In this, her second memoir, New Prairie Woman is Susie Rosso Wolf’s depiction of her journey from Los Angeles to the historical town of Three Forks, Montana. On these pages you will discover the grandeur of “The Last Best Place” through her writing, poetry and photography, the challenges of living in a twenty foot trailer in sub-zero temperatures and how love, perseverance, and the miracle of faith can lift a soul up from the depths of the deepest, darkest waters.
Born in Santa Monica, California, I was raised in the small bedroom community of Sunkist Park that borders Culver City, Playa del Rey, Mar Vista and Venice. I attended Venice High School, West LA Community College and California Institute of the Arts. My studies included English, English Literature, Poetry, Creative Writing, Choir, Classical Voice, Shakespeare, Musical Theater, Television and Film Acting and Art History. In 1980, I relocated to the Pacific Northwest and in 1982 I married Kurt Wolf in Corvallis, Oregon. During the course of our long journey together, I have remained devoted to not only my husband, but to my friends and family, and the arts. What defines me most is my passion for expression through art. I’m an avid reader, writer and poet.I also enjoy painting and photography. Additionally, some folks consider me a pretty good cook.
It was no surprise when mild mannered Mr. White answered the phone with his notorious “HELLooooh!” Brenda and Mr. White had been an on again, off again, married, not so married couple since the early 90’s and although the last time I spoke to Brenda they were not together, and she was living with her sister in Victorville, it was easy to assume the moment I heard the cheerful voice of this old friend, that they were back together. “Oh my God!” were the first words from Mr. White’s mouth when he recognized my voice.
“Mr. White, how are you?”
“Fine! Fine and how are you?”
“I’m okay Mr. White. Well, actually, I’m a little out of sorts at the moment because I’ve decided to answer this request to call, that Brenda had written in a Christmas card and I’m nervous about speaking to her. Is she there?”
“Oh! I’m really glad you decided to call her, Susie, she is going to be so happy when I tell her. She isn’t here right now, she’s up in Montana with Rob and April.”
“Who’s Rob? Do you mean Robert?”
“Yes! Robert. He doesn’t like to be called that anymore, he strictly goes by “Rob” now.”
“Oh. Well who is April and why are they all in Montana? Are they on vacation?”
“Actually no, no, Rob and April bought some land up there and bought one of those manufactured houses that looks like a log cabin and so Brenda has been up there helping them get settled. She’s been up there for over a month now but she’ll be back next week. April is Rob’s new girlfriend. It’s pretty serious, I guess.”
“Wow, that’s interesting.” I said.
“Yeah, they were on a trip when they stumbled upon this place up there that they fell in love with so she had some money and decided to move them out of California. They were living with us here, renting a room from us.”
“Isn’t it kind of cold there this time of year?” I asked.
“Yes, yes, said they’re freezing their butts off but they love it.” As he coughed his famous cigarette cough that choked his words for several moments my heart sank thinking about how beautiful it must have been for them, how they should be falling in love with the place where buffalo roam and the eagles fly. Soon after he recovered, I noticed a lilt of sadness in Mr. White’s voice and asked if he missed her.
“You sound lonely for Brenda.”
“Well, it’s hard, Susie. I think she’s going to move there with them, eventually.”
“Seriously?” I questioned.
“Yeah, the more I talk to her the more I realize that she wants to get out of California and go up there with him. I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen.”
“So are you telling me that if Brenda moves to Montana with Robert you won’t be moving with her?”
“I’m not leaving California again. I’ve followed those two vagabonds for years. I’m too old and too tired to keep doing it Susie, this is my home and I like where I’m at now. I just can’t keep following them around this country whenever they get a whim to up and leave.”
“Where are you Mr. White?” I asked.
“I moved to Sun City. It’s a retirement community out here in the high desert.”
“It sounds lovely.”
“It is. I rent a very nice home and I don’t want to leave it.”
“I don’t blame you. I love our house too. I’ll never leave this house. It’s home now.”
“Oh well, you guys have a beautiful place out there in Northridge. You should hang onto that house; it’s probably worth a fortune.”
“None of that means anything to me.”
“Yeah I know but, well, you know, I always think about money!”
“I’m more concerned with happiness and living a peaceful life.”
“Finally it looks like Robert will be settling down so he can have that too.” Mr. White said.
“That’s interesting news, Mr. White. Thanks for the information, will you let Brenda know that I called?”
“Oh yes, yes, of course I will. She’ll probably be calling me soon, tonight or tomorrow. I’ll tell her the next time I hear from her.”
“Okay, well, thank you so much. It’s great to hear your voice.”
“Yes, yes, it’s great to hear yours too. We’ll talk to you later.” He said.
Montana. My God, they were in Montana. Robert had bought a house and land in Montana. My Montana! I felt my heart race with excitement, fascination…and envy! Just the mere mention of its name brought back those old memories of St. Gerard’s School and Sister Carmel Mary. How I longed to see Eva Yamamoto again, and wondered whatever had happened to her, where she was and what she was doing with her life. I closed my eyes and rested my head in my hand, cupping my chin, and thought of the old schoolyard where we played volleyball and softball and sat on the steps at the back of the church, talking and playing jacks. I could hear my voice singing in the choir and the flopping of the poster board up against my shins as I walked to my father’s car with my finished project on Montana and that A on the cover of my written report. I looked outside through the wall of French windows and doors in our living room and dining room to see the sun setting on the pool and a dragonfly dancing across the water. I closed my eyes again and could see the images in my mind of the great big blue sky in Montana from those pictures in the encyclopedia and thought how strange it was after all of these years, that my nephew had decided to settle there. It was completely, utterly unexpected, and strange.
