggot when they horse-played.

Later I was to live in the back bedroom with one other girl and Kandy, sleeping on a bunk bed. There was one dresser, chest of drawer, one closet, two windows, and no privacy. Turns out the girl and I got along well and Kandy was never any trouble. Doris and Bill's bedroom was right next to ours and the bathroom was across the hall that we would share with two others girls across the house and two kids who lived in the attic. Mark and Jackie, who had been abandoned by their parents in a grocery store parking lot as toddlers, had their own bathroom, thankfully. For now I was put in one of the front bedrooms with another girl who was nice and quiet. Doris put down my bags and sat on the bed across from mine, eyeing me reassuredly.

The maternal way she was looking at me fooled me and I didn't see the zinger that she threw at me next:

"So, you're here because your father molested you?" she asked, knowing the answer already.

"Yes," I said, looking at the floor, ashamed.

She heaved a heavy sigh and I thought she was going to sympathize.

"Well, did you dress a certain way? You know, like slutty? Did you make him think you wanted it?" she asked, as I looked at her, stunned.

"No," I managed to say, after a brief hesitation.

"Well, some girls do, you know," she said, wiping her hands on her pants. "Just wondered."

I sat there, silently not believing what I was hearing.

She stared at me for a minute.

"Well, you get settled in and I'm going to finish making dinner. There's blackberry cobbler for dessert. Do you like that?" she asked, heading to the door.

"Yes," I said, pretending to perk up.

"Good," she said, and closed the door behind her, watching me as she did so.

I slowly unpacked, shell shocked at what just took place and also at my new surroundings. I was pretty adaptable having moved so much by now but there was still a period of getting adjusted. I laid down for a few minutes and later ate dinner and had some of Doris' homemade delicious cobbler with ice cream on top. In those days I could eat what I wanted and not gain a pound. That night everyone sat around, cracking jokes, telling stories, and listening to music. The t.v. wasn't on by now because it was so late. Everyone seemed to get along well and enjoy a great camaraderie. I was quiet, taking it all in before I headed to bed.

The next day my social worker came out to see me, filled out paper work, told me where I'd be going to school in the fall, and was in and out of there in no time. I happened to have moved in Fourth of July weekend or thereabouts so the entire family went to the lake and we swam, had sandwiches, and all came back tired and tan. It was fun though rowdy.

Doris bought me clothes with the allowance provided to her as a foster mom, took me to the doctor, gave me chores to do, took me on errands with her, and generally listened. She kept her car in the road 99 percent of the time, shuffling kids to appointments, court, school; etc. She bought me a fire engine red electric typewriter after letting me use her manual blue one when she discovered I loved to write. She wanted me later to write a novel about her experiences as a foster mom but we never got it off the ground, spending more time talking about it than doing it. I wrote a lot of great things on that red typewriter, which was loud and unstable as it sat on my dresser surrounded by makeup and other peoples' belongings. I would perch precariously on a high stool, bent over, banging away at the keys as it hummed along to the tune of my imagination.

Doris said she loved the sound and after I left missed hearing it. She never complained about all the time I spent doing it and loved to read my stuff. Mark and Jackie marveled at how much time I'd spend writing and would often ask me, "How do you get your ideas?" and "How do you type so fast?" I took typing in the sixth grade and worked for my step dad in the summers between the ages of 12 and 16, typing in his office. Soon I started opening up and telling jokes with the others, cracking Doris and Bill up as they demanded more and more. I heard jokes on "Saturday Night Live" and would re-tell them to the amusement of Mark, Jackie, Doris, Bill and Kandy. It became a great outlet for forgetting what was really going on in my life.

One day one of the girls had to go to court as her parents were relinquishing their rights, something that would soon be happening to me only I didn't know it at the time. I always felt like what's the use of your parents giving you up to the state a year before you were going to turn 18 anyway? That to me was a statement.

It seemed like no time at all it was my time to go to court, only no one told me what to expect, just that my dad was going to answer to charges of the sexual abuse and I wouldn't have to see him. The social worker put me in a room with a candy bowl and I waited for what seemed like forever.

"Okay, it's all done," the social worker said, entering the room where I sat.

"What's all done?" I asked.

