Classical Guitar Charcoal – 1979 by Judy

When I first began my writing, I thought it would just be a few pages about things I was interested in writing about. I began with some “summary” paragraphs. Each paragraph has now turned into a chapter. I didn’t realize how much there was inside of me that I wanted to express!

Life for me lately, has been a time warp. My rediscovery of old friends and memories has definitely been therapeutic. I have been amazed at how many things I still remember. I need to focus on that sometimes, because when I forget little things it has become very unsettling. I joke about turning fifty, but it isn’t always funny.

Such a fairytale life I’ve had! My parents adored me. I had two older brothers, but since there was a six-year gap between them and myself, I was almost like an only child. I was the precious little girl my mother always wanted. My middle brother wasn’t too happy with me when I was born; I had taken away his standing as the “baby” in our family. It wasn’t a “fairytale” when we were together. There was a lot of sibling rivalry between us.

My mother used to say she “lived through me,” and enjoyed my experiences. I have a lot of interest in watching my own children, but have not expectation of living through their life with them. I would like them to be more independent, for sure!

My mother told me that my talents were apparent in preschool. I grew up being told by my mother that I’d become an artist. Throughout my childhood, she encouraged my art. I had tremendous patience for paint by numbers. I remembered enjoying them, especially because I had trouble “loosening up.” My mother also told me, “When you have children, being an artist is the perfect career to be at home with them!”

In grammar school, I found that I enjoyed writing in addition to art. In the sixth grade I experienced an explosion of writing creativity. After elementary school, my writing was put into a diary that I started in high school. I didn’t take it seriously and stopped keeping a diary a year or two after I was married.

I began learning the guitar when I was 15 years old. I became passionate about music, and I began writing songs when I was sixteen. I guess I discovered that songwriting was a tremendous outlet. Creating a song, by combining words with music was an amazing process. I was not musically trained, but had an excellent ear and created lovely chord progressions on my guitar. I wanted the melody and lyrics for my songs to seamlessly blend. It was important that each and every song of mine be unique. Sometimes I wrote songs about things I had not experienced yet in my life. The last song that I wrote was the one I played at my wedding to Michael.

My first experience living away from home was when I got married. I never even experienced moving before then. Our family lived in a small apartment. I often have amazement thinking there was only one bathroom for five people; that wasn’t easy as a teenager! My parents were devoted to their children, and I was very cherished and loved. I was such a good girl, too.

I never experienced any trauma growing up. It was all so normal. I had childhood friends, I fought with my brother, I loved bugs and lizards, and I was a tomboy. Our family never had much money; I didn’t know any different. My father was a teacher, and later a school district administrator. My mother was a “stay at home” mom. As far as vacations went, we didn’t go anywhere too far. It was a big deal when we drove to see the Grand Canyon – that was my farthest vacation growing up. My first airplane ride was with Michael when I was 20 years old.

Although, I didn’t think I experienced any traumatic events in childhood, I knew I was very sensitive.

I had some special, childhood friends. I’ve talked about my first playmate, Steven. Steven and I lost touch after he moved away, but our mothers stayed in touch. I have also mentioned Joni. Joni will always be a part of my life. Because we used to play board games, I’ve always envisioned us playing monopoly when we’re in our eighties. I see her and I together in the same nursing home. How weird? Where did our husbands go?

I always longed for Joni’s friendship as a young child, but she was required to work in her parents dry-cleaning shop. Because she worked after school, she attended a different school than mine. It was closer to the dry cleaning store and she had to work after school every day. She was never available to play. Our family did take her along on several vacations. We were just like siblings, actually. We would squabble and make up. Joni suffered a lot growing up. Her mother had a nervous breakdown when she was a teenager. Recently, I have found out more about what she went through.

By high school, even though we attended the same school, we were not close. She was dealing with some great stressors in her life, of which I was not aware. It wasn’t until college, that Joni really discovered her path and she was always very grateful for the influence from my family.

Joni loves my mother and continues to visit her. I appreciate it more than I can even write here.

Joni and I at our high school graduation.

However, when I was in the tenth grade, I met a friend that gripped my soul. Her name was Elena. Because I’ve never had a sister, there was always a longing to find a best friend. Elena was extremely musically gifted. She was a talented violinist. It was with her that a learned about harmony and the beauty of songwriting. She sang with me my very first song that I wrote. She also helped inspire me with the confidence to continue songwriting.

She once shared a story with me; I have never forgotten her poignant story after all these years. It was about grief. Her story made me appreciate my own mother more.

Elena’s mother died of cancer when she was in middle school. She shared with me her sadness of waking up in the morning sometimes. She would smell something cooking in the kitchen. It reminded her of when her mother was in the kitchen cooking her breakfast. Of course, she would get out of bed to face the fact that her mother was dead, and she would never see her again. There was a lot of distance between her and her father. He seemed so sad when I met him. Elena carried a lot of sadness.