Attempting to suppress my curiosity and let go of the anxiety that was building up as I waited to hear from Brenda, was another lesson in failure. Now that I had planted a new seed of friendship and was walking down the long road of forgiveness, I jumped out of my shoes each time the phone rang. I couldn’t stop thinking about her and I fantasized about being friends again. Only, I didn’t want to go back to the old friendship, I was wanting to move forward with a deeper understanding of how she worked, what made her tick, and an internal instinctive guard that would protect me from her habitual manipulations. In other words…I admonished myself before I ever picked up that phone to reach out to her, that I’d better watch my back and be very, very careful about getting into conversations about “Rob.” Yes, my mind swirled with so many anxious thoughts about the entire situation, past and present, with these two people who had once meant the world to me. What will I talk about with her? What don’t I want to say? What do I want to keep to myself? How much do I want to know from her? Do I even want to hear about what she’s been doing in Montana? Can I handle hearing the mere mention of his name? I exhaled in deep concentration.
The silver colored Lexus swiftly glided with beautiful ease and precision down Parthenia to Van Nuy’s Boulevard. Jo’s crippled hands grabbed a tight hold of the steering wheel as she turned left into the parking lot of Robinson’s/May warehouse store. “I’m glad you came with me today Susie, you needed to get out of there and stop waiting for the phone to ring.” She said.
“I know Jo, thanks for suggesting this; I love hanging around with you anyway, so it kills two birds with one stone.” I told her. We walked into the warehouse of discount items, clearance items and seconds. There was so much to see in the brightly lit department store. We were in search of a nice wedding gift for a friend of Jo’s who was about to be married. As we strolled along the isles, I became mesmerized by the beautiful housewares and gifts. So many nice things to buy, I allowed myself to be lured into the expert marketing skills of the person in charge of merchandising this store. For a discount warehouse, it was wonderfully designed and my wallet was bursting to get out of my purse! As we discovered a large section of linen and bath accessories, my eyes fell onto a tall stack of feather beds marked $29.00. They were a good quality mattress made in the USA, thick and fluffy and white. “Jo! Check out these feather beds! I’ve been looking at them online and know what they cost. A feather bed like this sells for close to $200.00. I think I want this!”
“Anything that helps to make you sleep better will help you feel better so you’d better get one!” She held onto one end of the feather bed and together we lifted it onto the sales counter then we walked around for a while longer until she discovered a lovely hand cut crystal serving tray that she thought appropriate for the wedding gift. Soon we were loading the feather bed into the trunk of her car, stuffing the huge thing into the small space and then tucking the crystal tray into the bed to protect it on the drive home. Jo drove up into our driveway and helped me unload my purchase. We came into the house and went straight to the master bedroom to lay the feather mattress on top of my bed to see how it fit and felt. We both lay on top of this wonderfully fluffy new addition to my home, laughing and giggling as we soon were attacked by our three dogs, Cutter, Lilly and Dinky. We screamed like little girls as Cutter nuzzled my neck with his wet nose and Lilly and Dinks were howling and climbing on us both. Above the noise, in the background, I thought I heard the telephone ringing.
“Shhh, shhhh, be quiet! Is that the phone?” I asked?
“Yes, it sounds like it…” Jo said.
“Dogs! Move! Get down, hurry!” Quickly obeying my command all three of my little friends jumped off the bed as I rolled over the edge and planted my feet on the floor. Running into my office that was connected to the master bedroom suite I reached across my desk and picked up the phone. “Hello!” I said, just in time before the answering machine would have picked up the call.
“Hi Sue, it’s me, Brenda.”
Trepidatious is an understatement when describing how I felt as every word from her mouth hit me like a hammer. I must admit here and now, that I was completely taken in by her exuberance. She was thrilled that I had finally answered her Christmas card and praised “Jesus” for guiding me back into her arms and the arms of my “family.” Her southern drawl was highly apparent as she burst into quotes from the bible.
“It’s all God.” She said. “I prayed and prayed on my knees every day since the last time I heard your voice. I said please Jesus, please hear my prayer. Please father God, give her back to me, I can’t live without my Susie.”
“I’m glad I called, Brenda.”
“No! You don’t understand, Sue. This thing nearly killed me. I’ve been so sick since you wrote that letter. I’ve been sleeping in a hospital bed, back and forth to the hospital and the doctor. Haven’t been able to eat, sleep. I haven’t lived. All I can do is wail and cry and scream up to God. I screamed so loud one day that the neighbors next door got worried and came over to see if I was being murdered.”
“Wow.” I said.
“Wow? That’s all you can say is Wow?”
“I’ve had my moments of talking to God too, so I understand.” I said in a somewhat bland tone.
“Sue, I want to see you. Can I come to see you?”
“Are you home now, in California?” I asked.
“Yes, I just got home yesterday.”
“All right, do you want to come here?”
“Yes, I’ll drive to Northridge; I don’t care about anything else. I just have to see you.” She said.
Three days later I clicked open the gate at the top of our driveway so her little dark blue car could drive through. She parked right in front of our family room. The moment she opened the car door she was greeted by Cutter, Lilly and Dinks. Cutter jumped into her lap and smothered her in kisses as the two Huskies ran in circles while singing their howling songs of longing. It was several minutes before she emerged from her seat to straighten her clothes and stand up straight to stretch out her long legs and shine with a bright smile of love and relief. The air was filling with her familiar scent of perfume and her hair was perfectly coiffed with bleach blond curls from her hot rollers that she took with her wherever she had to go. Her makeup was expertly applied and her clothes were right off the rack, from a local thrift store, no doubt, but none the less, very nice. All five feet eleven inches of her long lean beautiful figure towered over my short fat body as we embraced for what felt like an hour. Tears poured down from her eyes onto her face and I remember feeling kind of guilty that I did not measure up to the dramatic emotions there on display in the driveway. I don’t know, she was just carrying on so much, it was kind of over kill, in my mind, and so my stomach began to flip flop again with nervousness and fear.
