Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Forty Years Is A Long Time (Or My 80's Experience)

Author's Note: This entry could get pretty long. So, if you have a mind to read this whole thing to the end, I suggest you grab a snack or a cold drink. You might be here a while.

On New Year's Eve, I celebrated my 59th birthday quietly at home. I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on many things--school, the jobs I've had, the men I've loved, getting saved, and other things of note that have happened to me. Normally, I'm not a very introspective person. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about why I do things. I might have saved myself a lot of grief if I had changed that policy years ago, but there you have it. This blog post is going to be an attempt to commemorate or, at least, discuss a specific time in my life.

Most people, once they reach a certain age and maturity, spend time reminiscing or taking trips down memory lane or whatever you want to call it. I believe the reason for this is because once you hit about 50 you realize that more of your life is behind you than ahead of you. During these trips down memory lane, one is apt to find oneself picking their favorite decade. Most of us would choose our 20's because we're still young enough to enjoy things and old enough to do them legally now. I turned 20 on December 31, 1980 so I would say that my favorite decade was the 80's. Now, I've seen a lot of documentaries about the 80's, mostly made by people who weren't even born then. They mention things like Reaganomics, the Rubik's cube, New Coke, MTV, Trivial Pursuit and all the other obvious things. But you just get the feeling they really don't have an emotional connection to the era. I do. I happen to love the 80's. I loved everything about it--the fashions, the music, the films. 

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I was a pretty shallow person at that time. I was young, full of myself and thought I was indestructible. I had no illusions that I was pretty or anything. Oh, I was what my father used to call a "handsome" woman, but I knew I'd never be in a music video. I was working as a dishwasher at the local Denny's and making my own money. So, I used it for what I wanted to buy. I bought mostly clothes, jewelry and records. I had always loved music. In May, 1982 we finally got MTV. It had gone on the air officially on August 1, 1981 but Peoria didn't get it until the following year. The first time I saw it, I was babysitting for my sister-in-law's sister. I was flipping through the channels (having sent the kids to their rooms because of a fight over a game of Frogger) when I landed on something strange. It was a group of guys singing the lyrics to a song. Now I knew videos existed. I had seen The Beatles' videos for "Penny Lane" and "Hello, Goodbye". And I'd seen other artists attempts at videos. But this was a new group. So new I'd never heard of them before. The first thing I noticed (besides the fact that they were wearing make up) was that they were really young. The second thing I noticed was that this song had a bass groove that was infectious. It was like all those disco songs we shook our booties to in the 70's, but cool and modern because of the synthesizer. The song, I learned, was called "Planet Earth" and it was by a group called Duran Duran. Hmmmm...interesting name, I thought. The music was unlike anything I had heard before. And the way the young men in this five-piece ensemble were dressed was interesting as well. 

My first response was that they looked slightly effeminate. I had them pegged as British because I knew all the American bands. I had been listening to John Cougar Mellencamp, The Cars, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, Aldo Nova and other favorites for a while. These guys were a different breed of cat altogether. I was so taken with the image of these young men that I called my sister and told her to turn on MTV. She didn't know we had it so I had to tell her how to find the channel. She came back to the phone, sounding unimpressed. "A bunch of fags, so what?" she  said. "You don't think the sound is cool?" I asked. "The drummer's kinda cute," she said, nonchalantly. This was long before the age of Google or the internet so I had no way to find out who these guys were. Lucky for me, I had a pen pal at the time who lived in Canada and I mentioned seeing the video for "Planet Earth" and wondered if she knew anything about them. Oh, did she ever! I still have the letter she sent me back introducing me to these lads. However, the ink on the letter has faded and I would not be able to make it readable here so I'm going to write what she wrote verbatim:

"Yes, I know this group pretty well. They come from Birmingham, England. They toured with Blondie last year and "Planet Earth" is from their first album. Their second LP "RIO" should be out soon. Here are the names of the guys--
Simon LeBon--lead vocals
Nick Rhodes (nee Bates)--keyboards and synthesizer
Andy Taylor--lead guitar
John Taylor (nee Nigel)--bass
Roger Taylor--drums

Their roots were in the punk/New Wave movement. They actually belong to the punk offshoot called New Romantics. It's all about fashion and making music you can dance to. I saw them live and they're great musicians and singers. The coolest thing about them is that none of the guys named Taylor are related."

She then went on to tell me about a vacation she had taken in New York City. And that was that. I wasn't a teenager anymore, screaming over the Bay City Rollers. This was a more mature infatuation. I soon honed in on John Taylor as my favorite member. I remember thinking he was hot. Now, mind you, I had only seen their videos. I had never actually heard them speak or anything. But I figured since they were on the cutting edge, I ought to try to mimic their "look". It was all about looking as young and as chic as possible. God knows, I tried. But I was on a limited budget. 

