So like these days - Jan 27-29 mark the time 38 years ago that I was being held alone in a basement apartment, the door of which was barricaded shut with furniture, which was tied by thick rope by a babysitter who was in her 40s and had gone stark raving mad. Over a period of months she had convinced herself and some wayward teenagers she had kind of adopted by letting them drink at her place and call her Polly that I was evil. I only realized later researching that time period (1974) that the Exorcist had come out around that time and Polly while having a Jewish last name (Levine) considered herself a Catholic (rosaries and the whole bit). Over the time I was living with her, because while we were living in Connecticut, my mother was working in NYC and my step-father at the time presumably was not up to taking care of a 10 year old on his own, she - Polly - went loopier and loopier as she drank herself into an alcohol and prescription drug induced psychosis. However, as mentioned prior, until she went completely over the top she had allies.
I have attempted to write this story more times than I can count. I don't think I will be writing it all here tonight, because it involves a period of months and the weirdest/canniest series of cult-inducing psychotic moves on Polly's part as can be imagined, up to and including telling me she should adopt me because when "they" found out that my parents did drugs (as far as I know at the time they were smoking pot and maybe acid), I would become a ward of the state (for anyone outside US, this means given to social services or put into care).
The outline however is this: my response, until she kept me awake for 48 hours and barricaded the door because everyone had supposedly turned against her, while walking around "finding" knives that I was supposedly planting in places to kill her (one of which she planted days or weeks before in a coat of mine and "found" before I went to school one morning), was to go to school and get straight A's. This prompted the most absurd response of all when it all came out what happened, my teachers and parents asking me why I didn't tell them what was going on. As if. This response led me to years and years of believing it was my fault I had been in that situation and had I been 'strong' enough I would have run away or told someone. Trust me, for future reference if you're ever dealing with a severely abused child: it don't work that way. Abuse = silence. The more severe the abuse = the more deafening the silence. That's the way it works. I even managed to work my way into a relationship like that as an adult, but that's another story....
The "everyone" who had turned against Polly were the teenagers, one of whom was my step-father at the time's sister, Barb, who realized she had lost it and had escaped, leaving me alone to fend for myself - Barb at least went to find my step-father to get him to come back and get me out of there. Another one was her own son, Craig, who lived with his father. This fact alone, that in 1974, a mother had lost custody of her own son should have alerted everyone to the fact Polly was bonkers. Apparently the babysitting agency missed the fact she had been locked up in a mental hospital in the past. But Craig was not a secret, so it kind of shows how out of it everyone was at the time to have not clued into this obvious weirdness.
Everyone, including - weirdly enough Polly Levine herself at the time it was happening - has told me I should write this as a (a) book, (b) screenplay, (c) play...etc. I have tried my friends, believe me, I have tried. The material however is so fucked up it is hard to walk through it with anything resembling sanity. I have written about it over and over but never in a format I feel does it justice. The attempts include: writing down each and every memory (done), doing research on all that happened that last weekend (done), attempting to see it from Polly's point of view (done), only from my POV (done), cutting up the memories and making it into a stage text (done), from others' POV...etc. The weirdest memory of all though is Mrs. Levine (which is how I knew her and referred to her - which is why it's odd and interesting to me for the first time ever writing tonight I am writing Polly - which is in fact what she wanted me to call her but I would not - I had a few odd little rebellions like that, which may be why I didn't flip - my therapist for over 7 years in London marvelled that I did not completely split when this happened - I guess that's the 'normal' response) - when she said one day while she was frying something - one day you'll write about us you know, it'll be called Polly and I. This memory is pristine, even has a kind of yellow light, the smell of the frying - though I can't remember what she was frying but I think it may have been onions. Maybe she said Polly and Me.
She did read my attempts at journals at the time and amended them, even wrote entries for me.
She may be the reason I am a writer today. Which is just weird. But also possibly true.
I have a journal from the days after I was rescued - my stepfather at the time, David, did manage to talk his way into the house, in large part due to the fact that Polly had a crush on him. She took a huge knife out of the drawer, handed it to me and asked me to cut the rope around the furniture. I said I could not. She looked at me pityingly - in her little negligee stoned and drunk out of her mind on alcohol and pills - and said "Yes, I know you have a problem with knives" then violently cut the ropes herself and moved the furniture out of the way, while I stood there in my nightgown frozen to the spot.
When David came in, he started packing my things, not all of them - and Polly kept asking me to stay, to tell him I didn't want to go, that they were drug addicts and horrible people. David turned to her and said shut. up. I just cried and cried, feeling guilty I couldn't say anything myself.
This was dawn of Jan. 29. It is now early hours of Jan. 29, 2012 as I write this. This is also why I am a late night person. She stayed up late, used to make me stay up with her, until 2 to 3 am or so to eat her 'famous' scrambled eggs (you can't make this shit up). When I was supposed to be asleep, I stayed awake until she was asleep - we shared a room. I knew it wasn't safe. That much I knew. I never slept when she was awake.
So, on these days when, as now, I am alone, I am awake, watchful, somewhat scared. I would like this to end. I would like the trauma she inflicted on me to be over. For good. I am hoping by writing about this, however sketchily (and believe me this is the merest outline) tonight, I can go some way towards unburdening myself of the shame, horror and trauma that that time with Polly Levine inflicted on me.
I also hope that someday sooner rather than later I will feel safe enough in myself to write out this whole story in a form that can be disseminated, that is not mere ranting.
