(Right now, I’m focusing on my memoirist work that I’ll call, simply, “Pictures of Tommy” -- mostly about my psychotic brother and his legacy. It touches on my fears, too. Here’s the part that I talk about my experience growing up, and some of the factors contributing to my early teen breakdown. . . This is the painful stuff for me, bad choices, stupid moves. . .)
Growing up Catholic and with a conflicting need to confess and self protect, there are times I’ll blab things that are perhaps too personal. IN a memoirist or any kind of really intense writer, that’s good. On the other hand, like that marvelous saying, “When in doubt, don’t.” That is why I’m gonna hold back now. . . but I’ll hint at stuff; that will have to suffice.
The senior boys at Bishop Reilly thought that I was “interesting” indeed: a chubby/zaftig, spirited, overly friendly young woman with long straight brown hair, big brown eyes, clear skin, precocious vocabulary. I wore lots of mascara and, of course, had that very adorable plaid Catholic schoolgirl skirt that I hiked up to mid-thigh once I left the girl’s side of Bishop Reilly High School.
I went on dates with a few of them, and also met an older guy who had a car. We drove to Jones Beach in March or April of my freshman year at Reilly, made out a lot. It was very cold, and not comfortable. I just remember him paying me the compliment, “You don’t kiss like a 14-year-old.”
A month later, I got very sick, with “mononucleosis,” the kissing disease. Catching mono meant I was not only very sick but also highly contagious and so, I was out of school for several months. Then, when I got back to school, there only a few weeks of school were left. I was OK catching up with the schoolwork, but I HATED Bishop Reilly and didn’t want to continue.
I’d met a pretty messed up guy who I thought was really cute, named Jonathan, at a program at the Samuel Field Y in Little Neck. The program was for kids who were acting wild, and offered counseling and group therapy for wayward youth. Being very concerned about me, my mom drove me there twice a week, once to see Mel Goldstein for one-on-one talks, and another time for group sessions with other kids. Mom meant well, but meeting Jonathan sealed my fate and sent me in a direction in life that I’d probably have been better off steering clear of.
It was then I realized my kinship with the Jews; I loved that whole gemutlicheit, everything about Jewish culture. There’s that warmth, intellectualism, love of books, self-deprecating sense of humor. And best of all -- the guys are generally into “shiksas” -- the non-Jewish girls. Although not a blue-eyed blonde shiksa, I had a cute nose and boobs. They dug it. And I liked being around non-Catholics. I found my people. . . or so I thought.