"Your parents signed away their rights. You're a ward of the state now," she said, matter-of-factly, and gestured me toward the exit.

I was shocked. I had no idea that's what this court date was about. As we waited to pay the parking lot attendant I saw my dad in his car ahead of us. He met my gaze in his rear view mirror and gave me a nasty look. I didn't say much on the way back to Doris' house, too stunned to speak, too upset at the trauma I just witnessed. My dad, who used to dote on me, just gave me a look like he could kill me and I couldn't comprehend it. I didn't see my mom that day or Cindy. I was numb by the time the social worker dropped me off and she told Doris to keep an eye on me. Doris nodded, knowingly and tried to force a smile.

"You want some pie?" she asked, and I obligingly took it so as not to be rude though I was far from hungry.

After awhile I asked, "So, what happens now?"

"We've got to register you for school," Doris said, sitting across from me at the tiny kitchen table.

I would be starting my fourth high school in four years, my senior year, knowing no one at North Cobb High School out in the mountains. I was scared about it but used to moving around.

One day my social worker called Doris and told her she had a package for me from my dad. We hurriedly went to the office to pick it up, me surprised that my dad would send me anything since he was mad at me for turning him in for abuse. I waited till we got home to open the large box and it was a good thing I did. It was one of a couple of more boxes to come in the time I lived at Doris and it devastated me. Inside the first box I received were black and dead roses, shredded baby pictures of Cindy and I, ripped up stories and poems I'd written, and a big note addressed to me from my dad that read: "Thank you for ridding me of you at last." That spun me into a depression that I must not have ever recovered from. I had no idea my dad could be so cruel.

"You need to forget him," Doris told me as she shut the trunk, leaving my stuff inside and leading me into the house.

I loved Doris and Bill even though they both had tempers and when they would flare everyone would scatter like flies and take cover.

Jackie or Mark would say, "Doris or Bill's on a rampage" to warn us ahead of time.

I only got Doris mad once that I know of and that was when another girl and I treated Kandy like a redheaded stepchild. Believe me, we never did that again. An only child, Kandy had had a rough life already, losing her father in a helicopter crash and living with her drug addicted mom who was never home. Bill, Doris' husband, later died of a heart attack after I left college.

Another day while living with Doris, she met Cindy and dropped me off at a meeting point for her to pick me up so we could visit. By this time Cindy had a different car, giving up her old "Rocky" yellow Nova and now driving a blue Chevette, a car my dad had bought her right before I escaped him this last time. We spent the day together, running around, eating, shopping, going to the beach, whatever. I hated to say goodbye to her so as always she made it not only bearable but fun. As we waited in the parking lot for Doris to pick me up again, Cindy and I were cracking up about various inside jokes and stories from our past and present.

"Hey, remember that Fig Newton commercial?" she said, suddenly inspired to be silly, and proceeded to imitate it.

"Here's the tricky part - "The big, Fig NEW-TON!" she mimicked, dancing around. "What's tricky about that?"

She had me belly laughing and soon she joined in as our laughter bounced off the black asphalt of the parking lot against the trees lining the school yard where we waited for Doris' familiar truck to round the corner.

When it did, Cindy hugged me tight.

"I'll call you tonight," she promised and I knew she would.

I had been at Doris for about a month when I started my first day of my senior year of high school. One of my electives was Child Care, a class I'd taken before but loved. However, this day my teacher came in the room in tears and the class fell silent and awkward.

"What's wrong, Ms. Patton?" someone finally asked.

She grabbed a Kleenex. and looked at us, pitifully.

"Oh, I just found out a friend of mine died," she said, trying to be professional but not able to contain herself.

"Ohhhh," the class of all females seemed to say in unison.

"Yes," she began. "Peggy Vines was a wonderful woman........."

I didn't hear the rest because I realized she was talking about my old foster mom, a woman who I lived with for two months before being placed somewhere else because of behavioral problems. Then everything seemed to go in fast forward. I cried out and ran to the bathroom as the class stared. Mrs. Patton hurried after me and gently knocked on the door for awhile before I managed to open it. I couldn't speak from sobbing uncontrollably. I had no idea Peggy had died or even that anything was wrong with her. Mrs. Patton grabbed my shoulders, maternally and waited for me to speak which seemed to take forever.

"She....She.....She," I sputtered in between sobs. "She was my foster mom. I didn't know....I didn't know."

"Oh, Terri," Mrs. Patton said, hugging me.

From there a bond was formed between us that lasted several years.

She let me take a few minutes to compose myself and explained that Peggy and Terry, her husband had just adopted a baby girl that they'd been trying to get for a long time. They only had her for three weeks but Peggy, who had a congenital heart defect, couldn't take the excitement and had a heart attack. She was only 33 when she died. To make matters worse, the social services agency, swooped in and took Baby Brittany, a newborn, back to foster care, leaving Terry to suffer two blows - the loss of his wife and daughter in the same month. I didn't tell Mrs. Patton that had I made sure the adoption letter of recommendation I was supposed to write the year before was delivered to the adoption agency, that The Vines would've had their baby sooner. I did write the letter but my mom never mailed it because she was jealous of The Vines. Peggy blamed me for this at the time and was very angry at me, refusing to believe that I ever wrote a letter. I carried that guilt with me for years though it wasn't my fault.

"I saw Peggy at a church picnic about a month before she died and she spoke of you, though I didn't realize today that this was you," Mrs. Patton said now. "She told me she forgave you and that she still loved you and wondered how you were doing."

This made me cry even harder.

"Do you want me to call someone for you?" Mrs. Patton asked.

The day was almost over.

"No," I said, knowing Doris probably couldn't get away to come get me.

When I had been at Doris' about a month Doris told me of a couple in their 30s she knew who lived down the street in a much nicer house, built by the husband who was in the building business. They wanted to adopt a child. I listened, not getting her point.

"They would love you," she said. "I talked to them and they'd like to meet you. Have you come for a weekend to see how you all like each other."

I was stunned again and surprised.

"Are they foster parents?" I asked.

"No, just friends of mine," she explained. "She's a teacher and he has his own business. They can't have kids and have been trying for years. She's had several miscarriages and wants a baby so bad."

"But I'm 17," I said.

"I know but they would like to meet you," she persisted.

So one weekend she drove me to The Praters. Cindy Prater was short, had blond hair and blue eyes, and a calm personality, or so I thought at the time. David, was "her big Teddy Bear" as Cindy described her spouse, had a booming voice, and was boisterous. They had a two-bedroom, two-bath house with a fireplace, patio, garden, high ceilings, and had decorated what would be my room in all of Cindy's old teenage furniture - all white with a Princess theme. I later found out the bedroom used to be a nursery for their expected baby.

The weekend went well. We cooked, watched movies, visited her family, and got to know each other. She turned me on to Yoplait yogurt which I love today and made nachos for us with cheese as we rented movies, sitting in the nice living room with brand new carpet. They told Doris they liked me enough to be their foster child and would apply for a license. Before I knew it I was packing up to go live with them, five minutes from Doris' house.

"We'll still see each other," Doris reassured me as she helped me load the car with my belongings.

I couldn't believe what was happening but reasoned that it was a good thing. They seemed like a nice couple though I didn't know much about them. What if Mrs. Prater got pregnant though and kicked me out to make room for baby? I wondered.

The honeymoon period for The Praters and I was brief. Unfortunately, following the same pattern I pursued with The Vines in the name of fear of being loved, I sabotaged that placement and was returned to The Stricklands within two months. But before I was returned Mrs. Prater tried her best to make a home for me although she was obsessed and bitter about not having a baby of her own. A friend of hers had had twins recently, giving her little girl siblings and Mrs. Prater was vocal about her bitterness to me. In stores or at doctor's offices she would admire other people's babies and pick them up without their permission, holding them tight with a faraway look in her eyes. I felt sorry for her at the time but didn't know how to express it.

There were things I missed about living with The Stricklands - stupid things like how Mark and Jackie used to call the girls who hogged the phone "Phone Hound" as they chattered away, incessantly.

While I lived with The Praters they let me get a kitten who I named Mandy, paid for tickets for my friend and I to go to a concert, worried about me, which made me feel good and loved, and bought me school clothes. I became best friends with a girl named Suzanne, who lived down the street on a ranch, rode horses, and taught me how to ride bareback. My first time wasn't successful, however, as one of her horses dragged me through a bunch of trees and I came out all scratched up. I envied Suzanne whose parents were married. She who was popular and dating a cute football player at school who I later had a crush on named Chris.

