The Last Mason Jar. 1998
My soul felt as empty as the mason jar of change that rattled into my hand as I finished going down on the trucker in his trucker cabin. Filled with the smell of flannel, stale beer, and dirty socks with John Deere trucker hats hanging on the wall. Empty Pabst Blue Ribbon cans littering the floor, wadded up tissues in the wastebasket, and the stale beer haze that stuck in my nostrils. A rust-stained curtain barricaded the cabin, there were no family photos or mementos that represented any kind of home comfort. Getting up from my knees, wiping my mouth and spitting in the basket sure that was some sort of organism living in there. I wondered if the jar was some sort of symbol or had some special meaning as it was the second mason jar full of change that showed up in my life. This wasn’t prostitution, since I didn’t have to fuck him, just a means to an end of getting a shot in my arm. He had picked me up outside the big truck stop about a half-hour walk from the San Bernardino County jail that I had just got out of yesterday. I had gotten shipped there from Bakersfield for an old warrant for possession. The sound of the pants zipper zipping up only made me feel emptier. I am fucking hate myself.
There was a hollow clank of mason jar hitting the floor of the truck cabin that echoed in my ears resembling the emptiness that I felt, all my promises, my entire dismal life, and my gurgling stomach. My fantasy of being the next famous Food Network TV chef star, completely vanished a while ago. As I wiped my mouth off, I recalled the phone call with my father, I had known for a while there was no hope left, nowhere to go, and no plan to bring it all together. This was just another reminder of what my life had become. The trucker had promised twenty bucks but told me after he finished that it was about ten in change. I knew from experience to always get the money first, men always tended to forget their agreements once they got off.
I made my way back to the truck stop to start looking for a way to get high, even though I wouldn’t consider it getting high anymore, but maybe the ninety days I just spent in jail would lower my tolerance and the shot might do what I needed it to do, but I doubted it. Ten bucks wasn’t going to get anything worth the effort. Not quite running out of plans yet, I decided to call my father to try to get some money, even though I couldn’t remember the last time he had sent me any money.
I call collect from the payphone outside the truck stop on the side of the I-10 freeway on the outskirts of San Bernardino. The trucks and cars flying by on the way to some promised future that was squandered by years of drug addiction and alcohol abuse, the tone ringing was the doorbell attached to the last door left as all the others were left in smoldering ash after I had burned everything to the ground, again. The electronic voice of the operator asked, "Would you accept a collect call from" In my best needy broken daughter voice, "Molly". My father answered in his resigned, weary raspy voice said, "Yes". Rapidly, before in questions can be asked. "Hey dad it's Molly, I just got out of county and I'm over at the truck stop and I'm just trying to get into this halfway house I heard about that will take me if I can come up with some money." I pleaded with him in the most desperate sounding voice I could muster. My father replied in his I’m not going to fall for this shit again voice. "Molly, aren't you tired of this yet?' To which I replied “Dad I just need 40 bucks to get into this halfway house, I need something so they will know I’m serious. I don’t have anywhere else to go.” My father, my flesh and blood, asked something that day he had never asked before “Molly, why do you keep doing this? Why don’t you change? See you never change; you keep doing this and I just want to know why?" For the first time in my life, I told the truth. “I don’t know dad, I don’t know why I keep doing this, I don’t.” To which my father replied “I’m sorry Molly, but I can’t help you. I love you more than anything in the world, but I just can’t watch you kill yourself like this, please don’t call us anymore.” The sound of the phone hanging up seemed as loud as the gates of hell being slammed in my face.
The feelings of loneliness and self-pity dripped off me in waves and the only thing to do was to find something to drink. I would rather get high, but the trucker's change was only ten bucks, and I needed some smokes and something to eat. My life was a downward spiral of a carnival ride that dropped straight down so fast that the insides of my body turned to jelly and never got put back where they belonged.
I wasn’t quite willing to let go yet and called another friend from the past that sent me 40 dollars. I didn’t even try to lie to myself about where that money would go. Cigarettes; check. Fast food; check. Find something to get high with, check. Except getting high was like getting laid and almost having an orgasm. It never did the trick anymore, never. I had given up trying to quit. There was no point in that.
The reason I picked the truck stop was beyond the fact that there were plenty of lonely men who were looking for a distraction. And if anything, I knew how to be someone’s distraction. I could usually hustle up some work doing something. One trucker asked me to help move a bunch of furniture onto his moving truck and he would pay me forty bucks for two hours of work. While I was in their garage, I found a box of insulin syringes. I look around to make sure no one is in sight and pocket a package of the which has ten syringes in it. This is like a gaunt prospector finally finding gold after he has eaten all his food that is considering killing his mule deciding on which cut to eat first after he kills it. It’s a score. The trucker takes me back to the truck stop and gives me my money. I head out on the hunt. Finding dope at a truck stop isn’t that difficult. Finding good dope is, but not much is good for me anymore.
So, I score some crack, a little speed that wasn’t that good anyway, and hooking up with some guy who bought some beer and promised to give me a ride into Palm Springs because I thought hustling would be easier out there. I had the idea that I could find dope easier and that was always a good reason to go somewhere.
The guy was kind of cute after eight beers and I let him go down on me, which was a nice treat. Weirdo didn’t even want a blowjob or anything. After 90 days in jail, the eight beers got me very drunk, so passing out in the guy’s truck was better than sleeping in the trucker’s lounge at the truck stop I had been hanging out in.
I woke up sore and stiff from sleeping in the cab of the pickup truck and rubbing the sleep from my eyes, the cute guy was not as cute anymore. Last night he was full of beer promises of how he would take me to Palm Springs, but as Ida Maria says ‘what is easier in the night, always such a fright, in the morning light’* and suddenly, his story had changed to not being able to give me a ride. I am furious and in a voice that carries for miles, I am screaming at him. “What the fuck! Motherfucker!” He drives off in a spray of rocks and dust leaving me on the frontage road on the side of the freeway. Luckily, I had grabbed a couple of beers, warm leftover cheap beer from the night before which tasted like shit even when it was cold. But a girl has got to do what a girl has got to do. I drank half of one of those beers that tasted so disgusting that I couldn’t even drink it. I dumped the other half out onto the freeway I had walked over to.
There used to be all these romantic and sweeping ballads that sang about traveling and being on the road, but none of them came to my mind as I started hitchhiking toward Palm Springs, CA and I vaguely felt a fantasy creeping in and began to believe I could get a job somewhere. I was not too skinny right now but the track marks all over my arms looked like a construction site. Flaunting greasy stringy hair, torn jeans, and shoes that smelled like a dead person had pissed in them. I’m sure the hiring manager would rush to my side with welcoming arms especially if they wanted people to not buy anything from them or eat in their restaurant. I only had the clothes on my back but fantasized I was going to go get a job. There was also the fact that I had lost my ID and social security card and had not had a real address in some time, but that's what the mind is good at, delusion is merely a decision to not see the truth.
I made it to a town a little outside of Palm Springs called Cabazon, which had plaster dinosaur statues and an Indian casino and as I wandered around the streets looking for a place to sleep, I met a kind of cute girl who worked at a gas station. I told her some sob story about being left here by a boyfriend or something, so she told me I could sleep in the bathroom on the floor; at least it was out of the cold. Piss-stained floors and magic marker penises covered the walls with the declarations of “Josh was here”, and “Call Julia, she swallows” as if some idiot thought someone gave a shit about if he had been there or not. I used a toilet paper roll as a pillow. A trick I had learned from one of the many times I had been to jail. In the middle of the night, the girl from the counter sneaks into the bathroom, I find myself suddenly waking up to being fingered, without permission, but since she let me sleep in the bathroom, I made it, so it was no big deal. As I think about what a fucking whore I am, oh well, it's not like I have stellar morals or anything. She was much cuter than the trucker, in any case.
The next day I hitchhike into Palm Springs, the home of Sonny and Cher, Fred Astaire, the Betty Ford Center, Rodeo Drive, and wealth hidden up in the hills off the unpretentious highway 111. I had run around here back in the day, so I knew my way around and I cruise the old haunts, the dirty bookstores, the gay bars, and Warm Sands Avenue, but they weren't looking for girls over there. There is nobody around I know, and I’m broke. Unless I turn a trick there's no money to score, and the kind of guys who would want me for anything like that now are not the kind of guys I want anywhere near me.
I am walking aimlessly, I end up at a grocery store panhandling for money, "please sir, can you spare some change?' I plead to stranger after stranger. Like a broken record player with the familiar old tune of what a piece of shit, I had become. It’s one thing to steal, but it's humiliating to beg. The shroud of self-pity is as comforting as a warm blanket or some good soup. I manage to get a couple of dollars and walk over to get on the bus and go to the part of town I know I can at least turn a quick trick and score something. Anything would feel better than feeling so lost, so broken and hungry. Fuck. As I am getting on the bus, I say something to God. Something I had never said before and it was “God I don’t know what to do”. I head down the aisle and slump in the hard plastic seat and thinks about my life, all the choices I had made that got me here, all the people I had hurt in my wake, and I hope the next guy I sell myself to won’t be a troll because trolls are the worst. But that's what I am now, this is what it is going to be, all to get a fix, to try to stop the voices from clamoring in my head, and knowing no matter how much I get, I would always want more, and it would never end.