“Come in Brenda, do you need help bringing anything in the house?” The back seat was filled with black plastic bags and bed pillows. The front seat held her large brown purse and her hot rollers set and on the floor of the car were plastic grocery sacks.
“No, I’ll leave my stuff out here for a while; I just want a cup of coffee right now. I’ll get my little ice chest I brought that’s in the trunk. You know I don’t go anywhere without my own coffee and creamer. I have to have my flavored half & half!” She popped open the trunk that was filled with foam rubber egg crate bedding and feather beds and blankets. The cooler was stuffed down under the bedding and she struggled to pull it out. She walked into the house and started a pot of coffee then went back outside to her car. She reached down into her purse and opened a pack of Misty Blue 120’s Ultra-Light cigarettes. She lit the long skinny smoke pole that hung from her bottom lip as I backed up and onto the brick landing of the porch.
“Oh, I forgot you quit.” She said.
“How long has it been?” She asked.
“Four years now.” I answered.
“Wow, I’m proud of you, Sue.”
“Thanks.” I said shyly.
“You’ve changed.” She observed.
“Yes, I know.” I agreed. And then from there we walked through the carport to the gardens. She examined my now tilled over rows of vegetables then walked into the rose garden where the canes of the newly cut plants stood at attention with their sharp thorns threatening anyone who walked too close to them. And although their splendor had been interrupted by seasonal upkeep, the garden remained beautifully groomed and so appealing with the carefully planted baby tear groundcover crawling across the heavily mulched topsoil and my rose lady fountain flowing with fresh clean water. Quietly, we walked arm and arm as I proudly escorted her on a tour of my little bit of paradise. Since the last time she had been here, together, Kurt and I had completely redesigned the back yard. She was amazed by the hand built redwood fence with the gorgeous lattice top that served as a backdrop for the rose garden that replaced the old and thinning box hedge. She scanned the property from top to bottom and admired all the rest of the landscaping. The trees had all been trimmed back, my tropical plant forest garden was lush from the winter rain and the pool glittered in the sunshine. Everything looked fresh and beautiful as the lemon flowers added a spicy aroma to the air.
“This place looks so beautiful, Sue.”
“I can’t believe how different it all looks. You guys have been working really hard back here.”
“You can say that again.”
“You could be in one of those house and garden magazines, it’s that nice.”
“Thanks, Brenda that means a lot, coming from you. Are you hungry? Would you like some lunch?” We walked back into the house and as I put together some tuna sandwiches she walked from room to room exploring the inside of the house. I could see that she was becoming very comfortable and relaxed and that was good. Soon we were talking as if nothing had ever happened between us, but naturally, the subject of Robert eventually arose and we both had to get it out into the open. I tried not to be bitter, to keep my cool and just stay calm. We talked for a couple of hours as I let her tell me about Robert’s new life in Montana, his girlfriend, their home and land and all about the move to “The Last Best Place” during a ferocious winter. While she described their adventure and how it all began, her face was lit up and she became animated from joy. I listen intently and found myself being pulled into her fantastic tale of fulfilling a dream by hard work, endurance and perseverance.
But it was December 2005 now and although my life was back to being balanced and my mental status was improving, (thanks in part to the my spiritual devotions, but also due to monthly visits to a psychologist in Los Angeles who was treating me for clinical depression associated with the severe knee injury I sustained while working in the flower shop,) my body seemed to be failing me again as I was unable to control my physical pain issues that had been building up over the course of many years of working in the service industry. I sustained one injury after another to my back, neck, knee and wrist. Although I hobbled around and going back to work was out of the question, I endured the rigors of the gardens and kept up with the inside of the house as well, all 3000 square feet of it, along with as much physical therapy that I could stand. Weekly acupuncture, massage, chiropractic, and aquatic therapy were all part of getting me back on my feet so that I could resume my contributions to our financial status. Murphy’s Law provided much anxiety and frustration, however, as one thing after another piled onto my failing body. Afraid of the addiction associated with taking pain narcotics, I instead became addicted to over the counter pain relief and frequently had additional issues with stomach pain and long lasting bouts of diarrhea. So now we added Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Fibromyalgia to the stable of my many diseases and disorder titles.
Walking with a Canadian Crutch all around the house and property put a strain on my self-confidence too. Attempting to hide my bruised ego from all who knew me had little effect on the Sunshine Club. Linda, Stella and Diane all knew me well, and they were very aware that losing my health as well as losing Robert had caused not so subtle changes in my personality. Always known for my gregarious laugh, outrageous sense of humor and my love for pulling pranks, those traits were quieter now. It was apparent to the people in my tightest circle that I was becoming a bit shy, reserved, serious and non-trusting. Afraid to trust anyone, actually. Afraid now, of so many things.
These were the issues I was dealing with in my life, while moving forward was the agenda itself. Learning to cope with bereavement and remorse was no easy task but I managed to mottle through. Always on the lookout for alternative measures that would provide improvement to my general overall well-being became a hobby for me and I enjoyed visiting health food stores, Zen shops and Lake Shrine. Trying to recapture the energy and personality that defined me was time consuming but necessary, because, I had changed. Rejection had permanently changed me, and that was the most difficult truth to face. It was as if I had lost a part of my soul, when I lost Robert. His treatment of me, and of Kurt, chipped away a piece of the person that makes me, me. I was as good as I could be now, and although I was missing some parts of myself, I was in a better place, a peaceful place now. I was as happy as I was going to get.
