Reflection of a Recovering Guest Blogger, #4, Part 5

I apologize that this post has taken so long to be finished. I have been very tired and think I may be getting sick. I am trying to get plenty of rest, but did not want you to miss the next installment. I believe the length of these posts have deterred many readers from taking the time to indulge, so for this week, I have shortened the post.

I, as always, encourage you to comment. Your thoughts and feelings really add more meaning and depth to Cherie’s lessons and learning, her troubles and triumphs. I realize I have not taken the time to respond to the comments already made regarding this guest blogger and again, I apologize. I give you my word, if I do not get to them this weekend, i will start with them next weekend.

Read and share, find strength and pass on the hope. Take care, my friends, and thank you one and all for your continued support of my blog. It gives me great joy to be a part of your world and for you to be a part of mine.

And now, the saga continues…

My first year of sobriety was far from easy. I was faced with many monumental obstacles and traumas, that without the 12-Step Programs and steadfast support of its members, I’d have certainly faltered and, in all probability, drank and drugged myself to death.

As I said in the first installment, I attended meetings upon meetings, never less than three a day, for the first decade. Often times I’d be half-asleep, sitting propped up in a folding chair in who knows how many church basements and school halls around New Orleans and Mississippi. But, I was willing to be there and some way, somehow the messages shared by my peers made a deep impression on my mind. I didn’t just listen with my ears, I listened with my heart and gut.

I voraciously read any and all material I could get in an earnest effort to learn and develop a better understanding of my disease and how I could better apply the steps and principles of Al-Anon, A.A., and N.A. (its Big Book came out in the early 80s) in keeping its deadly manifestations in check. I did journals, and workbooks, and written assignments as my sponsors directed me to do.

I was not permitted to moderate, let alone chair meetings, until I had over 365 days, a full sober year in the rooms, under my belt. I was allowed to share, but if I dared to lapse into venting, I was immediately silenced. You went to a sponsor with that type of personal verbiage. A meeting was not a dumping ground or place to feed my ego with ill-founded ideas I was profound or wise, since I was no more than a struggling newcomer with a lot to learn.

I was in constant contact with my sponsors, plural. There were times I didn’t think I could take a shit without checking with one of them beforehand. But, the phone calls, the one-on-one visits, the dependence on these caring mentors reinforced that I was worth saving and I did have a chance to make it as they had. I was not alone and never needed to be alone again. If I hesitated or balked at a suggestion made by them, you can be assured my obstinance was dealt with severely. I loathe to remember how many times I was made to clean the kitchen floor with a toothbrush because I made the mistake of saying, “But.”

One especially memorable occasion was when I threw a tantrum in front of the three drag queens, who were my first sponsors. I think I mouthed off perhaps a couple of minutes before they threw their boas off and butched up. From out of thin air they pulled a sleeping bag and zipped me up to the neck in its confines. To make matters worse, they broke off the zipper making it clear I wasn’t going anywhere. Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, I had to lay there and hear their tough love critiques of my behavior for hours and hours and hours. But, it was a lesson well learned. Perhaps, they didn’t have all the answers and maybe they too were capable of mistakes, but there was one thing they knew how to do and could teach me. They knew how not to pick up a drink or drug and for that I was willing to go to any lengths, no matter how bizarre.

“What’s a ‘slip’,” I casually asked the guys one day. I thought for a second my lips would be ripped off my face and whipped with my tongue.

“There is no such word in your vocabulary,” they screamed in unison. “Maybe there is a different definition in Webster’s, but in your dictionary, Cherie, and that’s the only one that counts, it means just one thing. Slip=Death. There is no going back out and strolling back in. You get no second chance. You’ll hear people say, if you can’t remember the last time you used then it wasn’t. Well, you better recall every detail of that nightmare on July 15th, because that was it for you. You may still have the luxury of being crazy, but you can never drink a drop or pop an aspirin again.” The men were livid, but through the ranting I saw the fear in their eyes that I would even broach the subject.

“Slip! How ridiculous,” they continued to yell, “You don’t just trip and fall and end up back out there. It’s a deliberate, self-sabotaging decision a person makes. A person that wants to run from the scary world of living sober and clean because it takes guts to follow the steps and be rigorously honest. It’s nice and Pollyannaish to throw around the slogans ‘One Day At A Time’ and ‘Just For Today’. But, you better wise up, Honey, this isn’t a 24 hour proposition for you. It’s forever. It’s a lifetime. Get that through your thick skull and you will never consider for a moment gambling with a ‘Slip’.”

If there was one thing that made the most of an impression with me throughout my years in recovery it was that lecture. Tragically, these guys couldn’t practice what they preached. Each went back out and never returned. I buried them all.

