Burning Bridge

I’m stuck. I have been avoiding writing. This part has deep feelings, as they all do, but it’s not just nostalgia. It’s a story of bravery, growth, trust, and survival. For all of us. And deep blue pain, a shade different from the rest.

We are at the point of my story when high school begins. That’s where my childhood ends. If it lasted that long, that is. So much chaos and so much running in place and so much letting go and so much hanging on. For dear life.

I wanted to go to Sac High, with Sara D. and most everyone else from Sutter Middle School. But my mom forced me to go to McClatchy for the Humanities and International Studies Program. That was 1986, 9th grade. You had to apply. I got in. HISP was and still is an intense academic program at a public school, where even the smart kids have to study to do well. You can’t skate by. Cliff’s Notes are not enough. Proven in Mr. Darling’s class.

Are Cliff’s Notes even a thing anymore?

Academics were never my priority. No one was molding me for college.

So I was forced to attend a high school I didn’t want to go to, where I knew very few people. Nothing I wasn’t used to, I suppose. Lots of people have to start fresh in high school. I know I’m not special.

No, really. Not special enough anyway.

This was the 15th school. Yes, I went to 15 different schools. The 15th school became my home. My safe space. Can you imagine if your high school was the safest space you knew? There is nothing safe about high school, not really. I said it before, it’s as safe as quicksand.

The best thing about CKM HISP was meeting Nadia. She’s my BSF. Remember, that’s 2020’s teenspeak for Best Sister Friend. My bestie for 35 years. We sat next to each other in Ms. Wilcox’s class. Sara S. sat next to us, too. And Seren. We became the four Musketeers for a season or two. My safety net in a sea of new faces. We had rotating sleepovers every weekend. There was something attractive about each of our homes. In one there was what seemed, on the surface, the picture of perfection. Stay at home mom, hard-working dad, three kids and a station wagon. A cabin in Tahoe. A swimming pool and a fancy liquor cabinet, always stocked. A boat and so much fun. Nothing to be ashamed of. Like the families on TV. Mr. And Mrs. Not first names. I wanted that life.

Then there was the cool house. The educated but not rich divorced parents that worked for non-profits and/or helped other people get divorced. The ones that lived in SF in the 70’s and protested and burned bras and were hippies. Unfinished hardwood floors and original tiled bathrooms. Character. And a mom that loved to cook. Carolyn. She made us Hoisin Chicken and Challah, fresh from the oven. Chocolate chip cookies and sit down at the table for dinner. Every night. Always with her wine glass. Present but dependent. Real. She had a huge dangly earring collection, all on display in her bedroom. And hats. So many hats and necklaces and flowy dresses and scarves like Stevie Nicks. Artsy accessories. And Harold the cat. The only cat I ever loved. He would climb onto your chest and “knead” us with his paws. He was a snuggler of strangers. Her house was decorated like Tower Cafe. Like Cost Plus World Market or Zanzibar. Interesting. Bohemian. I wanted that life, too.

And Jacker’s house. That’s Nadia’s dad. All of the above but with shorty short corduroy OP shorts or Dove running shorts and knee-high tube socks. Everyday in all weather. Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring. In the winter he wore a sweater with his shorts and maybe a scarf. He worked from home before it was cool. If I stayed there on a school night, he made both of us sack lunches. Bagels and cream cheese, an orange, and a frozen Capri Sun to keep the cream cheese cold, wrapped in paper towels so the condensation wouldn’t soak through the paper sack. He was a man of ritual. On Monday it was potstickers from The Mandarin, and wide squishy noodles and BBQ pork with spicy mustard. On Tuesday it was Maudie Burgers, homemade on the grill, fat like hockey pucks on an English Muffin. Maudie was Jacker’s mom. Wednesday was Zelda’s, a combo with extra garlic. Thursday was BBQ teriyaki chicken, marinated for at least 24 hours in soy sauce, fresh ginger, so much garlic, and orange slices. Friday was carnitas, the meat bought by the pound from El Nov and fresh Michaela’s flour tortillas. The real thick homemade kind. Rotated in was stir-fry. And always wine. And sit at the table, let’s talk and be real like adults. Present and dependable. And not just for Nadia. I wanted that life, too.

I should add Carolyn and Jacker’s recipes to my cookbook, Recipes of a Neglected Childhood.

And my house. The rental on the corner by the bike shop. My mom was never home. Rare supervision. Left to our own devices. Champagne in the basement. One night we were sitting on someone’s front lawn by the railroad tracks leading into Curtis Park, watching our boyfriends steal street signs when the popo rolled up. One car took the boys home and one took us to my house, two blocks away. My mom wasn’t home and they got a call, so they just left us there, no harm no foul. That’s the only time I have been in the back of a police car. Whew.

We joined Lion’s Roar, the freshman cheerleaders. We wore hand sewn maroon colored skirts and white sweatshirts with a lion on the chest and white Keds. We went to all the football games. We walked all over Curtis Park and Land Park at all hours of the day and night. Marie’s at midnight when the donut holes were still warm. We poached vodka from Sara S.’s parents fancy liquor cabinet and poured it into New York Seltzer bottles. My mom had bought several cases of Korbel Brut sparkling wine for a NYE party she had, but they didn’t drink it all, so we had cases of it in the basement of our rental house on 21st Street. I couldn’t tell you how many bottles of that stuff we went through. At a certain point, I was like we might as well take more and maybe she will think she only had 2 cases left instead of 3 or 4. Really. It was the house on the corner next to the bike shop. When I drive by now, the front yard looks like depression to me. The trees and bushes are all overgrown like no one cares at all. I guess it’s a vibe.