It wasn't just about the clothes though. The hair and make up had to be right, too. You can barely see the headband I'm wearing, but you can see the blue and red stripes hanging down my neck. My top, which was the first thing I ever bought in real silk, is red with small blue polka dots. I thought the headband would go nice with the whole look. Then I had a friend take me down to the park and take some pictures of me. I wasn't sure what I planned to do with these pictures, except keep them and laugh over them someday when I was married and had kids. I'm looking at some of these photos for the first time in over 30 years. 

I was a clothes horse, absolutely, which is why clothes were a huge part of my 80's experience. But they weren't the only part. I did actually solve a Rubik's cube. It took me parts of two days to do it. In those days, the little squares were actually colored. Nowadays, you can take the colored stickers off and put all the colors on one side and  say you solved it. But there was no cheating then. No YouTube tutorials on how to solve them. You just had to gasp figure it out. But that was the fun of it. Instant gratification was not a thing in 1981. 

I said before that clothing was a huge part of my 80's experience and that was true. I think I'll just post some selected photos here and explain what they are. 

Around 1983 or so, aspects of menswear, up to and including ties, began to show up in women's wear. But the idea was always to keep the colors muted and feminine (in the beginning). Later, shoulder pads made us all look like linebackers. Yes, that's a Nick Rhodes-inspired haircut. The black leather watchband is very much of the era, too. And of course, you had to be photographed with a cigarette if you really wanted to look sophisticated. 

Later, around 1984 or so, something called "orange make up" started to appear. Women (and men who were so inclined) began to wear coppery colors on eyes, cheeks and lips. This was my version. My sister is decked out in more sensible pink tones. My hair, always evolving, looks very 80's here, straight at the back and curled on the top and sides. To achieve this look, you had to have a very good curling iron and industrial strength hairspray, either Aqua Net or Rave. I wish someone had told me that my shirt was unbuttoned. Otherwise, this would be a perfect snapshot of the 80's. 

This was taken in the Spring of 1983. I'm pretty sure it's at a banquet of some kind (probably bowling) due to the flowers on the table and the adult beverages. My hair was always changing. I think I had lightened it in the front by this time. No matter how hard I tried, my sister always managed to look better than I did. 

I'm not sure if I was trying to be a vamp here or what, but I know for sure this was Thanksgiving, 1983. I was lucky in that I had great skin (due mostly to great genes I inherited from my mother) and so make up always looked great on me. The gray corduroys and gray argyle vest are probably not a good choice for vamping in, however.

I came late to the designer jean craze. I'm wearing dark gray Sasson's with pastel pinstripes and a pink boatneck top. I always thought wearing pink kept everything really girly. The mesh shoes are very 80's. I'm not sure what kind of look I was going for with that hairdo. It looks like I'm wearing one side loose and the other side pinned back. Anyway, these are the kind of jeans the phrase "painted on" was designed for. Carol, as always, looks way crisper and more comfortable than I do.

I believe this is the last birthday cake we ever got from Mom and Dad. I paid a small fortune for the meticulously razored hair and the printed top with standup collar. Carol must have been wearing her stack heeled boots as she looks way taller than me. After cake with the folks, it was off to the bars to celebrate. 

Behind all the clothing errors and great music of this time, something very dark was happening. I was beginning to have my first bouts with depression and anxiety. I didn't tell anyone even though my mother was a nurse and would have been able to get me the proper help. I didn't tell anyone because I didn't want to be one of "those people". I didn't want my life to be going from one therapist to another and one drug to another, although I was beginning to self-medicate around 1984. I started with beer and pot, which I'd been smoking since the 70's and graduated to harder stuff, mostly vodka, bourbon and occasionally tabs of LSD provided by a friend I worked with. I tried so hard to make it look like I had myself together because I was always complaining about people who didn't. 

This was taken at the Heart Of Illinois Fair in July, 1986. This is just about the last photo from the 80's where I was still pretty happy. A year later, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and my world began to fall apart. The sailor top was out of style by this time, but I still wore it because I loved it. Pairing it with the two-toned denim cropped jeans kept it pretty much up-to-date. I slowly began to lose interest in the things I had been interested in before, a sure sign of depression. And the things I did still engage in I didn't get the same joy from. I think the most striking thing about this photo is how photogenic I was back then. I can't take a good photo now to save my life. Probably because my face is aging. 