The card from Brenda sat on the counter bar for two weeks. Christmas had passed and the New Year promised to be a thrill ride for the Sunshine Club, as we were all turning fifty years old on our birthdays. So much to look forward to and yet I had this dark cloud hanging over me. The white envelope with the card inside was screaming at me with that loud scribble of hers. “I miss you Sue, I want MY SUSIE.” Each time I walked by the envelope my mind traveled back to that letter I wrote with Georgia’s help. And I knew I couldn’t talk to Georgia about this card because I was certain she would admonish me against contacting Brenda. I knew exactly what Georgia would say if I told her I was caving in to Kurt’s insistence to “be polite and answer the card because she’s reaching out to us.” Georgia would have jumped into her car and driven over to the house to rip that card into tiny little pieces and then thrown it into the trash where it had previously landed.
Their faces haunted me. Their voices were ringing in my ears. My heart was aching for the old days of love and laughter and I fantasized about our lives going back to what they once were, before I became shunned, before the anger and pain. Before the nights of crying into my pillow and getting up to vomit. The love we had was extraordinary and it ran so deep. I couldn’t help but wonder if we were capable of repairing the past two years and nine months so that we, as a family, could once again depend on that love.
Several times a day I held the card in my hands. I tapped it on my forehead, the counter, the refrigerator, and the walls. I even tapped it on Kurt’s head and he would laugh and say “Just get it over with and call her because I’m getting tired of this.”
“But I can’t do it,” I cried.
“Yes you can.” He would say.
“No Kurt, I can’t go there again. I know them, I know her, and this isn’t going to work and I really wish you would allow me to throw this stinking card into the trash where it belongs.”
“Susie, they are your family and you love them and miss them and they love and miss you too so knock it off and call Brenda. She made the first move. She took the first step. Now it’s your turn.”
“Are you absolutely positively sure in your heart of hearts that we should open this door again?”
“I really feel that you should call her. But, it’s up to you.”
“Oh! There you go! You’re backing down! A second ago you said…”
“I know what I said but it’s you who has to make the decision and now I don’t want to talk about this anymore, it’s driving me nuts so just do whatever you want.”
What do I want? I asked myself. What do I want? There comes a time in everyone’s life when they have to ask themselves that question. Now it was my time. What do I want? Seeking peace in my life for the last two years had saved me from the heartache. But wasn’t forgiveness an important part of the peace process? Would I ever truly live a peaceful life without forgiving them? Without forgiving Robert? I wasn’t sure if I could ever really know ultimate peace.
I remember when I was little, one Christmas I asked Father what it was that he wanted most for Christmas. “All I want is peace and quiet.” He said.
“Peace and quiet? What good does that do? Don’t you want a game or a bike or some skates or something good like that, Papa?”
“No. I would like to have a little donkey that I could ride out to the mountains and just sit on that donkey all day every day so I don’t have to deal with any of the craziness that goes on here.”
“Ride a donkey! You want a real donkey for Christmas?” I laughed and laughed and then he began to make loud donkey noises and bend over to pantomime a donkey while he brayed and brayed right there in the kitchen while he stirred his spaghetti sauce that was simmering on the stove.
“You’re laughing now but one day when you are old you will understand what I’m talking about. Peace and quiet will be the most important thing in your life, eventually.”
Those words were not forgotten. Forever engraved on the inner lining of my brain I will always remember those words and now I was living those words with a huge and potentially threatening situation and my head was spinning while my heart was pounding and my stomach was ill with the sour taste of indecision.
On a bright and sunny day in early January, Jo and I walked up Shoshone then walked left onto Jellico. The moment we turned the corner and could no longer see our homes, she said, “Okay, what’s wrong?” How arrogant it was of me to think that an intuitive woman like Jo would fall for my attempt to hide my troubled soul.
“Oh Jo, just more of the same.”
“Well, spit it out honey, let’s talk about it.”
“I don’t know what to do.”
“Yes you do. We always know what’s right. We simply have to choose to do it.”
“How do I know what’s right? I could make a terrible mistake.”
“Okay, so you might make the wrong decision but life doesn’t come with guarantees. In your heart, you know what you should do but if you follow your heart and it turns out badly, at least you can live with the fact that you did what your heart told you to do and in that, you’re doing what’s noble. If you make a noble decision with good intentions, and then things don’t work out, at least you can stand up with your back straight and say by God I tried.”
Tears were trapped in my throat as I uttered, “Really?”
“Yes, really. Follow your heart, Susie. And don’t be afraid to fail.” We were quiet all the way to the end of Jellico but as we turned onto Encino we talked about Jo’s upcoming knee replacement (her third) and how she wasn’t looking forward to the pain and the long and grueling physical therapy that would follow the surgery. Poor Jo, her rheumatoid arthritis was taking a toll on her and I respected her and admired how she courageously fought back every day to live a full and worthwhile life. Jo was an inspiration to me. Her thoughtful mannerisms and wisdom-filled reflections helped guide me in a way a mother would do. I loved her with all of my heart and at the moment we walked back up to Napa to make our way home, I stopped and put my arms around her and told her how much she meant to me. She laughed and swatted me away, in her soft, gentle, shy and embarrassed way.
Kurt was at work and the house was quiet. I sat on my porch swing after a short walk around the rose garden, looking for signs of new growth after the recent cut back of the old canes and blooms. “Hmm, nothing yet,” I said to myself. “Well, we need a good rain to bring out some sprouts.” Our Siberian Husky, Lilly, looked up at me as if she understood what I was saying. She sat down now, under my feet where she loved to stay as I thought of my husband, my people, my life…and I prayed. Chanting, singing, praying and meditation filled the next two hours and now night was approaching so I made my way into the kitchen to prepare my dinner. I walked past the stove to the refrigerator and noticed the card again, sitting on the counter bar. A heavy sigh leaked out of me, and then I picked up the card and opened it. Sitting down at the table I lifted the phone off of its cradle and dialed the number Brenda had written in the card next to the words, “Please Sue, call me.”