So we would get drunk and roller skate to CKM late at night. We would skate on the blacktop and on the tennis courts. I think the tennis courts backed up to the DeNec’s house and Matt’s house. Close enough anyway. So the boys thought CKM was their playground, too. Sometimes we ran into them. That was the start of some beautiful friendships. Passed out and puking on the tennis courts, or hopping the concrete wall into the swimming pool. Always under the radar.

I thank the Goddess that social media and cell phones didn’t exist back then.

We were on the Swimming and Diving team together. I was the swimmer. We used to be able to leave campus for lunch everyday. We could walk to each other’s houses, believe it or not. I don’t know how we had enough time to get there and back, all in what, 40 minutes? One day, we went to my house for lunch and drank from our NY Seltzer bottles. It was a swim meet day. I don’t advise 14 year olds to participate in a swim/dive meet after drinking vodka at lunch. I’m pretty sure one of them has a scar on her shin to drive that point home. In the end, we all lived to tell. But only one of us is writing about it. Sorry, gals.

But tell me, are you surprised?

One of the sign-stealer boys, me, and Sara S. at a CKM swim and dive meet, 1987.

None of us drove yet. and I still lived with my mom. Partway through the year we moved back to the condo in Natomas from the rental that looks like depression. I had to ride the city bus for 45 minutes to and from school each day. Or I had to sit and wait to be picked up after my mom got off work. Or to try and get one of the older boys to drive me all the way home. No gas money.

There wasn’t much we didn’t do together, that first year of high school. We even got beat up together after the CKM vs Burbank Basketball game. We were sitting in front of the school after the game, waiting for Mrs. S to pick us up. We were just chillin’ and waiting when a group of girls from Burbank High School walked up to us and said “are you talking about Black people?” We weren’t. I said “No.” Then they jumped Sara S., and when she fell to the ground they started kicking her as she curled into a fetal position. They had Nadia backed up against a fence, but I can’t remember if she was hit. While Sara was being attacked, two of the girls circled behind me and one punched me in the back of the head. Probably hurt her hand more than it hurt me. I whipped around and stood up to them. They didn’t expect that. I didn’t get hit again and we got the other girls off of Sara just as the station wagon pulled up. Just in time. I’m sorry, Sara. I’m sorry I couldn’t stop them. What I learned that day was to always stand up to the bullies and bad guys. Don’t back down. Fight for your life.

And I guess I just broke the first rule of Fight Club.

So we lived that life the first year of high school. I flunked out of HISP. Then we moved to another rental house on Sutteville Road, next door to Ford’s Real Good Burgers and Niccole’s house. I got a job at Ford’s and I used to make out with the cook. I don’t remember his name. It made Robbie jealous, so that was a win. That’s 4 moves in 18 months. At least I got to stay at the same school. My mom met a married man named George. They fell in love, he left his wife, and they wanted to leave California. They left me home alone for 3 weeks in the summer before 11th grade. Ingrid drove me to summer school at Burbank High everyday in her white Mustang and we slept on our desks for 3 hours each day while they played movies and we earned the credits we needed. Ha. Good job SCUSD. Good ‘ol Ameri-can education. I felt like a badass with her as my friend, riding in the passenger seat of her car. The car all the boys wished they had. I was cooler cuz I was with her, and nobody fucks with Ingrid. I bet that’s still true.

So for 3 weeks that summer I had ultimate freedom. I had parties and went to parties and drank heavily. They went on a road trip, I think to visit George’s family in Washington. In that 3 weeks, they decided they were moving up north while I decided l could survive on my own. At age 15.

And then,

She left.

They got me set up in my little apartment on 16th Avenue and they bailed.

I think I will save the next part for another day.

It’s exhausting to describe it all, especially while my eyes burn from unshed tears and smashed down traumas.

It’s fun to have your own apartment when you are 15.


There is so much more to this story than what I write here. So much that I choose to not tell or memories I have buried deeper than the rest. So much water under this burning bridge. And yes, I know I’m the one that set it on fire. Finally.

Sink or swim, right?

Nadia, me, and Sara S. after we walked the runway for Benetton for a charity fashion show in 1986 or 87.
Nadia on the Benetton runway.
I think this was my 15th birthday dinner. Me, Tanya, Sara S., and Niccole at the rental house on Sutterville Road.
Happy 15th to me. Right before everything changed.

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1 Comment

  1. Jim and Chloe Fonda says:

    Hi Annie

    I love these entries. You are amazing, bright, resilient and funny. I’m so glad to know you and witness any part of your journey.

    My parents are terrible at online stuff but I’ve told my mom about these entries and she’d love to read them. I’m going to put my Dad’s email here and he’ll probably print them out for her to read.

    Take care. Every time I read one of these I just want to give you a big old hug.

    I’ve been doing some therapy myself lately. I’m a long time journal keeper too. It’s exhausting to reexamine past traumas (both big and small) and see the way it still has impacts in the present. Mid-life is no joke, but I don’t want to carry quite all of this bs into the years I’ve got left.

    Liked by 1 person

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