From 1987 on, I was just trying to work and keep my relationship going. By that time, I was a full-blown alcoholic and I was in an abusive relationship. No matter how bad he treated me or how much I might have feared him, I feared being alone more. My mother began to drift away from us and was diagnosed with early onset dementia. She was only 53 at the time. So the shallow girl who only cared about clothes and make up had to grow up and fast. That same year, my condition became obvious to my sister and she begged me to get help. "You're with a guy who's beating you and you're drunk everyday to cope with it. Please see someone." Only the twin I loved more than my own life would have been able to get away with saying those words to me. But I had to admit she was right. So I made the decision to seek counseling. The first lady I went to, I will just say right now, was more bonkers than I was. I wanted to tell her my problems so she could help me and she wanted me to take enemas. Really. She said they were discovering that certain types, mostly caffeine, were good for people with depression. "You want me to put coffee up my ass?" I asked incredulously. "Not hot, obviously" she replied. "But caffeine is a stimulant and putting it in the rectum, with all those blood vessels, will get it right into your bloodstream." "You're a quack!" I said and left. It would be another two years before I sought another therapist. One thing I was really proud of was getting out of my abusive relationship. One day, Matt (not his real name just in case he's reading this) came home from work with groceries for a party we were going to be throwing a few nights later. I had asked him specifically not to do the grocery shopping because I was going to clean out the refrigerator the next day when I was off work. It turned into a knock down, drag out fight, during which our downstairs neighbors called the police because we were making such a racket. He broke my nose that night for the second time and managed to bruise a kidney. He liked to kidney punch me because the bruises didn't show when I was dressed. I also had various lacerations from hitting objects like tables and lamps while he slapped the snot out of me, all the while reminding me whose refrigerator it was. The doctor took photos in case I wanted to take Matt to court, but I can't look at them. They are way too graphic to post here. Needless to say, Matt went to jail that night. After they discharged me from the hospital, I got my friends to come help me pack my stuff. I was shocked to see that there was blood all over the apartment. Because of the bruised kidney, they had wanted to keep me overnight and run some tests in the morning. But I knew this was my only chance to leave him so I checked myself out AMA. I thought about moving back home, but my mother was ill and my father was recuperating from a heart attack. They didn't need the drama. So I moved into a shelter for a few weeks and thought about my options. At that time, there weren't a lot of resources for battered women. I already had a job so the only thing to do was to get my own place. I talked it over with some friends and we agreed to rent a duplex in a better part of town. It would be expensive, but worth it. It turned out to be the perfect arrangement. My friends, Doug and Connie, were really supportive and I felt safe there. When Matt got out of prison, he left town so I decided not to prosecute him. He moved back down to Kentucky. To this day, I don't know where he is. 

As safe and protected as I felt in this new home, I was still drinking. They had given me pain medication for my broken nose and I was abusing that. I would just call my family doctor and tell him I was still having pain and he would send in a prescription no questions asked. Bruised kidneys take a long time to heal, I discovered. My father was relieved that I had left Matt and even more relieved that he had skipped town. My experiences with Matt soured me on dating for a long time. Anyway, I wasn't really girlfriend material. I was working a low-paying job and abusing drugs and alcohol. But I want to say right now that I never went to work under the influence. Hung over, yes. But I was never lit at work. 

My interest in spanking was full-blown by this time. I had tried in vain to get men to spank me. I would even misbehave to get one. But it never happened. I remember like it was yesterday the first time Matt hit me. We were arguing about taking out the garbage and I said something flip to him. He jerked his head in my direction and looked at me, anger boiling in his eyes. I can still see his long brown hair whip around as he turned. Without a word, he raised his hand and slapped me so hard across the face he blacked my eye. My ears were ringing and I could barely hear. I was afraid he had injured the only good ear I had. But in a few seconds that cleared and I heard him say "Girl, I don't know what got into you but you better NEVER take that tone with me again. You hear me?" Shaking, I nodded. Then he went off to work, taking the garbage out with him. I had wanted him to take me over his knee and give me a loving, slightly stern spanking. Instead, he had made it so that I was trying to figure out how I was going to cover the ever darkening bruise on my eye. I began to believe I was never going to get the spanking I wanted. I had to wait many more years for that. If there had been a spanking scene in America at that time, I would still not have been able to participate. I was too immature and too emotionally damaged. The desire was there but there was no one to fulfill it. So, as with a lot of things I wanted to do in my life that didn't work out, I put it on the back burner and concentrated on helping my parents. Once my father had had his heart attack, it was obvious he wasn't going to be able to care for my mother by himself. Carol and I begged him to put her in a nursing home, but he refused. 

The 80's ended on a bad note for me. When they began, there was so much promise there. But in late November, 1989 a friend I had known since childhood died in a car accident. What was really haunting about the whole thing was that she had come over to my place to show me her new car, a sporty black Camaro, just the day before the accident. Her mother told me that she had been driving fast with the radio blaring and wasn't paying attention to what was happening. A semi slowed down suddenly in front of her, obviously having car trouble, and before he could get off the road, she slammed into his back end. She wasn't wearing a seat belt and died instantly. She was married with a three-year-old son. All I could do was shake my head. Didn't she have any worries about what would happen to her driving like that? I was sad, angry and confused. So I did what I always did in those situations--I reached for a bottle. 

Now, if you've read a certain other entry of mine, you'll know that I cleaned up and got saved in the 90's. So while there was a lot of pain and heartache in my 80's experience, I did have some good times. 

"What has happened to it all?
Crazy, some'd say
Where is the life I recognize?
Gone away.

But I won't cry for yesterday
There's an ordinary world
Somehow I have to find
And as I try to make my way
To the ordinary world
I will learn to survive."

"Ordinary World" 
Duran Duran