SWISH….SWISH

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My uncontrollable memory tail has lashed me about recently, taking me to places I would rather not go.

First, the mixed circumstances of joy in reconnecting with a cousin and of sorrow whipping me backward in dealing with the memory of her mother, my famous cousin Carolyn and her illness-which in turn, re stimulated memories of my late husband, Jennings, and his struggles with schizophrenia.

Then this morning on CBS’s Sunday Morning, out of the blue, I was again swished back to a painful time in my young life. Michael Rockefeller.

New York……..1959

I met Michael through my classmate and eventual apartment roommate, Patricia White. She, Michael, Mimi Kellogg and a few others and I would get together the next few years on occasions at parties, either at our apartment or other social events. We were young and all full of life and youthful expectations. All except me, were raised in a social bubble of great material comfort and equally great expectations. I was the anomaly in the group with my Midwestern middle class upbringing. Yet we were all alike in that few of us had experienced great personal losses beyond our grandparents or older relatives. We were invincible with miles of living ahead of us. That is, until Michael.

Michael Rockefeller, just a year or two older than I, disappeared and was presumed to have died November 17, 1961. He was the youngest son of New York Governor (later Vice President) Nelson Rockefeller and a fourth generation member of the Rockefeller family. Our friend disappeared during an expedition in the Asmat region of southwestern Netherlands New Guinea.

At the time we were told that he was believed to have drowned and they never were able to find his body. That was all we knew then. We were shocked and it took so long to accept we would never see him again. It was hard to accept that our intelligent, enthusiastic and sometimes funny friend was gone.

In 2014, Carl Hoffman published a book that went into detail about the inquest into his killing, in which villagers and tribal elders admit to Rockefeller being killed after he swam to shore in 1961.

So once again that memory tail has swooshed, given me a whack and knocked the air from me. As my son’s ‘To Be Young’ lyrics from his album Beauty In Disrepair explains….”As I look back…years of memories so neatly stacked..I forgot about you.”

Copyright Sandra Hart 2014. All rights reserved.
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The Barbizon Years

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Recently I have reconnected with a cousin who has opened the box of memories of my life with her mother and my early years in New York City. She has taken me back to earlier times and memories of good friends.

February 1960…….

Strange how I remember so much about my life in New York and living at the Barbizon Hotel for women, but for the life of me, I can’t even envision what the lobby of that hotel looked like. I close my eyes and try to take myself back, but it has no memory photo shot of the space I walked in and out of for a year. Nothing. A total blank. Pale overly thin models walked about, in and out with their black portfolios, I remember that, but I don’t even have a clue to what that space looked like.

I remember my room in great detail. Actually, not hard because the room was just a bit wider than I was tall and not much longer. One window overlooking Lexington Avenue, a single bed against the wall and a dresser on the other that I probably could access from my bed it was so close. A sink and small closet at the end of the bed. The showers and facilities were down the hall. Basically it was my expensive closet my parents paid for so that I had secure living in New York while attending the Katherine Gibbs School on Park Avenue.

But I was not alone. That’s the way we all lived. My room was not unique. Nancy DuPont, my neighbor, Alice Blair, from Los Angeles down the hall and close by to Lynn’s room, (MCA Lew Wasserman’s daughter). They were all the same. Glorified closets.

Alice would get visits from home, her mother, and high school classmates including Nora Ephron but, for me, other than my parents once, the only other visitor I had now and then was my older cousin, Carolyn, who grew up next door to me in Steubenville. Without notice she would appear.

Carolyn lived at The Barbizon when she came to New York from Ohio and was first a Conover model and then signed with the prestigious Ford Agency. So, in my eyes, she was always the celebrity in our family. I always felt special when she came. Never a hair out of place and always dressed to perfection. She made elegance look so easy. I just remember that Carolyn was so beautiful and how important she made me feel with each visit. But looking back I now realize those visits were in between times for her. She was on her way to somewhere and needed to fill those empty minutes. Why not at the place with which she had comfortable memories and a relationship. At The Barbizon with her little cousin from Steubenville.

Over five decades have now passed for all of those mentioned in my Barbizon memory box. Each would have a story, yet unfolded, yet unscripted in that year of 1960.

I have often thought if I could, if it were possible, would I want to know my future? My answer is always the same. If I had known then all that I and the characters in my Barbizon life would go through after leaving that hotel, I may not have left.

I, for one, certainly have had my struggles as chronicled in my writings. Alice has had a wonderful life, but also with a few hiccups along the way. Carolyn was eventually diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and her glamorous life evaporated. Her mystic unveiled to the world by the worst human betrayal possible-and her life ending in poverty and pain. Nora Ephron received such great heights with her talent that was cut short too soon. All things to come in the future that perhaps had we known would have paralyzed us from going forward with our unthetered souls and hopeful plans.
Copyright 2014 Sandra Hart. All rights reserved

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Life’s Pollution

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We all know both genetics and environment play an important part in who we are and what we become. It is not the complete story, of course, but important enough to give us the life tools that we eventually use to live up to our potential or, on the other hand, sabotage, or destroy it.

Genetics we can’t control, not just yet anyway, and the reality is that we and our children have no control over our environment until we are either old enough, or strong, or smart enough to make independent choices to remove ourselves from any negative situation that life has caught us in, or that others in our bag of marbles have created. Even if we lived alone on an island, our environment matters because our mental and physical survival depends on our outlook. Survivor or Victim.

If someone would have given me a book while raising my children and said, “This is how you do it.”, it wouldn’t have mattered. The reality of the adage,”It does take a village”, is so true. But if there is a dysfunctional human force within that unit, the environment becomes polluted and all goes awry.

My children and I were caught in just such a vortex, not of our own doing. As those of you who are familiar with our story, my late husband was diagnosed in his late forties with acute paranoid schizophrenia. As a result, my children and I were caught in his distorted mental web, resulting in extreme dysfunction within our “family village.”

At the time, my mind was always in the torturing present and I had no thought about what it was doing to my children who were innocent bystanders to the chaos. I have often wished I had done things differently, but, unfortunately, I had not the skills to handle what was being thrown at me. Just the genetic strength and faith to get us through it all. I know now, that without that, I could have easily crumbled.

All of this has been on my mind this past year, because the older I get I seem to think of my children a lot, feeling so blessed that they have walked through the fire whole and are giving back to others in a good way. They are great parents, have strong moral values and healthy work ethics. I do feel grateful, because, under the circumstances, it could have gone another way.

This blog post has come about because I have been thinking lately of all of the terrible acts of violence by young people in this country with undiagnosed, untreated mental illness. Schizophrenia shows up in brilliant, achieving youngsters in their late teens or early twenties. Unfortunately, they can go under the radar until it is too late for them to silence the demons in their heads.

If this country can do anything to stop the violence that is happening too often, it is education about and treatment of mental illness. Let us erase the stigma. It is not guns in the hands of responsible citizens, but the mentally ill people who have access to them. The first thing the police did when my husband’s mental illness was diagnosed, was to remove his hunting rifles from our home.

Let us parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, teachers, religious leaders and grandparents in our “villages” be educated and aware of mental illness and the reality that, truly, mental illness knows no social level.

Putting our heads in the sand concerning mental illness, and not recognizing that in this country it is a growing threat to our way of life, is inexcusable. With the stresses all around us, it is not going to get any better any time soon unless we act.

Please check out my charity of choice: THE BRAIN AND BEHAVIOR RESEARCH ORGANIZATION.
http://www.bbrfoundation.org
enews@bbrfoundation.org