I would say my very first “trauma” was the hurt I experienced with Elena. I hesitate to use the word trauma, however, it was extremely painful for me. I often use the word “sensitive heart,” but that was how it felt. I had no “scar tissue” or protection to deal with the very first pain and disappointment of my life. It seems so trite now, but it wasn’t back then. I can easily conjure up the hurt.

It was one of those moments during a gym class. Teams were being picked. She and her “boyfriend” were one of the captains that were choosing. I was not picked at all until I was the last one left. She averted her gaze from me. I was devastated that she had ignored me and didn’t know how upset I was. I felt discarded, since she was obviously more interested in her boyfriend than my feelings!

It spun me into a huge depression. I decided to write her a ten-page letter sharing how I felt. Just now I’ve realized that writing therapy was there for me at that time. Writing that letter probably released a lot of pain.

Years later, she wrote to me. She was very sorry about what had happened. I’ve thought about her often, and was unable to find her all those years ago. Her family had moved. I went to my twenty and then my thirty-year high school reunions hoping that she might be there.

I’ve decided that looking for her now would be very interesting.

“The letter”

I started writing the paragraphs above a few weeks ago. I wasn’t even planning to write about my friendship with Elena. I was just sharing my “blissful” prior to responsibility life. I started to realize though, that it wasn’t always blissful.

Elena was my very first really deep friendship. As I began to write more about that experience, I decided that it was worthy of “delving into.”

For me, delving into something meant I needed to look at more written material from the past to refresh my memory. Right now I am very shaken up. I became upset reading something I never processed thirty years ago.

There was Jason’s box, which held memories about his life and death, and then there’s the “other box.” What has shaken me up this morning was the fact that I had pulled out a bunch of old cards and letters from that other box.

Sometimes, I have wondered when I would ever actually have any time to reminisce. I have an image of myself as an old lady in a rocking chair, reading all of the old love letters and cards from my youth. I have saved a lot of cards from my mother, knowing how special those will be for me someday. Since my father never threw anything out, he gave me back all the letters I used to mail him and my mom from camp. Those letters sure look interesting. But there has never been any time or desire to look at these things until recently.

Yesterday, I pulled out a few items from my “other box.” I remembered there was a long letter from Elena. I hadn’t read it until this morning, when I thought about how relevant it would be to writing about high school. After I read it, my hands became cold and my stomach was jittery.

Had I ever read this letter from her before? When I wrote about what I had remembered, it seemed so easy to summarize:

First, I had a close friend.

Then I had hurt feelings.

Then I recovered.

Then I moved on.

It turned out there was so much more than that!

Perhaps, because I am now writing, I have more insight. The magic of appreciating my songwriting, as well as the music that has reappeared in my life is another reminder for me of where it all started.

After reading her letter, I was blown away. She totally revealed herself to me. I was never able to find her again after I received that letter. My letters all came back, and there was no phone number. I am filled with so many questions.

She sounded so anguished in her letter. That letter was thirty years ago. How I would like to speak with her now! I felt sad because I was so unreceptive at the time she wrote me that letter I was going in a different direction. I was experiencing the joy of youth. I was getting married and I was deeply in love. The world was limitless for me.

I wonder if she continued her writing. With her letter, she enclosed something else. She sent me a newspaper article. Her published writing revealed much more about her than I can ever write here. It turned out that she was an unbelievably passionate writer. I never realized that about her. Sadly, in her letter it sounded like she had gone through some challenging health issues. She was a violinist, and her hands were not working well. That sounded very concerning. I remember that she attended Stanford, but then quit after a year or two.

I’ve decided I am going to share my revelations by opening up my diary. It was helpful for me to appreciate how tender my “sensitive heart” was back then. My heart has been broken so many times, but the part that inspires me is how it has healed.

I would like to share her poignant letter.

It’s important to understand that I’ve shared only the diary excerpts related to this story and also to my songwriting. Most of my diary was filled with my escapades and experiences of youth. It was difficult not to edit these excerpts more. In order to be faithful to my ramblings, I decided to let them be.

Elena in 1976. We almost had the same birthday, by one day.

© Judy Unger and 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About Judy

I'm an illustrator by profession. At this juncture in my life, I am pursuing my dream of writing and composing music. Every day of my life is precious!
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  1. Elaine says:

    Judy as I read I have a sense that you were raised as the “proverbial bird in the gilded cage.” Since life has it’s inevitable pitfalls any that approached you became extremely hurtful. But indeed, they were simply the prelude to marriage and motherhood. To my minds eye you were raised by the ideal modern jewish family. Perhaps you have always been in preparation for the loving caregiving you daily perform. I’m anxious to continue reading.

    Wishing you Happiness…..with all my heart.



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