Purple, pink and gray flames over Galpin Ford factory Oxford White flashed through each turn and curve of Topanga Canyon as my racy little Ford Ranger low profile truck zipped off corner to corner from Northridge to Sunset & Pacific Coast Highway. As the brightness of early spring daylight encouraged lace like shadows along the leafy tree lined two lane road I fell into a trance of blissful meditation. Drenched in spiritual awareness, meditation became an important daily ritual that saved me from drowning in depression. No longer “trying” to forget the pain of my failed relationships, I began to recognize the feeling of peace, once again, and cherished the quiet reflections that meditation was allowing me. My destination was Lake Shrine, the non-denominational church of *Self Realization Fellowship. The SRF temple was nestled in the sleepy coastal hillside of Pacific Palisades, California. Ten full acres of carefully designed grounds surrounded the sparkling lake where swans and ducks and turtles coexisted with hundreds of lotus pads, reeds, natural grasses and flowers galore. A walking trail provided reflective leisure as natural seating of wood carved benches gave respite to those who desired to sit a while to commune with God.
About half way up Topanga Canyon just after the sharp rocky peak curves, I felt a strange yet incredible rush of sweetness come over me that caused an enormous smile to emerge from within and suddenly I began to weep. My eyes were filled with tears so quickly I pulled Zippy to a turn out and shut off the engine. I sat back in my seat trying to catch my breath as I began to understand what exactly was happening. As if an angel covered me in a blanket of love, I felt the presence of God all around me. I felt funny even thinking about something so wonderful happening, because we are all, always asking, does He really exist? Is there really a God? What is this feeling I’m feeling if it isn’t God? What is this lovely warmth filling me up, this sense of pure love and joy? I sank so deep into meditation on the side of the road it must have been an hour before I realized where I was and that I needed to get back to driving. The feeling of God’s loving presence persisted as I drove into the driveway of Lake Shrine. I was so relieved to be there, where I could continue on with this glorious communion. Love radiated from every cell in my body and I knew that my eyes must have been shining brighter than the brightest star in the heavens. My aura had to have been a beautiful hue of soft blue as I practically floated to the lake.
I sat for hours watching the swans glide across the shimmering lake and the ducks dip below the water then pop back up again. My heart was bursting with happiness as I reflected on the many days I spent walking these grounds when I was a young girl, as I visited my maternal grandmother while she volunteered her time working in the gift shop on the grounds. Every Friday my father would pick me up from school and we would drive to Pacific Palisades to fetch Nana and drive her back home where she lived with us on Bray Street. Although I had spent most of my life as a catholic school girl, I enjoyed learning about yoga, meditation and “Divine Mother” from Nana and the monks and nuns that were devotees of SRF. I was always curious about the peace promoting religion and its cultural practices that were mainly Hindu. Aside from the unusual wardrobe they all wore; Sari’s for the women and Nehru style shirts for the men, all of the “devotees” were always so calm, and sweet. Quite different from the more abrasive demeanor of the priests and nuns that I was used to in school. Inasmuch as I had difficulty imagining the SRF nuns taking a good whack at my knuckles with a hard yard stick if I was disobeying or the monks to take a ping pong paddle to the back side of the boys in class for “clowning around” I suppose my natural ability to cherish and admire the Sisters of the Holy Name Order and the Los Angeles Archdiocesan Priests in charge of my education and religious training was inspired by catholic devotion and respect. Like the SRF nuns, Nana herself was deeply peaceful and considered by all who knew her to be simply “saintly.” It wasn’t unusual for her to dress me in leotards and tights when I was a little girl of maybe six or seven years old, to have me follow along with her while she performed her yoga exercises and meditation. I never really questioned these practices because I always felt good after a session of deep breathing, stretching and twisting, standing on my head to “get the blood to your brain and improve your thinking,” and quiet prayer. Nana remained a devotee of SRF until the day she died at 87 years old, and her memorial service took place right there on the lake, in the darling little wind mill chapel that sat on the grounds and held about 100 people.
After my walk around the lake and my meditation, I drifted over to the gift shop to purchase some incense as a gift for Kurt, and to admire the beautiful fabrics and trinkets that were imported from India. I noticed a collection of gorgeous little gold lotus shaped charms on gold chain necklaces that represented the ancient symbol of enlightenment. I remembered Nana’s gold lotus necklace that she never removed from her neck and wondered whatever had happened to it. Other memories of her entered my mind as I enjoyed looking at all of the many beautiful items so elegantly displayed and soon I was drifting back to a time of innocence and love. I left the lake on a cloud of peace and harmony and chanted songs to continue this spiritual connection for the entire drive back to the valley.
The moment I arrived home I gently planted myself onto my porch swing and opened the little book of “Metaphysical Meditations” that was written by SRF’s founder, a swami from India, Paramahansa Yogananda. His writings of deeply moving and prayerful mantras and meditations were so uplifting; I devoured every word as if I were drinking pure silk and it tasted sweet. I was finally in a good place in my life. Transformed from pain, illness and chaos, no longer was it necessary for me to try to put the agony of head injury, seizures, cancer surgeries, knee injury, back injuries, multiple bouts of pneumonia and Robert’s behavior, behind me. I had moved forward. I found peace, through loving God. It was nothing more than that, really. It was actually so simple, sitting with God and loving Him. That was all I needed to do to find my footing. And every day I worked out in the gardens with a higher purpose as I tilled the soil and clipped old blooms from the roses. Keeping up with my newly discovered quest for higher consciousness was very important to me. I knew I had to continue on with my daily practices if I wanted to avoid slipping back into the dark world of “what he did to me.” So the pleasure derived from my daily devotions carried me through the war between family members who for some reason could not come back together after a long history of love and companionship. Dependent on my time out there, each morning and afternoon, I scheduled my entire life around this private time, not allowing anyone or anything to invade my spiritual space.
The healing persisted and I felt free to live again. Life was wonderful again. I had recovered. And the recovery was holding. Everyone was amazed and relieved that I was able to function and smile and laugh like I had not laughed in so very long. My girlfriends came by to visit and to join me in shopping excursions. Diane and I were thick as thieves and we laughed hysterically at some dumb jokes while we shared lunches of pizza and gourmet salads. I was making jewelry and shooting beautiful photographs with my new camera Kurt bought for me for my birthday. Writing poems to each photo became a new art for me, that Kurt called PHOETRY; a fusion of my photography and my poetry. Busy with my many interests and visits with my girlfriends, trips to Pyramid Lake with Kurt in our boat and socializing with our friends at the house for barbeques and big spaghetti dinners, our lives resumed as normal and it was good.
There were many long periods of time when he was quite young, during puberty for instance, when I was absent from Robert’s life, only keeping touch by telephone. After moving to Oregon in 1980, Robert was a constant companion to my father and together they would drive from Culver City to Portland to visit Kurt and I after we were married. They visited us in our Southeast Portland home and we developed a bond that was deep and meaningful. I had become ill from reproductive complications, had several surgeries and Robert (who was actually named Bobby back then) cared for me with loving attentiveness. Brushing my hair, rubbing my feet, helping to make sure I was taking my medications, cleaning the kitchen, serving meals and walking with me to ensure I received plenty of fresh air and movement were all of the sweet things this special boy did for his auntie. There was never any doubt in my mind that he loved me.
Years went by and Robert grew into a troubled teenager as a result from surviving his parents’ broken marriage. Soon after my father died, it was obvious to me that Robert was into his own mind, his own desires, and his own mindset. He didn’t like taking orders from anyone and he certainly wasn’t going to be bossed by anyone, particularly my brother. When Kurt and I moved back from Oregon, into the old Rosso house to share residence with Robert and Brother, the deep bond we had forged in Portland grew stronger. And when we all moved on to live our own lives a few years later, and Kurt and I relocated to Northridge, we were always available to help Robert whenever he needed us. We bent over backwards trying to make sure he knew he was welcome in our home, that he had family who cared about him, while his own parents were busy with new relationships and their own interests.
Bouncing from sofa to sofa, town to town, state to state was Roberts’s way of life. After a short stay with his mother who lived in Victorville, he met a beautiful girl and married her. He was constantly searching for the perfect job, the perfect place to set down roots, first for himself and then for his young wife and his two baby girls. Instability, a reckless temper, bad disposition, and adding his mother to his household were the causes of an unfortunate divorce. Eventually, both Brenda and Robert wound up broke, and homeless. Robert decided to move into a tiny little travel trailer in Louisiana after scoring a job in a grocery store, so he sent his mother to live with us because she had nowhere else to go, again. For as long as I could remember, we had helped the two of them in one way or another. But I never minded helping them, because I loved them both so much. Brenda was a sister to me, and my best friend. Robert was my nephew, my brother’s son, but he was more than just my nephew. He was my strength, my blood line; a reminder of my father’s blood that ran through both of us. He was my baby, my brother, my father, my own son. He was my family. And before he died, I promised Father that I would always watch out for his Bobby. “Don’t ever lose Bobby,” he said. And I promised that I would always help him as much as I could.
The years were rolling by quickly and the older we grew the more illnesses I faced. Surgeries, injuries, and serious lung infections all contributed to ongoing opinions about my health. Some people opined that I was a fraud, a fake, an attention junkie. The insulting hints and comments made by some family members were very hurtful but I would brush myself off whenever these ideas leaked out to me, and tried to hold my head up high and arm myself from the slinging arrows. I knew the truth about my failing health, so I shrugged my shoulders and forgave those who accused me of “acting.” So, I was not surprised by the intensity of his interrogation during that last phone call from Robert, the night before the removal of the cancerous lesions, down below.
“What kind of cancer is this?” He asked.
“It’s in the family of cervical cancer. It’s actually a form of a virus that lays dormant for up to twenty years. It’s called the HPV virus. The lesions manifest when the body’s immune system drops, suddenly appearing in an emergent manner. Five-thousand women have had this cancer this year in the United States, forty percent of them died.”
“Are you saying that you’re going to die?”
“No. I don’t know that. I really don’t know what’s going to happen. I have no idea what to expect until after the surgery when my doctor tells the outcome. He said something about sending tissue scrapings from the lesions to the pathology lab for biopsy. I guess we’ll know more after that.”
His voice was devoid of the concern I once knew from the boy who loved me and cared for me. As much as I would have appreciated seeing him and receiving his moral support, when he asked in a gruff voice that sounded as if the entire situation was nothing but a pain in his side, if he needed to go to the hospital in case I died on the table, I told him no.
“No, your mom is here, I’ll be okay.”
“Are you sure?” I wanted to say no, I’m not sure. I want you to come to me, to hold me, to sit with me in the hospital room before they wheeled me into the operating room. I wanted him to sit with Kurt, to comfort him. But I could hear in his voice that he was perturbed with the notion of me having one more operation. One more trip to the hospital.
“Yes, I’m sure.” I lied.
“Okay, I’ll talk to you later.”
“All right Robert, talk to you later. I love you.”
“Love you too,” he barely uttered. His voice creaked out the lethargic sentiment with the deafening sound of his disgust. Not once mentioning the surgery scheduled for the next morning or wishing me good luck for a speedy recovery. He hung up the phone leaving me to feel that I was less than nothing.
Each month that passed was an excruciating example of inhumanity. My throat filled with tearful choking every time someone mentioned his name. I was desperate to hear from him, and despite my humiliating pleas to Brenda, begging her to remedy this situation, she continued to torment me with her sick and suspicious mind games. One day she would be against him and the next day she would be supportive of his point of view, his decision to send me to the guillotine. Embattled by his bizarre behavior and her deception was no easy feat for a woman who survived years of illness and months of intolerable suffering. It was sick what they were doing to me and I was sick. I knew I had to change my situation. I was being made to feel like a loser; unwanted, over dramatic, crazy, insecure, unstable. Shaky from the self-examination and depression, I simply realized that it was up to me to take control. Now a veteran of this emotional foreign war, bitter, wounded and bandaged, the decision to give them a taste of their own medicine came with great remorse.
A natural force of self-preservation rose up within me. By the end of the year my mind was clearing as I made myself busy with my daily life. Together, Kurt and I overcame so much but now we were both finally able to focus on each other and our little family; he, me, and our three dogs, Cutter, Lilly and Dinky. Nature played a beautiful part in my healing as butterflies, dragonflies and birds of many sizes and colors flew into my gardens and danced upon the top of the pool water and in the Rose Lady fountain. Hummingbirds drank plenty of the fresh flowing beverage as it poured from the lady’s spout. The blessing of a solid marriage and deep friendships carried me through a major storm. Each one of my girlfriends in their own way came to my rescue with loving guidance and understanding. In particular, I enjoyed the late afternoon visits with my neighbor, Josephine McCarthy. Along the edges of the patio sat two porch swings, at opposite ends of the yard. Several times a week Jo would walk over to the house to visit with me in the rose garden. A retired hairdresser for the movie studios in Hollywood, she had a very long and successful career working on Hollywood’s most famous movie stars and entertainers. Jo had been around the block a time or two and her instincts about people were strong and usually right. During the course of our special friendship Jo gently guided me to understand that sometimes people can just be “plain mean.”
Although I was completely resolved in letting them go and I was satisfied with my decision in sending that letter, occasionally, an overwhelming sadness would wash over me. It happened when I sat still, and felt myself missing them so much. I missed my friend. I missed my buddy. I missed the people I had known, not the people they had become. I tried to forget them, to flick them into the atmosphere like dust particles, but thoughts of them crept into my brain on a daily basis.
Sherwood Forest was an upscale neighborhood bordering the campus of Cal State Northridge. Jo and I would walk down Shoshone up to Jellico and then back around to Napa. Every afternoon we enjoyed a good long walk together that helped her Rheumatoid Arthritis and my work related knee injury, back injury and my weight issues. As we hobbled along together we talked about our lives, our families, and our health. We shared so much and I grew to depend on her sophisticated values, morals and vision. Jo had deep insight and unlike me, she was savvy to people who were users. After weeks of convincing Jo that I was really trying to shake them from my thought process and that I was trying to think of new projects to take on so I could distract myself from the pain I was carrying around with me, Jo stopped walking and grabbed my hand. She looked right into my eyes and said, “Isn’t the trying exhausting? Trying to stop thinking about them is wearing you out. Trying to not feel your pain is killing you. You’ve got to do something to get over this, to truly move on. Stop trying and just do it. Trying is not realistic. Just let go of this before it destroys you. Do something different than what you’re doing now to get over these small minded people, because talking about it all the time and worrying about it all the time and saying that you’re trying to forget them is ridiculous. You’ve got to go inside, Susie, dig deep to get past this.”
The stillness of my little world was interrupted as our neighborhood’s resident Blue Heron flew over our home and landed in our pool. As the enormous steel colored bird looked up and noticed me sitting on my porch swing he instantly lifted up and flew directly over our back fence and into our neighbor’s back yard, landing in her well regarded Koi pond to snack on a little lunch. Intrigued by its aggressive dining skills, I allowed my consciousness to drift away from the depth of my meditation, for just a moment, to admire the mystery of nature. But quickly I turned up my eyes and returned to the peace and harmony of my chanting affirmation that filled every cell within my being, healing it with the power of its vibration on every breath: “peace in…calm out…peace in…calm out…peace in…calm out…Om, Guru, love, Om Guru, love… love…love… joy… joy… joy!”
Within my bruised ego the words I and Me bounced around my head like popcorn popping in an air popper. “I can’t believe he made the conscious decision to put me out on the curb like trash to be picked up by the city trucks.” Or, “How can he do this to me? He knows this is killing me but he doesn’t care. He’s enjoying this punishment that he has decided that I deserve.” This self-talk was maddening, destructive and useless behavior. Killing myself over the loss of my nephew, I was sick to my stomach all the time and it was interfering with my marriage because I was too depressed to function. I became antisocial and uninterested in visiting with my friends and neighbors. I withdrew from our normal routine of attending parties given by Kurt’s employers and our friends, going out to dinner, driving up to Frasier Park to practice target shooting and to enjoy the day 4 wheeling in our 4x4 truck. I was missing out on trips to Pyramid Lake in our boat and shopping trips with my friends: Diane, Georgia, Margo, Linda, Stella, and my dear friend & neighbor, Jo. Rather than spending quality time with my girlfriends, I drove them to the brink of insanity with endless complaining about Brenda and Robert; how they both had wounded me, wounded us, actually. After several more months of Brenda’s psychological warfare over the phone, using her creative manipulation with words that tossed all blame to her son for this cruel abandonment, I decided to write a letter to Brenda and Robert telling them I no longer wanted anything to do with them. I simply had to release these two people from my life, so that I could go on living.