I was taught, from the beginning, the importance of giving back what was freely given to me. In the early days, I accompanied old-timers on hundreds of 12th-Step calls. I, likewise, joined them on visits to various hospitals and institutions in the greater metropolis. Of course, I was not permitted to personally deal with the patients and inmates because of limited experience in sobriety and chemical freedom, but I was allowed to set up chairs, dump ashtrays, and make coffee. After a year or so, I graduated and was given the honor of being a greeter at the door of Intergroup.

I watch people come and go in large numbers these days because they are rushed and expected to “get it” in a six-week period or god forbid, before their insurance runs out. I was told I was a work in progress and it took me a long time to get sick and it would take an even longer time for me to get better. I was once told by a newcomer that he had a month in treatment and that was equivalent to five years in the program. Needless to say, he didn’t make it.

Living in the solution and not the problem was making my life far different from anything I had ever experienced before. Of course, I still made many, many mistakes and used horrible judgment. However, I never picked up a drug or drink and learned from those transgressions and was constantly trying to be the healthiest and best person I could possibly be.

To be continued…

~by Cherie Leahy Smith

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Reflection of a Recovering Guest Blogger, #4, Part 2

I cannot promise a daily entry of this series of posts, but I did have some down time today and really want everyone to read about this remarkable woman’s life and many triumphs. I hope this post will get you a little more hooked as well as better acquainted with my dear Cherie. I realize that they look like long posts, but I promise you, once you start reading, you will finish long before you want to.

So far, Cherie has made it through some really tough circumstances with the aid of drugs and alcohol. Coming up, her sobriety begins, but life doesn’t get better for her for quite some time to come. Be sure to read the next post and see how her strength flourishes through many more tragedies and traumatic experiences, this time, without drugs and alcohol.

Until then, here is the next part to Cherie’s story. Comments are encouraged as I will be sharing them with Cherie along the way. Any and all thoughts are welcomed and wanted, so again, please do comment.

“””My mother was flying high and flitting around the Vieux-Carre herself. She had proven I was indeed raped by those men and was a one woman vigilante against them. They all fled to Mexico with charges of statutory rape looming over their heads. I believe my vindication was just a means to an end though. Her main objective was to party and she was having the time of her life. At around this point, she introduced me to a Senator and his “wife”. Even I was suspicious of the barely legal buxom blond in stilettos on the politician’s arm, but I said nothing. “They will help you get your life together,” my mother promised and left me at the Uptown mansion. To this day, I don’t know what her pay off was.

“What did you do to my wife,” Peter accused. I was groggy, disoriented, and felt totally depleted. I stuttered and stammered. “Well, you are going to have to stay here again and we’ll see what you do tonight. I can’t believe you would do such a thing. But, then you were locked up in that place with all those bitches so, it makes sense.” I had no idea what he was talking about, but whatever it was I was to be tested again later. Meanwhile, the party was fun and lots of people filled the house and danced by the pool. I drank and smoked and it was that night, in fact, I met the aforementioned judge. But, his advances were thwarted, the Senator would not have that. This prize was not to be shared, at least not for the moment.

Peter’s blame now fell on deaf ears. What I thought I’d imagined the day before I now knew to be fact. It wasn’t a dream, it was a nightmare. And I didn’t instigate it, they did. I was drunk and high, but still watched with heightened curiosity their little scenario. They came to me as I lay immobilized but fully conscious. They were both undressed and I, immediately, realized I was also. Judy began to fondle and orally seduce me first and then, after instilling a contraceptive deep within me, Peter mounted my limp body and finished. “No, I did nothing to Judy,” I argued, “But, if you let me stay, I will.” I didn’t realize at the time that was my coming out party, but a party was a party and the ones at the big pink house were amazing.

In my time with my new “family” I was well-indoctrinated into hedonism. I was a very quick study. Because of my youth, extremely good looks and willingness to please I commanded the attentions of A-list celebrities, high-ranking government officials, and my favorite-singers and musicians. No man was ever permitted to touch me except for the Senator, but they were allowed to watch. Judy tired of me quickly which was very disturbing because she was my first lesbian lover and I was totally smitten with her. (I came to learn she lost interest in all women almost as soon as they agreed to follow her upstairs.) It was joked I was a human vibrator because I would so often be called to finish for her paramours when she got bored while making love to them. Yes, my adventures with that couple, in and out of bed, could fill volumes.

Although, I never tired of the endless supply of booze and drugs at my disposal, even I had to admit I was living in total excess. It was a catastrophic ending, but when I was required to recruit other young girls for initiation into our home, I had to take a stand. I did, actually, bring a few exchange students over from my high school and watched as they were being led into the trap with drinks and pot and countless pills. But, before they reached the top of the stairs and fell prey to what fate I knew all too well, I stepped in, grabbed Judy by the hair, pulled her to the diving platform on the balcony and threw her in the pool. I grabbed a bottle of Courvoisier, a bag of dope, the three young Peruvian girls, kissed Peter goodbye, and made my getaway in a waiting limo.

English: French Quarter - New Orleans

English: French Quarter – New Orleans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was alone in the French Quarter, very little money and no more mansion to call home. While munching on a burger, in a dingy hamburger joint, stoned out of my mind and contemplating what to do with my life, an obvious pimp sauntered up to me. Before he could open his mouth I told him, “Beat it, I only like girls.”

“Then have I got a girl for you,” he quipped, grabbed my arm, threw money on the counter and led me down Bourbon Street. She was exquisite and I was mesmerized. It was love at first sight. She, on the other hand, was not quite so taken.

“Get that fucking kid out of here,” she demanded, “You’ll get us both busted.” He disappeared in a flash and she and I were left alone. “Well, you can only stay here until I get off work and then, you are gone.”

“What do you do? Where do you work?”

“I’m a dancer, a stripper. I work downstairs. It hardly matters. I’ll be back and then you are high-tailing it, I shit you not. But, hey kid, have some fun while I’m away.” She threw me a joint. I pulled out my large stash. “Well, maybe you can stay until tomorrow,” she smiled and closed the door behind her.

Little did I know I was being watched and all of my movements were being reported back to my father. Hippies had not yet infiltrated and made their mass presence known in the Quarter, so I was more visible than I could have ever imagined, especially to the spying eyes of the hired detective. I had met an old male acquaintance from my Row days and in retaliation to my stripper’s flagrant cheating decided to give heterosexuality a whirl. It, definitely, wasn’t for me, but the guy was entertaining and I had nothing better to do. It was also a better place for me to hide when I skipped school. I was now enrolled in an exclusive college preparatory academy. At first, the administrators wouldn’t hear of my being included in their prestigious school, but my admission test scores were through the roof and I was granted acceptance without any further protest. Not too many of my fellow alumni were ever invited to join MENSA, as I was in future years, it should be noted.

“I work for your father and you are up shit’s creek, unless you play by my rules,” the clean-cut man flashing a badge told me. “We can get it on or you’ll be in a blue jumpsuit before nightfall.” I really didn’t have much of a choice and so, followed the private dick back to his uptown apartment and let him do whatever he wanted with me. Comparatively speaking, he ended up being a nice guy despite holding all the cards and never letting me forget the deck was stacked against me. I had also found another obscure place to hole up.

Well, my mother sure snapped to attention when the doctor delivered the news. I heard the grotesque bastard’s diagnosis, but was more concerned with dodging his touches and snide comments. “Yes, she’s pregnant and if you plan on getting her an abortion you better get on it and quick,” he advised and jotted a number on a piece of paper and passed it to my mom. He looked down on me and sucked his teeth in disgust and shook his head.

“You think I’m just about nothing don’t you, Doc? Well, I was good enough when you forced me to give you blow jobs. That’s right, mom, the good doctor had me do him and not once, but every time you sent me here to get the B-12 shots. There will be no abortion. No giving up the baby for adoption. It’s mine and I’m keeping the kid.”

Pregnancy didn’t cramp my style or partying one iota. I, probably, drank and drugged all the more since I had another little being to get high. If anything, the hormones made me all the more desirable and I had dozens of guys competing to give the tiny bump a name. I made my choice and the drag queen was the winner. I’d give him the good news when he returned from offshore.

My father lay in the hospital bed, but continued to hold court even in his weakened state. He and my mother had divorced (my mother blaming me for the termination of the 20 year marriage) and he had seen me on only a couple of occasions since my release from OLR. “Make your decision and make it fast. I will provide you with the best education money can buy and all of this crap will be forgotten. You will be somebody. You are the best of the litter. You will be the one people hold in the highest esteem…”

I ventured to interrupt him, “But, daddy I can’t leave my mother. She has no one and if Jerry goes with you to Illinois she’ll be devastated.” I did feel a loyalty to my mom, but was more concerned that he would discover my pregnancy and not only would I lose the baby but my freedom for five years.

“Your mother is a two-bit lying, whoring drunk. I will make you somebody.”

“But, daddy I’m engaged.” “What? Who? You are barely 16!”

“His name is Steven and he works offshore and also on a tug,” I offered.

“My daughter with a low-life tugboat swabbie. Never. Make your decision and think hard because the wrong one will cost you dearly.”

“My mother,” I whispered choking back tears.

“Then, Cherie, I will tell you once again, and I promise you this is final, you are not my daughter. You will never be a Leahy. I disown you. Don’t you or any of your bastards ever show your face to me again. Now, get out of my sight. Get out. Get out.” I heard my father’s voice echoing through the hospital corridors. His last words to me resonated in my brain, in my heart for thirty-three long years. I often wonder, what if I would have said yes?

I married Steven Douglas Smith on October 23rd, 1967 in a rushed ceremony to avoid being committed to a mental facility by my father. As Steven’s bride I was emancipated, considered an adult and my husband, not my father, was now in charge. A large Catholic wedding was held in St. Louis Cathedral in November. Rita Alexander, the infamous Champagne Girl of the Sho Bar was my maid of honor and the founder of New Orleans Jazz Fest stood in for Steven. My father and little brother boycotted the service standing outside of the church in protest. Our reception was in Jackson Square and the vino and grass passed freely among the hippies, bums and tourists alike.

With my mother roaming around downstairs praying the goddamn rosary oblivious to what was happening, I prematurely delivered Steven Douglas Smith II (biological father is anyone’s guess) by myself in my upstairs bedroom on January 30th, 1968. I cut his cord, but it took some doing to get him breathing. Once I got him to take a breath, I crawled to the bathroom and flushed the stash of drugs I had on hand and had planned to sell. I couldn’t take any chances with the authorities coming to zip us to the hospital. It was always better to be safe than sorry. And I was quickly learning to be always one step above the law.

Cherie with Baby Steven

I left Big Steven at the end of March when the baby was about two months old. We lasted about six months altogether. But, my father was correct Steven was not Cherie material. He was sweet, a good provider and very doting, but not what you would call an intellectual challenge. The last straw was when he decided he really enjoyed married life and wanted to go straight. I gave him his one and only lay and left him the following morning.”””

To Be Continued… 

~by Cherie Leahy Smith

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Reflection of a Recovering Guest Blogger, #4, Part 1

This particular reflection will come in a series of about ten separate posts. This was written a few years ago by my roommate and best friend, Cherie, on her blog Goin To The Dogs of New York. Her blog is amazing and also contains many, many stories of her adventures with the dogs she walked in New York. She has gotten away from her blog due to recent health concerns and with her permission, I will re-post her story here. If you enjoy reading her writing, please let me know and I will add her as a writer on my blog.

I have read this several times and the effect on me the first time I read it was quite traumatizing. This story tells of things that have happened to Cherie, a woman I love with all of my heart and soul, so when I read through it, it causes me great pain and distress. Fortunately, she is a remarkably strong woman with more fight in her than any wild animal in any kingdom, anywhere. Posting this today is very fitting as today, Cherie is celebrating 35 years clean and sober. Keep that in mind as you read each and every post.

Now, without further ado, I introduce to you, Cherie.

“By the support and unconditional love of the thousands of people in the 12th Step Programs of Al-Anon, A.A., and N.A., from The Big Easy to The Big Apple, I have not picked up a drink or drug since July 15th, 1977. I am especially indebted to my sponsors, fellow members, and friends who went back out, used and died in the throes of addiction, so I didn’t have to end up the same tragic and needless way. You taught me so well, I would give anything to share my special day with you at my side. Instead, I am only left with my memories and lament about what could have been.

I have been asked to share my story by numerous people and have decided to post it for all to read online. It is the tale of hitting a very, very low bottom and so, not an easy one for me to tell. Recounting the years I was out there living in the problem and not the solution is an exhausting and debilitating task. But, perhaps my experience, strength, and hope will touch another and my journey on recovery’s path will have still more travelers joining me.”

WHAT IT WAS LIKE

(from left to right) Kenneth, Jerry, and Cherie Leahy

“I was born to an upper middle class old New Orleans’ family. I was the first child born to my father (Jeremiah III) and the second to my mother (Gloria). My older brother’s father was married to my mother twice. He was older, abusive and a notorious womanizer. She finally divorced him for a second time when he was accused of the rape of a young woman. He died within that year of complications from alcoholism while in prison. My older brother Kenneth (Ken) was adopted and raised, as his own, by my father. Two years later we were joined by my younger brother Jeremiah IV (Jerry).

One of the most vital and influential people in my life was my maternal grandmother (Delta). She was my stability, my protector, my mentor, my champion.

A birth defect, which affected the vision in my right eye, was diagnosed when I was a few months old. As a result, I was subjected to years of excruciating treatments and exhausting procedures. I wore glasses from the age of six months. I was kept in a cocoon and treated like a fragile little anomaly. My earliest memories were my father’s blatant displeasure and disgust that his little girl wasn’t perfect. And, it goes without saying, I was the brunt of much teasing and taunting by insensitive children.

The big white house on the lakefront held so many secrets. My father travelled a great deal and when he was away we were left to my mother and her inner demons. She was bi-polar with schizophrenic tendencies. I need not mention they went untreated. She exacerbated her condition with bouts of alcoholism. My younger brother and I were the victims of her neglect, abuse, and psychosis, I in particular. Because Kenneth was years older, he was spared much of this insanity.

When my father was home life was not ideal either. Yes, we had a full-time maid, the house was immaculate and three meals of gourmet food were on the table daily. My mother’s illnesses were in check and she appeared to be the personification of a true southern lady, wife and doting stay-at-home mom. But, despite the rare and priceless gifts daddy showered on us from around the world and his wonderful laugh and outlandish humor, he was strict and an unwavering perfectionist. He demanded the best of his children and would berate and scream until you literally shook from the vibrations of his verbal tirades if you fell short of his unattainable expectations. Our intelligence and aptitude were constantly tested and the scores ranked and evaluated by professionals. I was found to excel and thus, began my grooming to become a physician from the time I was in grammar school. Studying Latin with the Carmelite nuns, while other children enjoyed summer vacation, was just one of the sacrifices I was forced to endure in pursuit of my father’s ambitions for me. One needn’t be surprised the only thing I can rattle off now is Pig Latin and only curse words at that.

When my mother wasn’t laying catatonic in her own filth, while Jerry and I went hungry and dirty, she sobbed and bemoaned her life incessantly. I once went to the principal of my school, after I was ridiculed and punished for arriving to class in an “unkempt” and “slovenly” appearance, and asked her to intervene and help my mother who was sick. This nun’s reaction to a little child’s plea was to backhand me across the face drawing blood. I was told to remember the 4th Commandment. A few years later, this same Bride of Christ and another, equally cruel and sadistic, teacher stood me up in front of the entire school assembly and went point by point, in a vicious and demeaning way, why no student should be like me. The vile laughter, stabbing sneers, and sanctioned torture by my peers haunts me to this day.

It was always the worst, though, when my mother’s moods swung the other way out of proportion. We would be taken to bar after bar with her. “They’re restaurants,” she said, “I have to talk to my friends on business.” But, I remember and I remember well. The endless flirting of the tall, beautiful and vivacious woman was how each occasion started. The indignation, snubbing and rejection by her to the advances of the men she had teased for drinks for hours on end was how it progressed. I remember because it was me who had to pay for her salacious actions. How many times was a little girl under the heavy weight of an angry, drunk, retaliatory man my mother had whipped into passion only to turn over to her young daughter? I still see her watching through the rear view mirror at what was happening. I still see her doing nothing to stop the vicious rapes she, in fact, had orchestrated.
Satanic and Ritualistic abuse was prevalent in the wealthy community in which I was raised. In fact, prior to Hurricane Katrina finally obliterating the evil home I grew up in, such practices still occurred there and in other neighboring houses in the area. As a member of “Believe The Children” in later years, I helped expose a well-established coven (day care center) and aided a mother in the safe escape of herself and three children to an underground network.

The inverted cross was branded on the base of my scalp when I was an infant. I was made to witness hideous and horrific acts of cruelty to both animals and humans alike, including the butchering of an infant and murder and draining of the blood of a man. I was sodomized and voraciously used sexually from the time I was six weeks of age by men and women alike in the various rituals of black magic and Satanism. These individuals were friends and acquaintances of my mother and all upstanding and honorable members of New Orleans society. My father knew absolutely nothing of this abomination. (Despite denouncing them and fighting to be released, in one way or another, I was still held within the clutches of these cults until I finally broke free and moved to New York City.)

I was, primarily, alone in the nightmare of my childhood and the only true light in the darkness was my grandmother. For the most part other adult figures had long ago betrayed me and, more often than not, used me for their sick and demented fantasies. Mama Delta was my friend, my companion, my savior. She defended me when she could and comforted me when she couldn’t. At the age of ten, my dear grandmother lost her battle to cancer and I lost my battle with maintaining any semblance of sanity. I remember at her funeral having to be pulled out of her newly dug grave site and pried off of her lowered coffin. My soul had long ago been murdered. I was already dead. Why couldn’t I be with her? Whereas, I probably split prior to this, it is with this trauma Cherie’s survival personalities became more pronounced.

I began drinking and drugging with the urging of an older woman. She lived across the street from my family and I was babysitting her children. I was fourteen and very sheltered and naive. Barbara knew so many fantastic people. She had even met the Beatles, when they played at City Park. And if I listened to her and did what she said, she was going to introduce me, me of all people, to some of them. I was as much as star struck.

The lights in the bar were blinding and the music was deafening. We walked into the French Quarter night spot and all eyes were upon us, especially me. Instantly, a glass of champagne and numerous kinds of pills were in my hands. “They will make you beautiful,” Barbara said, “Everyone will adore you.” I gulped the bubbly and popped the colored capsules without hesitation. She was right and, within what seemed like seconds, I was surrounded with the most gorgeous men and women I had ever seen. They were stroking my face, fluffing and smoothing my hair, twirling me round for appraisal. Not one was rebuffing or ridiculing me, no one demeaned or denigrated how I looked. All were lavishly praising my appearance. All were smiling, laughing, hugging and kissing me. Me-Cherie. Me-The Ugly Duckling. Barbara, my Fairy Godmother, had performed a miracle with her magic potions and pills. I was now a Swan.

It was not a hard choice for me to make between the loathsome days of constant taunting and torture at school with my mean and malevolent mates and the wondrous times of blissful exuberance and unbridled pleasure at the Row with my new friends and devotees. I was there every chance I could get and soon on a constant basis with school falling heavily by the wayside. Needless to say, my drinking and drugging escalated because I believed the only way I could continue to flourish in this new-found land of fun and frolic was to take my magic elixirs and those special pills and tablets, that were given freely to me.

But, soon a price was to be paid and reimbursement fell to moi. I watched Barbara talking with the manager of the band. He handed her money and a small envelope. “They will be recording a new record in a few days. Take a ride with him and just maybe you can play tambourine,” she suggested leading me to his waiting Cadillac. Two women were next to him in the front seat, I climbed in the back. When he pulled over and let them out and three men jumped into the car I knew something was terribly wrong. For the next four days and nights I was raped and beaten repeatedly by this group of individuals non-stop. I didn’t know in actuality what they were doing to me because of my naiveté, but I knew if I didn’t heed their orders never to tell I would be killed and my family’s name would be ruined as they warned. I was found bloodied and dazed on the railroad tracks by some gay guys who knew me from the bar. They cleaned my wounds and returned me to the Row at my insistence. I was ripped from one end to the other, covered with bruises and cuts, but I damn well shook that tambourine.

My mother didn’t comment on my appearance. She stared at me vacantly and withdrew into her depression. But, infection had set in and I was sick from the attack. I was in a perpetual state of intoxication trying futilely to stop the pain wracking my body and mind. The person I was a mere few months prior was unrecognizable at this point. My older brother put in an emergency call to my father in Paris.

“What have you been doing,” he bellowed. His face was contorted with rage. I tried to explain, but what could I say? I really had no concept of the gravity of all I had been involved in as of late. I watched the knuckles on his hands, griping the table, go white. “You’ve been fucking around and hanging with fruits and dykes,” he screamed. I had no idea what he meant. I didn’t know what those words were. He repeated his accusation. I, then, tried to tell my father, in detail, what had happened to me in that car and how my new friends in the French Quarter helped me. I can only imagine that hearing the tale of the debauchery of his only daughter drove my father into madness. He leaped from his chair and came to me and punched me squarely in the face. (He had never lifted a finger to me before in my life.) “I will destroy you so no other man ever wants you again,” he cried, as he pounded me over and over and over again. My mother came out of her stupor for a moment to plead, “Stop. No.” Then, just as quickly, whimpered, fretted and turned a blind eye to the ongoing attack. Finally, Kenneth pulled my father off of my broken body. He was still ranting. “You have defamed our family. You have ruined our reputation. You are not a Leahy. You are not my daughter. Go to your queers. You are not welcome in this house.”
He called his lawyer, who in turn called the authorities. “Tell me who got you into all of this,” my father demanded, “Was it that bitch across the street? Tell me and I might go easier on you and not prefer charges.” I refused to betray her. I still believed despite what she had done to me, that she loved me. And that in loving me she had helped me blossom into who I really was meant to be. No matter what, I was a swan.

I was handcuffed and shackled. I had spent over a month in a youth facility mainly in isolation because I was vulnerable to assaults and had already been jumped and beaten to a pulp a few times. I was going to court and would soon be with my parents and out of the barred cell. I was so scared and would do anything to get home. I had learned a hard lesson and would never do it again. My ears rang when the gavel came down. I was guilty of the runaway charges of U&U (Uncontrollable and Unruly) and sentenced to a year in Our Lady of the River Reformatory. I was led away by deputies to what would be my Hell for the next 10 months.

I was cut down and the rope was removed from around my neck. I couldn’t drink or drug. Suicide was my only option now that crawling into myself and withdrawing from my surroundings wasn’t working. *They held her down and screwed her viciously with the broken bottle. She fought and yelled but it was useless. She died within minutes.* *They took the small gaunt girl out of the closet after over a day of confinement in its darkness. She was unconscious and barely breathing. She had clawed her face and neck and it was a mass of bloody streams. She stopped screaming after a while or maybe I stopped hearing her. She never returned to the dorm. I wonder did she ever return to normal.* *One after another they disappeared over the gate. The shotgun boomed. Was freedom a bullet in the back or drowning in the quicksand in the swamps?* *Black fists, white fists came from every direction. Kneed and kicked until I begged the last contact would mercifully kill me. No staff to defend me, they too would teach me that just because I was a little rich girl I was no better than anyone else.* *And what were those noises I heard at night? The moaning, the panting, the cries? I’m not like that. I’m not. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. Please don’t touch me.* *”Good Night and God Bless You,the nun making rounds whispered and sprinkled the holy water on me as I lay in my bed each night. Was that the same God whose name she cried out in ecstasy when she was molesting us?*

“If you mess up in any way, shape, or form you will serve five years with no parole in an even tougher place. You hear me,” the Judge menaced from his bench. I nodded and, literally, bowed walking backwards with my attorney out of the courtroom. I guess a few months later this same Juvenile Magistrate didn’t consider I (a minor of 15) would be “messing up” when he tried to seduce me after plying me with liquor and hash at a well-heeled party I was attending.

I tried, I really tried to fit in at the boarding school, but my stint in Puppy Prison was the talk around the classrooms. I was the tough, wild girl, which was so far from the truth, and all the trouble makers flocked to me. I was so terrified of getting in with the wrong crowd and being re-incarcerated I returned to the only other crowd I knew. Within months of release, I was sneaking back to the French Quarter, where I felt safe.

To Be Continued…

~by Cherie Leahy Smith

A Necessary Prelude

I have been posting reflections of others in recovery. I would really like to post the reflections of my roommate and best friend, Cherie, who will celebrating 35 years clean and sober tomorrow. Hers is, like on of my own reflections, a story from beginning to just a few years ago and spans about 46 Word document pages. For this reason, I would have to post her story in about ten different posts.

The main reason for this prelude is that she has been through some very ugly things in her life, in which she goes into detail. She also uses a lot of strong language that is not suitable for children. Actually, the entire story is not suitable for children, so each of these ten posts would be marked with a warning about its contents.

Now that I have put this out there, I would like to know, would you be interested in reading the story of an amazing woman and all that she has endured and overcome? If you would like me to proceed with this, in spite of its somewhat unsavory content, please like this post. If I feel there is enough of you interested, I will post the first entry next weekend.

In my opinion, it is definitely worth the read and will at times blow your mind and at others inspire you like never before. I look forward to the voting and hope I get to post her story!

I’m Not the Only One

We have all heard and love Jon Lennon’s song, Imagine. How could we not? I mean, it’s John Lennon and it’s a feel good song with an equally good message. I have written many posts in regards to bullying, gay rights, and even freedom of religion, and I feel this song puts it all into a very clear perspective that really cannot be argued. The question is, though we may not verbally argue John Lennon’s lyrics, do we argue them through our actions?

Do we judge others for their choice of religion or for making a choice not to recognize any religion at all? Do we discriminate against those who are gay or of a different  race, or disabled? Do we, no matter how seldom, berate, belittle, or rebuke others because they have made a mistake, are not as smart as we are, or are just not getting the point we are so desperately trying to convince another person is the right way of thinking?

Think about it. Really think about your own opinions, thoughts, and actions. Do you see your fellow (wo)man as your equal? Is it only your partner or spouse that you see this way? Or maybe the people at work or in the class, the people in your church or in your community, or the varied social groups you belong to? Do you treat others with a different color skin or an accent or a foreign surname as an equal in the human race? How about those with disabilities, whether they be physical, mental, or both? Could you, would you be their friend or cringe and walk by, being tolerant, but escaping quickly?

You may say I’m dreamer. Are you a dreamer too? Can you imagine? And what are you doing in your life to bring this imaginative world to a reality?

74-Year-Old, Olivia Morgan, University Valedictorian

How could I not post this incredibly inspiring story! Not that I ever felt that I was too old to go to college (I attended my first class when I was 36; I am 41 and still going), but this proves to anyone out there who thinks they are too old, they most certainly are not! Most of what can be found on Google, about Olivia Martin, are news videos (I have included two of these at the end of this post), but I did find a thorough interview by Dennis Taylor from Mercury News. I have a really hard time with paraphrasing and summarizing, and though this would have been a great piece to practice on, I did not want a single detail left out. This is such a wonderful story and I would like you to enjoy Olivia Martin’s success as much as I have.

When a 47-year relationship with her husband ended abruptly as she approached her 70th birthday, Olivia Morgan found herself feeling sad and frightened in equal parts.

Not only was she alone for the first time since her early 20s, Morgan suddenly found herself financially vulnerable.

“Not only was I devastated by the emotional trauma of the end of a long-term marriage, but I also had some very real financial problems,” said Morgan, 74, a California resident since she moved here from her native Wales in 1962. “I realized I had to supplement my tiny Social Security check.”

Her solution was to fall back on 40 years as an educator in Great Britain and the U.S. — including a 24-year stint at Santa Catalina School in Monterey — and become a substitute teacher in public schools.

The bad news, she discovered, was that California didn’t care about four decades of experience or the lifetime teaching degree she earned with highest honors in 1959 from the University of Wales, an extension of Oxford University. In the eyes of the state, she had no credentials to teach in California’s public school system.

So two years ago, Morgan went back to college, enrolling in an accelerated, two-year course at the Monterey extension of Chapman University, recently renamed Brandman University.