When it came time to leave The Praters for good, Mr. Prater sat me down.

"I want you to know that this decision was mine, not my wife's," he said, repeating himself over and over to my sullen face.

I lashed out and said something along the lines of "I didn't care" and stormed off.

Years later The Praters adopted a little Korean baby girl and Mrs. Prater got pregnant less than a year later, successfully carrying her fetus to term.

I was happy for them when I heard the news from college.

It was what they deserved.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Tim

By Terri Rimmer

You, always ready with a smile, helping hand, laughter, jokes.
No one, not even your wife, best friend knew of the pain within.
Everyone thought you were doing so great. You seemed to be, they say. You'd lost weight, repaired your marriage, strengthened your friendships.
Or so it seemed.
But one day before one of your son's birthdays, you headed home from work like any other day, stopping off for a detour that would change your life forever and inflict such pain in the hearts of your loved ones still in shock.
You told her, "You need to come get the truck" after calling the police, telling them someone was after you.
You must have had it planned for months, or so your doctor said.
What went through your mind as you drove that road, off the interstate headed for trees? Did you have second thoughts? Did you think what if? Did you think of anyone else?
You pulled your truck up under a tree, got out, ending it all. One of your sons with his friend found your body on the ground, your belt used as a weapon to say goodbye at 45.
The crowd was magnificent at your service, standing room only in the back. So many people left behind, the numerous lives you touched. Your company shut down the whole building as your co-workers told you goodbye.
A friend cried beside me and later said, "I just didn't want him to die."
One of your sons spoke at your funeral and said, "Don't let his life go to waste. Let's finish the good work he started together."
His speech was met with tears and audible signs of grief.
They played religious music, though you were not religious, the minister preached on virtue and hope and how drugs had led you down the wrong path bringing you there today. Hymns were sung, prayers read, people spoke, heads bowed. I touched you lightly on the arm, looked at your face one last time as we said goodbye amidst flowers, wreaths, and rain.
We stood outside and waited for the journey, people talking, smoking, contemplating.
And now a family of ducks follows us toward water where you're to be buried. A rain is threatening overhead and bagpipes play for you. Some drove, some walked to your burial site, some didn't go at all. Some had to be helped there, some were seated, and some were there in spirit.
The flood waters came the day before and I missed your viewing.
But now as the music played above and a final prayer was said, the crowd dispersed to eat awhile and wonder aloud at the day.
You are the third statistic I've seen, an utter tragedy, not counting the passive ones who just let things take over.
Hard to believe that just last year I attended a female's funeral just like yours, one who ended her life in much the same way, only hers not such a shock.
Ironically I have known many times how you felt that fateful June. And now that you are gone I reflect on my past selfish plans.
Strangely enough after so many dreams, you walking in my sleep, I have a sense of calm and yet am aware of this fragile life, this weird journey we all take, everyone scarred in some way.
Who knows to what lengths one person will go to when the other shies away?
And who can say who has a God and which Higher Power that is? Be it money, lust, things, or greed, what drives a person's success, saying "No more for me. This was my life. And I am ready to flee?"

Sunday, June 19, 2005

For Terri Rimmer's Web Page

Go to ryze.com

A literary healing

Author whose poem appears in book benefiting American Cancer Society says writing helps her cope with some of the sad experiences in life

By Tammye Nash
Dallas Voice

FORT WORTH - When she submitted a poem to writersway.org, Fort Worth
writer Terri Rimmer didn't realize part of the proceeds from sales of the anthology she hoped to be a part of would benefit the American Cancer Society.

But when she found out her poem was selected for the anthology called
"Spirit of Strength," Rimmer was glad to know her poetry would help benefit such a good cause, she said during a recent interview

"I have had a lot of friends and family members who have had cancer.
Quite a number of them have died," Rimmer said. "In fact, the day I found out my poem had been chosen for 'Spirit of Strength,' a good friend of mine told
me they think she has bladder cancer."

Editor Kristen M. Biss said "Spirit of Strength" - a special print edition
of Voices Literary Magazine - was born of her need to share the healing power she found in poetry while she was battling bone cancer.