It was my dear friend Georgia who helped me to write the letter. We talked for hours about the perfect words that would drive home the truth, how they both had hurt me. Georgia was an educated woman with a history of allowing people she loved to walk all over her. She had suffered so much in her life; the pain of divorce, surviving breast cancer and an unfortunate rebound relationship. Georgia knew how difficult it was to pick up the pieces, to heal from the heartache and the uprising within one’s soul that causes self-questioning and doubt. The constant fury of your inner voice asking “What did I do? Why did they hurt me like this after everything we have done for them through the years?” Georgia related to the pain of my situation after surviving years of her own pain. She had resorted to self-help books and seminars to help her through her agony and she shared many of the methods with me, and encouraged me to truly let them go.
The eight page letter stuffed into an envelope fell from my fingers as I dropped it into the mail box. The moment I released it into the slot I felt relief. As I drove back to the house from the post office I called Georgia from my cell phone. I remember screaming into the phone “I did it, I finally did it! I will never have to deal with these people ever again and now I can move on with my life! Thanks you so much for helping me, Georgia! You are a great friend to support me in this, to guide me to this feeling of freedom!”
“That’s what friends are for, Susie. I know it was painful for you but it’s the best thing you can do for yourself. You just had to let them go, honey. Now you are in control of your life and they can never hurt you again.”
“I know G., you are so wise, so right about this. And it feels so good. Thanks for helping to liberate me from the pain those two have caused. It’s inhumane, when you sit down to think about it.”
“Yup, it is. That’s exactly what it is, inhumane, and now you have learned to close the door on anyone who inflicts this kind of brutal mental torture. Nobody has the right to walk all over you, making you feel like you’re worthless. That kind of disconnection from a close family member is the worst kind of cruelty. And frankly Susie, you’re better off without them. They were sucking the life out of you.”
“Yes, I know G., I’ve really changed from this experience. It’s not easy to feel so low about yourself. To be made to feel as though you don’t matter. It’s been very hard to cope with the notion of being tossed aside. And I know I’ll never truly know why he did this and why she has been so strange and sneaky. I’ll just never know why this happened.”
“Well you don’t have to cope with it any longer. You’ve said your peace in that letter and now you can start living again. And you don’t need to know why he did what he did because it’s over now. Why don’t you come by my place and we’ll go to lunch or see a movie or something?”
“I think I’ll pass for now, I just want to go home and take a good long swim.”
And so I swam for hours in the pool, trying to rid myself of the words embedded into my brain, the words that were typed on the pages of that letter. Those words haunted me for several days as I couldn’t help but wonder what their reaction was when they read the words that said to them, “You do not have the right to hurt us. And I will not allow you to continue to hurt us. Therefore, you will never hear from us again and do not attempt to contact us. Please, just leave us alone.”
As time created distance between the pain and the day I dropped that letter into the box I gradually released Brenda and Robert from my consciousness. Life was bubbling over with joy once again, as I spent my days working part time in a floral shop in Simi Valley, tending to my gardens and animals while squeezing in visits with our friends and neighbors. Our carefree life was back on track as I let go of the suffering they inflicted. Each time a thought of them crept in, I shoved it out quickly by changing my focus, distracting myself with other thoughts, tasks, or by listening to music. Actually, music played a tremendous role in my recovery. I listened to music from early in the morning to late at night. Different styles of music too, as long as it was done well I listened to it. I enjoyed the sounds from every era of music as the sound from our outdoor speakers billowed across the lawns, the pool, the rose garden, the veggie garden, the front yard, the side yard and tree groves then down the block of our Sherwood Forest neighborhood. Music, my husband, and good friends like Georgia kept me going while I was reminded that life was worth living, even without Robert.
There was a time in my life when he meant the world to me. When we all lived together in the old Rosso house in Culver City, back in the day when his mother and father weren’t around much. They had divorced when Robert was just four years old. Brenda remarried, moved to Azusa and my brother joined the Navy. Robert was being raised by Brenda and her new husband Ron. Father wanted to keep a close connection with his grandson so he and I would drive out to Azusa to pick him up and bring him to the old house on Bray Street for long visits. The three of us were deeply bonded, along with the rest of the family. We all loved this sweet, cute, cuddly little boy with the darling smile and bright personality. He had an amazing sense of humor for such a young boy and his sweet nature was endearing. With big brown eyes and a full head of curly yellow hair. We were all in love with him and would do anything for him.
Our special relationship was established soon after he was born. I was his first official baby sitter when I was in high school. Although we were very close during his first few years, it was when he was a teenager and heading into manhood when he we relied on each other for mutual friendship and support. During that period in his life he confided in me about everything. Everything…I was an ear in the middle of the night when he couldn’t sleep. His mother had left her husband Ron and was living with a boyfriend back east at the time so Brother and Kurt and I all lived in the old house after Father had passed on. Lacking a strong parental foundation in the home, I attempted to prove to Robert that he wasn’t alone. I prepared meals for him and did his laundry and kept the house clean and comfortable for all of us. He was enthusiastic about my garden in the back yard and spent time with me out there while I tended the plants and soil. I remember how peaceful he was when I would work the soil and harvest my vegetables or plant new seeds or build a new trellis. He sat and watched and talked and let off steam. He confided in me, all of his secrets and concerns. About his life, and about his parents.
I was someone who would listen to his troubles and to his dreams; someone other than his shady friends. I was a family member who would look out for him. He had always dreamed of attending the police academy to become a cop, but he had dropped out of high school and didn’t have the confidence to mend his lack of education. He was working at a local grocery store, bringing in a good wage for a young man, earning enough to make his car payments and to buy the things he wanted and needed. But truthfully, he was floundering without solid goals for his future. During our many late night discussions and pig out sessions, I tried to persuade him to go back to school or to get his GED certificate. I tried to help Robert but it wasn’t easy for me, having been through several years of making my own mistakes; I too, was in need of guidance. Making mistakes was my specialty and keeping my mouth shut and my opinions to myself was my greatest weakness, which unfortunately, only occurred to me, later in my life.