In a brown grocery bag at the back of a closet behind the vacuum cleaner, I find a folder of poems dating back to this time.




There is a tree

with a gnarled root

that I embraced in summer.

Close against its breast

I heard the miniature sounds of life,

the tread of ants,

the rustling caterpillars…

And the sunshine seeped into my skin.

Gazing on my bare body,

I saw golden hairs glinting

on the fair swelling hills,

in the gentle valleys.

And I lay down among the leaves

while the wind blew over.

But time passed

and the day grew cold.

Then I saw how the secretive dark earth

had crept around me,

how the leaves lay decaying between my limbs.

I heard the worms whisper

in passing beneath me,

where I lay shivering in the shadows

while the wind blew over.





Sunny days and breezy nights

on a windswept deck

of faded white

and the taste of sand.


Flying fishes and the crash of waves,

the shadowy beach

so smooth and bare,

like a girl’s cool belly

where the wandering tide has been


When nights are warm

I stroll along the sea

among the looming caverns

and sound and spray.


One evening I’ll dissolve

unseen into the shadows,

leaving only moonlight

and the incurious stars.




“Dear Linda,

“How are you? And Jim? And Psyche? And your little golden cottage?

“It’s been an incredibly eventful three months for me. Would you like a brief run-down? (On your mark…get set…)

“I quit Pan Am, shifted about Los Angeles, living with friends, families of friends, and friends of friends, applied to Long Beach State to study art, and moved to a tiny, secluded beach town. Now I’m settling in—finally!

“Sunset Beach is a strange place—two rows of houses along the ocean, just off the Pacific Coast Highway. On the beach side of the alley, the well-to-do, on the highway side, dilapidated beach houses and ‘heads’ (present company excepted). There’s a wooden shingled water tower at the end of the street, below that a tiny fire station (they turn their sirens on at 2:00 in the morning just for practice), bait stores, and an inlet full of boats. That’s it. The nearest grocery store is in the neighboring town.

“I share a modern, perpetually messy apartment with three roommates. One of them, Gloria, is at this very moment dismantling her fish tank, preparing to move. She works for the YMCA, while Carol and Michaela are undergrads at State. I sleep in the hot, stuffy, upper berth of a bunk bed, the mattress so hard that my body ached all over for the first week. Oh, and when Michaela moves, down below, it feels like earth tremors.

“I got a job as a noon supervisor or ‘narc’ at Marina High School—making sure the kids didn’t smoke in the johns, etc. Then my old boyfriend Pete, the guy I met in Spain, sent a letter asking me to come and stay with him in an adobe hut in the mountains of Guatemala. I almost went, even quit my job, but changed my mind at the last minute.

“The weather has been glorious the past few days, and our beach has been invaded by bikinis and black wetsuits. Still, there are uninhabited hours when you can pull off your sweatshirt and run bare-breasted in the surf. But the evenings are lonely, looking down on an empty sand-blown street, with the wind howling around.

“I hope you’re feeling chipper and accomplishing all you want to. You seemed a little depressed when I was in Berkeley. (I know I was.)”




Dazed, I wondered what to do next, since you can’t live in L.A. without a car. An acquaintance of mine took me to see a hideous wreck a friend of his was selling for $50—garishly aqua, it was the size of an ocean liner and had huge fins. We took it out for a cruise, and when we stopped at a gas station a couple of blocks from my apartment, the attendant, a kid of maybe eighteen, exclaimed over it and offered to trade me his car—a sedate gray Olds in equally dreadful condition. I left him the Queen Mary and took the Olds, agreeing to meet him Monday, when the DMV would be open, to do the paperwork.

But when Monday came, he’d disappeared. It turned out he’d stolen money from the gas station, been apprehended by the military police (he was AWOL from the Army), and been shipped back to Fort Carson, Colorado. I wrote him in the stockade, begging him to send me the pink slip. In the meantime, in the trunk of the “Bomb,” as I came to call the Olds, I found some of his private possessions, including a picture of a teenage girl with a baby that I figured were probably his wife and child.

With a courteous note of apology, he promptly sent me the pink slip. But wherever I drove the Bomb over the next two years, the Highway Patrol invariably stopped me, knowing at a glance they could find something that didn’t work to cite me for.




With a dawning hopefulness—imagining I was finally embarking on my real life path—I checked out various commercial art schools in L.A. but couldn’t afford the tuition, so I decided to study art at Long Beach State instead.

I settled in Sunset Beach, a tiny town south of Long Beach, where I took an apartment with three roommates on a sandy alley, just one row of houses away from the ocean. At Christmas, when I visited my family, I bought a used car for $350—a two-tone, yellow-and-white Ford in mint condition. John from the language lab—we remained friends— drove it down to L.A. with me, since I only had a learner’s permit at the time.

One Saturday morning a month or so later, I set out for Long Beach with my roommate Gloria and a male friend of hers. They were supposed to lead a weekend camping trip for kids, and I’d offered to drop them off at the YMCA. En route, I noticed smoke wafting out from under my hood. When I pulled over so Gloria’s friend could check things out, he said the oil had been overfilled and was spilling out and burning on the engine block.

As we drove on, however, the smoke got steadily worse until I finally said I’d feel better if we stopped at a gas station and had a mechanic check it out—but Gloria insisted they couldn’t afford to be late and urged me to keep going. Even after a loud clattering started up under the hood, she continued to assure me it was OK to keep driving, that I could wait and get my car checked after I’d left them off. And so, trusting her judgment—because she’d told me her father had made her take apart and put together an engine before he would let her drive—I did what she asked.