The book includes works from 18 poets and artists. It retails for
$10.06 at barnesandnoble.com, and Biss has pledged $1 from the sale of each copy to the cancer society.

Rimmer's poem,"Charmed," is on Page 12 and Page 13 of the 48-page
paperback. She said she wrote it as a tribute to her sister.

"The name of the poem is kind of a play on my sister's nickname, Charm
Chick. She can charm just about anybody into anything," Rimmer said. "She read the poem before I sent it in, and she was really touched. She and her girlfriend live in Florida, but we are really close. We always have been. Our parents
divorced when I was 8, and our mother just kind of
left. So my sister is really the one who raised me."

At 11, Rimmer went to live with her mother. But by 14 she was living in a
children's home. From then until she turned 18, she said, she spent her life moving between foster homes and institutions.

Through all the upheaval, Rimmer never lost touch with her beloved
sister.

"No matter where I was, she always wrote to me and came to visit me," Rimmer said.

Rimmer said she first decided she wanted to be a writer when she was 8,
about the time her parents divorced. Her lifelong dream took a little different turn when, as a freshman at a West Georgia College, she joined the staff of the school newspaper.

"I had never really thought of being a journalist. I had always wanted
to do creative writing," Rimmer said. "But I loved working on the newspaper in college. I still didn't want to be a journalist, per se. But it was writing,
and I enjoyed it."

By the time she was a senior, she had worked her way up from beat reporter
to editor of the school newspaper. She was also co-editor of the school's magazine, and had done intern work at community newspapers, including the
Times Georgian in Carrollton, Ga., and the Marietta Daily Journal.

After college, Rimmer took a position as editor of the East Cobb Neighbor,
one of a chain of neighborhood papers in Georgia.

Rimmer eventually married, and in 1996 she moved to Fort Worth when her husband was transferred. They separated shortly after, but she decided to stay on.

Almost five years ago, in what she calls an "unbelievable fluke of chance,"
Rimmer found herself pregnant. Knowing that she was not financially capable of caring for a child, she decided to put the baby, a girl, up for adoption.

Rimmer is able to see her daughter a couple of times a year, and the two exchange cards and letters. But as the holidays set in, it's still difficult, she
said.

"Putting my daughter up for adoption was heartbreaking for me. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. It was also the smartest thing I have ever done," said Rimmer.

Rimmer found solace in her writing. She began keeping an adoption journal
at Adoption.com and eventually turned the journal into a novel about her experiences.

Her novel has been optioned for publication by Adoption Media. But
after two years, Rimmer said, she is beginning to lose faith in the company's promises.

"They've been promising to publish it, and they keep telling me
'the vendor is trying to iron out the purchase details,'" she said.

Rimmer said she would like to shop the novel around to other publishers.
But she has a contract with Adoption Media.

Waiting on the publishing company to take action on her first novel
has also forced Rimmer to put plans for her second on hold. The manuscript, dealing with her time in foster homes and children's institutions, is
completed, but Rimmer said she doesn't want to start the process of trying to get it published until the situation with the first book has been resolved.

In the meantime, Rimmer's primary source of income is a part-time job with Abbey's Pet and House Sitting Service. But she continues to make writing a priority.

"I am always trying to get whatever freelance gig I can find," she said.

She has worked for the Ally, a GLBT newspaper that publishes every week in Tarrant County, and she contributes regularly to Gayfortworth.com, an online
news service.

"What I want to do is make a living as a writer. It's hard, but it's
always been my dream, and it still is," Rimmer said.

Terri Rimmer's online journal of her experiences as a mother who put her
child up for adoption can be found at http://e-magazine.adoption.com/articles/277/life.php.

E-mail nash@dallasvoice.com

REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION OF DALLAS VOICE, COPYRIGHT, DECEMBER 3, 2004, DALLAS VOICE, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Coyote Moon Health Resort & Spa - Bring a Friend for 1/2 Price

Coyote Moon is the world's first holistic resort and spa serving the GLBT community. For info go to coyotemoonresort.com or call 1-877-784-7430.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Service Announcement

For all of your pet and house sitting needs, go to abbeyspetsitting.com or call Kelly Sullivan at 817-735-1486. Tell him Terri sent you!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

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