On Saturday she’ll stand before her fellow graduates, their families, her three adult sons and her grandchildren to deliver the commencement speech as valedictorian of her class.

“My speech is about going back to college, but also about getting rheumatic fever when I was 11, being told I’d never walk again, then getting it again at 15,” she said. “A specialist said I might walk someday if I did years of physical therapy. I looked in the mirror and said, ‘I can do that,’ and I did. I actually danced with my dad on Christmas Eve.”

Born in 1938, Morgan’s earliest memory is huddling with her family in the dark and dampness beneath the streets of Swanzea, Wales, as German planes bombed the village.

“The house next door, where my best friend lived, got bombed and everybody was killed,” she said. “Our school was destroyed. It was a terrible, terrible time.”

She was the oldest of nine children born to a German mother and Italian father — not a desirable ethnic mix for residents of Great Britain during World War II.

“My parents had a lot of their property confiscated during the war and they never got it back, similar to what happened to the Japanese in the United States,” she said. “We all used my mom’s maiden name — Jones — during the war.” (Morgan’s birth name was Olivia Romano.)

In childhood she lived next door to the sister of future actor Richard Burton, whom she remembers as a handsome teenager with an unforgettable voice that made her believe, even then, that he was destined for great things.

As a 16-year-old she was hired as a cub reporter at her local newspaper, writing stories about singer Shirley Bassey, scuba diving, a scandalous “pajama dance” at the university, and whether drivers were more likely to change a flat tire for a pretty girl, as opposed to a homely one.

Morgan grew to be a statuesque beauty, winning 38 pageants in her youth — “Silly things, like ‘Miss Tea & Crumpets’ and ‘Miss Marilyn Monroe,’ she said with a blush — a trait that ran in the family. In 1960, her grandmother, a gymnast into her 90s, was named “Fittest Old Age Pensioner in Great Britain.” Her mother was “Mrs. Great Britain,” and 22-year-old Olivia won the “Miss Wales” pageant — an award that earned her a full-ride scholarship to the University of Wales.

From left: Hanora Jones (Olivia’s grandmother), Olivia Morgan and Olga Romano (Olivia’s mother) in a photo from 1960. (VERN FISHER/The Herald)

The same year she traveled to German for a study vacation, became lost and was rescued by a handsome American, Kelly Morgan, who helped her find a place to stay.

“I went back that Christmas to go skiing and saw him again,” she said. “Eighteen months later we were married.”

Morgan taught in Stuttgart, Germany, before moving with her husband to America in 1962, where she found a teaching job in an all-Latino class in East Los Angeles.

“They didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Spanish. It was a nightmare,” she said. “I was mostly babysitting, but they were nice kids.”

In addition to the teaching job she held to put her husband through school, Morgan raised her three sons while attending night classes at L.A. City College.

They moved in 1968 to the Monterey Peninsula, where Kelly became Monterey’s city planner and she was hired to teach at Santa Catalina, a job she kept for 2½ decades.

“I’ve always felt very confident about my teaching abilities, perhaps because I had eight younger siblings,” she said. “I’ve always believed in breaking the traditional teaching rules and doing things a bit differently.”

She once escorted Santa Catalina students into the pouring rain for a lesson about writing rain poetry. (The students had brought a change of clothes.) Another time she fed second-graders at Junipero Serra School “horse food” — oatmeal with dried apricots, cranberries and almonds — during a lesson about equines.

She regularly shows up at classrooms with her “Mary Poppins bag,” filled with lesson-related surprises for the children. And she showed up dressed as Cleopatra, bearing oat cakes made from a 500-year-old recipe, for a presentation on ancient Egyptian history at Chapman University.

But the prospect of switching from teacher to student at age 72 was daunting and unsettling. Surrounded by students bearing laptop computers, Morgan took her notes in shorthand she’d learned six decades earlier in Wales. A statistics class overwhelmed her, in part because she also had to learn how to use Excel computer software. She was unimpressed with some online classes she was required to complete, mostly because of the lack of teacher-student interaction.

“And I found out you don’t hand in your paper anymore — you attach a document to an email,” she said. “I accidentally sent the professor my favorite chocolate cake recipe, instead of my paper, on my first try.”

Classes often lasted until 10 p.m., and professors assigned four hours of homework for each hour of class.

“It was very intense, a full-time job,” she said. “But my love for learning returned, and, after feeling overwhelmed for a while, I looked in the mirror one day and said, ‘You can do this!’ And I did.”

She’ll celebrate graduation with a visit to Wales, where her family still lives, then plans to have hip-replacement surgery before applying for work in the local public school systems.

“I was reluctant to tell this story. I’m a humble person,” she said. “But I think it might inspire other seniors.

“And I’m very nervous about giving my speech to all those people at graduation — especially when I know my three sons and grandchildren probably will be making faces at me the whole time.”

By DENNIS TAYLOR from Mercury News