As the bus pulls away, I notice a lady sitting across the aisle from me. She has the most beautiful hazel eyes. They could be described as golden, almost. Blond hair turning grey. There was something about this lady, I couldn’t put my finger on. I don’t usually try to connect with women as I don’t normally have anything to offer them and the I’m a poor and pitiful wayward puppy routine did not usually work to get them to feel sorry for me or give me any money. But I cannot stop looking at this lady. She looks over to me and I notice a sparkle from a necklace pendant with a religious-looking guy on there. I find myself asking her. “Who’s the guy on the necklace?” The lady looks right into me and sees me in some way that no other person has seen me and replies. “Well, my dear it’s St. Augustine. He is the patron saint of people with addiction, especially people with sexual addictions.” She pauses. “Do you believe in saints my dear?”
“I don’t know, I think someone having to die for God in order to be a saint seems kind of harsh, if there is a God, I’m not so sure it requires that kind of sacrifice.” I sarcastically flip my hair. “What’s your name dear?’ The kind lady asks. “My name is Molly, what’s yours?” “My name is Beatrice. Do you believe in God my dear?” Somehow Beatrice has a demeanor that makes it feel easy to talk to her. I never feel at ease with anyone, and she just makes me feel wrapped in care or something like that. “I believe in something, I’m just not real sure it has much interest in me or this world by the way things look, with all the problems we have, I especially think he could have been there for me a lot more or I wouldn’t have ended up the way I am.” I risk telling her. “Yes, I can see that you have had a hard time. How do you think you got to this point? What’s your story?” She asks and I believe she truly wants to know. “That’s a long story,” I tell her. “Time means nothing to me, my dear, tell me everything on our ride, maybe I can help you,” she tells me. I hope there is a dinner or some cash in that help and I get quiet for a minute and decide to tell her everything. I don’t think the bus ride is quite that long, but I feel the need to open to her. No place like the beginning or at least where I think the beginning is. “Okay, Beatrice. You asked for it. Can I come sit by you? I’m sorry but I might stink a little bit.” I begin to move to the seat next to her.
“I don’t know where to start. I remember being a sweet kid, something went wrong somewhere, so here’s the story, hey do you have a snack or something? I’m kind of hungry?” “Of course, my dear” and I begin to tell my story. Hindsight is what it is. /I look right at Beatrice and say” Okay here it goes, let me know when we are getting close to your stop” “Don’t worry my dear, I have an eternity.” Which I think is an odd thing to say. I just start to tell her my story. I would like to tell you if you're interested. My name is Molly Wolfe, and I am a superhero, or I was once. But first I was a baby and lots of shit that happened wasn’t my fault. I might as well get started………
The way way back, 1970’s
The memories are like old, faded Polaroids. Spotty, torn at the edges, with green fog surrounding the outside that occasionally come into focus. Some are clear and some are not, others are whispers in my ear that are based on the stories I was told by various members of my family. Did I make up the memories of what happened? Was any of it real? I was told I was born two months early, a preemie, very small, and left in an incubator, without her mother's milk and fed goats milk until I went home. Then to be fed some powdered, GMO-infused baby formula; definitely not organic. I had a single mother who was perhaps a psychopath, abandoned by a drug addict father who was too busy tweaking and drinking to be a husband or a father. My mother was the victim of child abuse and molestation. I had been told and yet it is unclear who had been the perpetrator of such horrors against her. I know that I come from a broken, broken family, full of brokenness and misery that is best left unspoken, except in rumors and whispers that is finally let out into the open, like a wild wildebeest foaming at the mouth, as spoken things have less power than unspoken ones. It is time for me to speak to try to figure out how I got where I was, I needed to figure out where I came from. This is the story, the best I can put together as the pictures found lying in a locked steamer trunk full of shit can be trusted, I will show them to you and you can be the judge.
Imagine a quaint town, two thousand souls, twenty years back in time with little quaint shops, a barber shop, a cafe, two stoplights, a five-n-dime when you could get stuff like candy for a penny, trinkets for five cents or a dime. A farming community and a river town where either you worked in town at one of the shops there, owned a farm, worked at the Caterpillar plant fifteen miles away building the great American tractors that are built in India and China now. Right on the Illinois river, barges pushing mysterious payloads off to who knows where. The men were real men that wore flannel, John Deere hats, only drove corvettes or pickup trucks, didn’t wear underwear, or trim their pubic hair. The women stayed home to raise their children because there wasn’t meaningful work that mattered that didn’t make you feel like white trash. They certainly didn't trim. Everyone was white. No one knew what a Muslim was, and everyone called themselves a Christian. Even us, though if pressed I couldn’t tell you what that meant or what we believed. There were four or five churches and just as many bars but only one school and everybody knew everybody as well as the secrets they tried to keep. The world was ruled by Lynyrd Skynyrd, REO Speedwagon, Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band, The Grand Ole Opry and Kenny Rogers. The bad kids liked AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and KISS. Where the world felt small yet safe, where we lived in a tiny house that felt huge with a big sappy pine that reached far up into the sky like the beanstalk of lore and a big picture window that looked out into the magical land of the park. There were three kids including me. A little brother Mitch and spoiled little sister Marley. Marley is the tattletale and Mitch is the jock, as little kids we were just little kids. Being the oldest is like an experiment in Frankenstein’s lab, getting odd limbs sewed on you to see if they fit, also called parenting in the 70’’s. Schools were allowed to paddle misbehaving children as were neighbors, babysitters, and complete strangers if a child went too far out of line, especially in the grocery store or church.
I was a happy kid, mostly raised by babysitters and neighbors. I don't know if we felt abandoned that early, but I don’t remember that my parents were not around. Having a lot of energy and lots of curiosity and everything was magical, where one could touch the trees and feel the life force in them, roaming the woods of the park and talking to God all the time .I’m sure at some point there was love in our house that slowly got extinguished by mental illness, alcohol, and their childhood trauma that bubbled to the surface through thick shields of armor built up through generational denial. Back then they probably didn't even know they were ill, just that they had these screaming kids to take care of plus me who would bounce off the walls and run back and forth through the house until there was a distinct worn path on the already frayed carpet in the living room.
Taking the empty bowl of cake batter and using my fingers to get as much into my mouth as I could at one time in the warm kitchen permeated with the smell of freshly baked goods and corn syrup. I’m not sure if that memory is real or if I made it up because I was told my mother baked cakes to make extra money Pale blue painted kitchen, an electric dented stove, flour, and sugar dusting the fake marble countertops. Stained linoleum, aluminum siding and a chain link fence surrounding the house, for the many dogs we had over the years. One that I killed, but that comes later. Of my mother's apron strings and grabbing onto them and not letting go to get attention. A small house, yellow, with a porch that seemed huge only because we were small; everything seemed huge. Adults were larger than anything in the world and I trusted everything and everyone. The first eight years are filled with random Polaroids, laying around to be found like a treasure hunt, sparking memories and stories about those pictures, that could be true, or not. It’s hard to tell.
Sitting at my grandfather's, my mother's stepfather eating this dark greasy meat I later found out was a squirrel. Walking to school with several inches of snow on the ground and sub-zero windchill factors that cut through any scarf or skull cap you could wear. I had an Aunt Brianna that was a hero to me, but I am unsure that she had any redeeming qualities except for the willingness to show me attention. A picture found in the mind of being held back in second grade because of a birthday discrepancy could have led to early self-worth issues, all of those issues stemming from distorted selfishness. There could have been so many things the adults could have done right, but as all of us, I seemed to focus on the wrongs of others and marginalized myself as a victim, this is all in hindsight of course, but what isn’t.
Our mother left. One day she was packing up her rusty, black exhaust breathing jalopy of a car that practically spewed out a disappointment. Being very confused and trusting I asked where she was going. I was told she was going to do some confusing laundry and we had a washer and dryer in the basement that seemed to work fine because I always had clean clothes. Standing at the big picture window and staring out at the magical park with the almost bare trees, I knew they were liars, and I knew she was leaving.
It seems like we saw her a few times after that and she sort of tried to keep connecting with us. One year she sent us a tin of popcorn, you know the kind with the caramel, cheese-flavored and regular kind in a decorative tin along with a cheesy card for Christmas. I hated Christmas after that, it was a reminder of what other people had that I didn’t. There were always presents under the tree and trinkets in the stockings but there was a huge missing element that we were not allowed to talk about or express our feelings about. Negative emotions were not allowed. Hearing things like “you want me to give a reason to cry” permeated our psyches and “there's no time to be sick”, etcetera, etcetera. So, we just pretended that it was normal to not have a mom, no one talked about it, and as far as I knew the man who was raising the three of us was my father as well.
I didn’t know that it would scar me so deeply that I would continue to look for emotionally unavailable people for a couple of decades and that I really would make very few deep connections to people. I know that’s not her fault or their fault but I blamed them for a long time and wore victim-hood on my shoulders for everyone to see and to be used as an excuse for all of my behaviors far past the point that it could be considered factual.
I got stitches the first time at the babysitter's, I learned to ride a bike at the babysitter's, and I learned working or being at work was far more important than being with your children. That wasn't probably true but it's a story I told myself far into adulthood. I was eight, my brother was 6 and my sister was five when our mother left. We were being raised by a single dad who wasn't emotionally capable of being there for us, who disappeared into his work to try to provide for our needs at least. He more than likely suffered from some kind of mental illness as well as alcoholism, and when the darkness started for me, there was no one to comfort me, no one to explain what was happening, and frankly an abusive, neglectful father figure whom more than anything in the world I just wanted to be good enough for. No matter how hard I tried it was never good enough, even for myself.