I dropped them at the Y—right on time—and a few blocks down the street, I happened on a Ford dealership. In the driveway, my car died. The mechanic on duty told me it had an oil leak and that I’d just blown up the engine, driving without oil. He estimated it would cost me $1000 to get it fixed. Belatedly I realized that Gloria’s friend had mistaken the transmission dipstick for the oil dipstick, though how he could have done this is beyond me, since transmission fluid is red. And that’s how I lost the cherriest car I’ve ever owned.

And before I go on, I should explain that the illustration at the top of this post is the cover of the first volume of The Adventures of Jix—a series of learning-to-read books I wrote for my godson Michael. Lisa, my layout person, and I are determined to finish all four volumes as speedily as possible. And since there’s space for an image above every post, I figured I might as well introduce my readers to some of the fantastical creatures in Jix’s world.




Perhaps I should mention that, by this time in my life, my social anxiety disorder had reached such a pitch that I only felt completely at ease with Ella, my boyfriends, and children. When I knew a guy liked me, I was able to be myself, but with other adults I’d become so self-conscious that, to appear normal, I had to act. I’d learned to control my body and modulate my voice to simulate composure—and even to affect a convincing smile and laugh. But the effort was so exhausting that I could only manage it for short periods of time. Soon my energy would flag, and I could no longer stave off the panic I was feeling. My smile muscles would begin to twitch and I’d start to stutter… Even years later, Ella and Earl were the only people I could spend many hours with.

I couldn’t fake self-possession in front of a group of people though, especially if there was a lot at stake. I’m remembering how, in my sophomore year of college, I was interviewed by a panel to be part of a special junior-year program. Instead of the usual curriculum, we would study—in depth—four periods in history, which I would have loved. My counselor assured me that with my grades I was a shoe-in, but when the list of those chosen was posted, I wasn’t on it.




While I was still a stewardess I dated a cute guy, Jim, who was in dental school and sang in a barbershop quartet. If this style of singing sounds old-fashioned, his group was anything but, their harmonies electrifying. But the truth was I was more attracted to his blond older brother, Randy, who had the apartment next door to mine—and who only had eyes for my roommate, Marina. I remember feeling irked when Randy told her at the apartment pool that she had a beautiful voice, and she thanked him smugly, knowing I was the one he’d heard singing. I also remember the four of us going to the beach one evening and seeing my first blue tide, the waves shimmering with phosphorescence.

Marina, however, decided she wasn’t interested in Randy, and on a later outing, Ella completed the foursome. In the evening we drove up a mountain to a campground, arriving after dark. When Jim had matter-of-factly said on the way that he didn’t believe my family situation was as bad as I claimed, I was stung. Here was someone else—besides my mother, I mean—who was denying the reality of my experience. As the other three got stoned around the fire, I sat apart—I didn’t do drugs—and felt myself spinning in a whirlpool of pain. Years later I would know these feelings were archaic and stemmed from my childhood. But at the time all I knew was that I was going to have to break up with another boyfriend.

As I sat there in the dark, looking up at the starry sky, I was seized by an impulse to scream—but couldn’t. The imperative never to make public my true feelings was too strong. Throughout my adolescence I’d had to hide my pain because that was what my mother required of me. An irony I haven’t mentioned is that while she was judgmental and critical of me much of the time, she occasionally liked to say that I was more mature than my girlfriends, seeming to bask in this idea, which I sensed was really about her need to see herself as a better parent than theirs.

To air my real feelings would be to cast doubt not only on my mother’s superiority as a parent but on her legitimacy as a family therapist, which was our bread and butter. Her very reputation could be at stake. So I’d always understood, on some level, that I must never let my suffering show. To scream would be to broadcast to the world how damaged I was—how broken, defective, crazy.

I don’t remember how long my internal battle went on—just that it was fierce. I kept saying to myself that in the grand scheme of things, what did it matter if I screamed? The stars couldn’t hear me. Still it felt absolutely impossible…right up to the moment I did—a shattering shriek. (At the time I wasn’t aware of the concept of a “primal scream.”)

Afterwards I heard laughter, other campers imagining it was a prank, I suppose. To my surprise, there was no consequence whatever to my scream—no external one, at least. Not even Ella or Jim came over to see if I was OK. But there was an internal one—for a moment later, all my pain was gone. Though it might be difficult for some to understand, this was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. Jim and I drove back to his fraternity house the next morning, and, while he was in the shower, with no forewarning—well, except for the scream—I left him.




Pan Am had two types of “stand-by” for stewardesses—24-hour, which meant you had to be ready to fly at a moment’s notice, and TACA, which meant you had to be available by phone to accept a flight for the next day.

The month I was TACA, I got out a felt pen and started to draw dress designs. I’d always loved clothes and, as a teenager, had made many of my own. Now, seized by the notion that maybe I could design clothes as a sideline, I worked ferociously, and by the end of the month, I’d developed a distinctive illustrating style and created a line of two dozen outfits. The times I was called to fly, I found it emotionally wrenching to have to leave my project; I felt I was being painfully ripped away from the kind of work I was meant to do.

At a union meeting, the junior stewardesses were told not to let Operations bully us—that is, coerce us into flying the same day when we were TACA. So, at the end of the month, when Operations phoned and said they needed me for a flight that same afternoon, I said no. Five minutes later I got a call from my irate supervisor, telling me I was suspended.

By the time I went in for my scheduled appointment with him a few days later, my mind was made up. In the interim, he’d read my brief record—apparently I’d gotten a commendation from one of my pursers—so when I announced I was quitting, he did some fast and furious back-pedaling, trying to convince me to stay.

I refused—and left with the hope that my resignation might make the higher-ups think twice in the future about trying to strong-arm their flight attendants.