I have discovered a photo of myself, which is taken in the cottage on Peaks Island, Maine, where I spent parts of summers for many years when David was my step-father. It was my favorite place on earth. The clothes and my age as far as I can tell seem to lead me to believe this is when I was 12-13. I am lying on the bed on the sunporch that looked out over Casco Bay and the Atlantic Ocean with two kittens lying on either leg, I have a book in my hand and am smiling at whomever is taking the picture. I look oddly triumphant and deeply pleased. This is so at odds with my memory of how I felt during that time that it's striking. So I wonder: is this soon after the Mrs. Levine debacle? Or was this after I was taken back after my two years living with my grandparents after the Mrs. Levine debacle? I don't know. What I do know, and this is precious to me, at that moment in time, I am happy.
This proves that no matter how much shit you put a person through, that person can fucking survive. As you all know who have been reading along with me, these past few months have been about finding ways out of Camp Grief. This does not mean, I hasten to add once again, diminishing the feelings or returning to my good old workaholic dissociated self, but it does mean letting something grow now - to stop hoeing and hoeing, turning up more and more shit - the shit will come if it needs to, no problems there - but to let it settle, begin gently planting seeds and letting them grow.
I haven't a fucking clue, by the way, what that means in real life, what will or won't grow and some part of me as I type this is petitioning this happy clappy part of myself for a 10 point action plan to get the fuck out of process-hell. At some point she too - She Who Plans - needs to be integrated too and not banished to Not Healthy Enough world or whatever.
But for now, tonight, gentle...gentle...and as I type that 10 point plan girl is saying: WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT???? And I can't really answer, except to say...maybe something about breath. 10 point plan girl responds with ???!!!!! Etc. You get the picture. And remember 10 point plan girl is the one who got me into boarding school on scholarship to get the hell out of dodge and 10 point plan girl is the one who managed to get me through the eye of the needle of Mrs. Levine's psychosis so she didn't kill me. She deserves respect even if she can go into overdrive and almost kill me with exhaustion at times.
When we went back to Mrs. Levine's to get my stuff a few days later, the apartment had crime scene tape on it (because the authorities of some type showed up after we left to find her stabbing with the butcher knife my favorite black fuzzy pillow repeatedly yelling the names of the teenagers to get out) and the black pillow case was on the floor with a pyramid of feathers piled on top of it. Antiseptic and chilling. They took here to some mental hospital in full restraints. Why I was brought back there, I'm not sure. Why I was told that story then I'm not sure. But it led me to believe I had had a fairly close brush with violent death.
This is why whenever I hear stories of children killed violently, I shudder inside and sometimes cry. I wonder sometimes if I even have some survivor guilt, even though, thank God she never killed anyone at least as far as I know.
I remember being in the car David picked me up in - I guess it would have been the Saab. It was like a tiny capsule hurtling through space. There were icicles and snow, the taste of cold in the air when I went padding out to the car in my nightgown or PJs. A pink line of the sun rising. I was cold, had been cold for days. And I was warm there for that moment. Staring at an uncertain dawn.
Welcome to my blog..
"We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." Maurice Merleau-Ponty
When I started this blog in 2011, I was in a time of transition in my life between many identities - that of Artistic Director of a company (Apocryphal Theatre) to independent writer/director/artist/teacher and also between family identity, as I discover a new family that my grandfather's name change at the request of his boss in WWII hid from view - a huge Hungarian-Slovak contingent I met in 2011. Please note in light of this the irony of the name of my recently-disbanded theatre company. This particular transition probably began in the one month period (Dec. 9, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010) in which I received a PhD, my 20 year old cat died on my father's birthday and then my father, who I barely knew, died too. I was with him when he died and nothing has been the same since. This blog is tracing the more conscious elements of this journey and attempt to fill in the blanks. I'm also writing a book about my grandmothers that features too. I'd be delighted if you joined me. (Please note if you are joining mid-route, that I assume knowledge of earlier posts in later posts, so it may be better to start at the beginning for the all singing, all dancing fun-fair ride.) In October 2011, I moved back NYC after living in London for 8 years and separated from my now ex-husband, which means unless you want your life upended entirely don't start a blog called Somewhere in Transition. In November 2011, I adopted a rescue cat named Ugo. He is lovely. As of January 2012, I began teaching an acting class at Hunter College, which is where one of my grandmothers received a scholarship to study acting, but her parents would not let her go. All things come round…I began to think it may be time to stop thinking of my life in transition when in June 2012 my stepfather Tom suddenly died. Now back in the U.S. for a bit, I notice, too, my writing is more overtly political, no longer concerned about being an expat opining about a country not my own. I moved to my own apartment in August 2012 and am a very happy resident of Inwood on the top tip of Manhattan where the skunks and the egrets roam in the last old growth forest on the island.
I am now transitioning into being married again with a new surname (Barclay-Morton). John is transitioning from Canada to NYC and as of June 2014 has a green card. So transition continues, but now from sad to happy, from loss to love...from a sense of alienation to a sense of being at home in the world.
As of September 2013 I started teaching writing (composition and rhetoric) as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. So blessed for the opportunity and hope to find a more permanent job doing same.
I worked full time on the book thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign in May 2014 and completed it at two residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Wisdom House in summer 2015. I have done some revisions and am shopping it around to agents and publishers now, along with having written a rough draft of a new book and some other projects.
Not sure when transition ends, if it ever does. As the saying goes, the only difference between a sad ending and a happy ending is where you stop rolling the film.
For professional information, publications, etc., go to my linked in profile and website for Barclay Morton Editorial & Design. My Twitter account is @wilhelminapitfa. You can find me on Facebook under my full name Julia Lee Barclay-Morton. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani