It’s Black Friday, November 1984 and another bone-chilling foggy winter’s night in quaint little Alameda. And down a laneway, just off one of Alameda’s many Camphol Laurel tree-lined streets, is a tiny apartment. It’s the home of Kate de Nito and her little girl.
At 3PM, 6-year-old Summer was picked up by her dad for their bimonthly weekend together. It’s now 9PM; and after a couple more calculations, Kate will know if she has achieved her speech pathology business goals.
Despite the electric heater blasting at her feet and donned in two sweatshirts, two sweatpants and two pairs of socks, tiny Kate’s freezing. From the corner of her eye, she sees her dad’s photo. A soft smile, the one she reserves just for him, fills her face, as she thinks, Yeah, Dad. I know. I’m 32 but still built like a 12-year-old. I like to think I’m a petite pint-size.
Right beside his photo is a single Camphor Laurel leaf which Kate pressed with wax paper. When her dad gave her that leaf, he said, “You’re like the Camphor Laurel tree. Just as it never gives up its leaves; you never give up on your dreams. I’m so proud of you.” He gave it to her the night of her All You Can Eat Crab Feed; when her dad and ten of her friends each donated $75 so Kate could get essentials for her business. The group photo, with everyone holding two crabs each, makes her chuckle.
That’s just the boost she needs, after these long six hours of punching the calculator. The final bar graph is done.
And how timely is it that today, this Black Friday, Kate’s calculations prove that her speech pathology business named Communication with Care, is more than in-the-black. Its first six months are a rip-roaring success. The graphs show her three major goals are achieved. Her caseload grew from 60 to 150. Her and Summer’s income grew from $1,500/month to $4,000/month.
And best of all, she hired two speech pathologists; and that means she’ll have lots of mom time with Summer; since she’ll only see clients 10AM to 2.45PM. And she’ll take a week off every month to be a volunteer mother in her classroom. She’ll take off working six weeks every summer. And, come April, she’ll organize and coach a soccer team for Summer and her friends.
Kate pats a special ringed binder. Starting 18 months ago, every weekend while Summer was visiting her dad, she was holed-up in Stanford University Medical Library, researching and formulating her “Functional Communication Skills for Adults with Intellectual Disability (ID) Assessment and Therapy Procedures.” Before that, there weren’t any age and interest level assessment and therapy tools for adults with ID.
Kate feels her dad’s glaring eyes. She cannot look at his photo. I know, Dad. It was your dream. It was my dream too. That I graduate from Stanford. What was I thinking? Turning down my acceptance to its master’s degree program?? I had to so Charles could do his law degree in Sacramento. But hey, my business is a success.
No wonder Kate leaps to her feet and starts doing some mad-capped victory dance. She even talks to Summer’s first grade photo. “WHOO Hoo! It’s a trifecta win! More time with you! My “Functional Communication Skills for Adults with Intellectual Disability (ID) Assessment and Therapy Procedures” works a charm! 150 Adults with ID are getting help to improve their communication skills! They’re no longer the forgotten case load of speech pathologists! They get my services for free because Medi-Cal pays me!”
As she admires the bar graphs, her heart’s racing, and a warmth fills every inch of her. It is the sweet warmth of success.
She resumes that victory dance for a few laps around her tiny kitchen/dining area, which also serves as her ‘office.’ Her 3 X 6-foot worktable and 4-drawer file cabinet are against one wall. Seeing the clients at their independent living centers saves her the expense of renting an office.
And that worktable is another example of her dad’s undying support. He, Kate and Summer built it out of 2 X 4’s and sealed it all in resin. She stops and gives her dad’s photo a quick wink. “Time for a drink, eh Dad?”
From the back of a cupboard, she carefully takes out the bottle of BOLS Vodka her dad bought her to drink once she achieved her first six months’ goals. She slowly pours her signature drink: 2 shots of Vodka plus Collins Mix filled to the brim… And no ice.
She stands at her worktable, admiring her wall-to-wall corkboard display. Her heart skips a few beats, and she smiles ear-to-ear, seeing those bar graphs on display.
“Cheers, Dad! You’re always the wind beneath my wings!”
She raises her glass again. This time up to a letter. With a smile and a wink, she says, “Cheers, Mr. Chalmer for the bank’s $15,000 Small Business Venture Loan! Amazing since my only collateral was my 3-year-old Toyota pickup.”
Then, with a scowl, Kate homes in on her mother’s photo. She doesn’t raise her glass. Instead, she takes two big sips of her drink. “I’ll always remember you as the one-and-only woe sayer.”
Their argument, just hours before her business fundraiser, is still engraved in Kate’s mind, and, in her heart, too.
Kate, I never thought I’d see the day I’m ashamed of you. You, a professional hosting a beg-fest.
I’m not begging.
Mark my words, in six months or fewer, you will beg. Beg me for money when this fails.
I’ve never failed at anything. If I did… I know you’d never let me forget it.
Well, Kate Elizabeth, your clients are ID. And just maybe you too are ID; Irresponsibly Driven to fail. After going that extra hard yard; getting your MA Degree… Just so you could work in hospitals… Kate! You worked 10 years with infants all through older adults! They had disorders and conditions that ran from A to Z! You gave all that up?? To help… Well… Dumb adults??
Mom! Don’t you dare call them dumb. Yes, I loved figuring out how to help clients with rare and complicated disorders. But it will be rewarding to help adults with ID. Most speech pathologists just don’t know what to do with them.
Kate, I thought you could manage life without a man. But from what I see… You can’t.
That was six months ago, but the anger, frustration and hurt are still blazing in a corner of Kate’s heart. No wonder she shakes her head and thinks, A mother should always believe in their kid.
She sips what’s left of her drink and angrily paces.
Throwing her hands up, Kate yells, “The Hell with this!” And she storms down the narrow hallway, muttering, “I took back my life four years ago! I made a tough choice! Marriage or being true to myself! I promised myself I would never be with a needy man ever again! I just need to remind myself.”
Fuelled with anger, she almost knocks the sliding closet door off its tracks. After digging through shoeboxes, she finds her most treasured two journals. She burned the other 16 journals. But these two? They gave her the courage to reclaim her life.
The instant she sees Volume 1 and then Volume 4 of her ‘Katie Oakley’s Homework’ journals, that previous jubilant smile is back. She first penned Katie Oakley Homework Volume 1 in December 1978. She pulls out the pencil from her hair, freeing it from the haphazard bun, letting it drape to her waist. Flopped on her waterbed, she begins reading…
December 9, 1978
Well, here’s my first entry in my Katie Oakley Homework Volume 1. I’m 26 and Summer is 2 months old. I’ve been married to Charles 6 years; but counting our two years’ Engagement, we’ve been together 8 years now. He’s 32. We go way back. Started being best friends when I was 15 and he was 20… Anyway…
Well, I’ve been so busy with college, then married and now motherhood, it’s high time I go back to my childhood best friend. So, journal, you’re her. How’d I pick your name? Well… at 10, I found my hero and mentor. Annie Oakley. So, that’s how you got your name. You’ll be so proud once I tell you about her.
No, I don’t want to buy a gun or rifle. But, Katie, I want to go back to being a sharpshooter about what and who I want in my life. You’ll help. Right? OK. So, starting tomorrow night, I’ll put Summer in her pram and go for strolls right after dinner. We live in sleepy and small Roseville so it will be peaceful. When I get back, I’ll tell you all the thoughts I had while strolling.
Since I first met sweet Summer in the delivery room, my feelings have been all over the place. Meeting her set off fireworks of joy. But within minutes, it was like a spark caused an explosion of horrible feelings in me. Sadness. Anger. Frustration. Confusion. Selfishness. All aimed at Charles. It scared me how for a split second I wanted to tell him, “Just leave. I don’t want to be your wife. I just want to be a mother.” Just writing that now sends chills all through my body. I’m a horrible person. But I must be honest. Katie Oakley, together, we will fix what is my life’s biggest mistake.
Katie Oakley’s Homework Volume 4
February 28, 1980
It has taken hundreds of strolls, with Summer, after dinner, but at last, I think I’m untangling the web in my head. And I think I’ve found my life’s compass; and it will head me straight to a mind-blowing and life-changing epiphany.
I’ve made myself look long and hard at my life…
It was great back when Charles was my best friend. At 15, I had so much self-doubt. But Charles convinced me I could be anything I wanted. He and dad were the only people who believed in me. I loved Charles for that. But now I know he and dad only served to light my fire. It was me who made myself take on challenges. It was me, who just a year later, when I turned 16, felt on top of the world. My self-confidence was invisible.
And that was when Charles started pleading with me to marry him. I was a young eagle and just learning to soar. How could he even think to clip my wings??
Then, on my 18th birthday, this guy I had been seeing for six months, dumped me. I was crushed. What 18-year-old girl wouldn’t be infatuated with Henry? He looked just like Omar Sharif, had his MA in architecture; and at 27 had designed many San Francisco buildings. He gave me an ultimatum. Quit college and join the Peace Corps with him. Or he’d stop seeing me.
I still can’t believe how much I was a mess. I even interviewed with The Sisters of Mercy… Yeah, ready to become a nun! The only thing that stopped me was I wanted to become a mother one day.
Between Henry, my first year in college, me thinking the nunnery was calling me and Charles badgering and pleading I marry him… I didn’t know up from down.
Charles must’ve been crazy too. I mean, I was honest. I told him I liked him a lot. I told him I wasn’t in love with him… Just in-like with him. He promised me I’d fall in love with him once I married him. I kick myself for not having a better head on my 18-year-old shoulders. Well, to make a long story short, we married when I was 20 and he was 25. And until now, I’ve been in denial about my life. I’ve even tried the ole fake it until you make it. Every month, through our six years of marriage, I make Charles a sappy anniversary card. They take up an entire wall in our living room! I’ve got to stop doing that. It’s all a lie.
Now I have ripped off the fairy tale rose-tinted glasses. I see my life for what it has been, all these eight years, counting the two years Charles, and I were Engaged. Out of those two years, we were together a total of two months. Not two consecutive months. Charles already had his BS in Business Administration/Marketing; but his number was (literally) up, on the Military Draft Lottery. He had 14 days to enlist. Well, thank God he was accepted into the Army’s OCS or Officer Candidate School. At least he wasn’t shipped off to Vietnam. We spent our two years’ Engagement writing letters. How stupid was I to think I knew him well enough to marry him?? I was so busy missing him I didn’t give any thought to whether I wanted to be married, to anyone; let alone to him.
OK. So now what? Yes, I’ll keep doing these evening walks with Summer. As far as what thoughts surfaced during tonight’s walk??
Tonight’s walk woke me to a huge realization. From 18 to now at 27, I’ve allowed my life to get crowded and busy. And all with the wrong people and with the wrong dreams. No wonder I’ve made huge mistakes. And sad to say, the one person who will pay for that is Charles.
It has been hard for me to set a D-Date for when I must decide to stay or to leave my marriage. But over the last few evening walks, it came clear. My D-Date must be Summer’s 21st month birthday. By that date, I must decide whether to leave the facade of our marriage or stay married to Charles until Summer is 18 years old. Maybe by divorcing Charles before she turns 2 years old, she’ll get used to it and adjust to it faster than if I wait until she’s older.
Kate flips the pages to…
July 24, 1980
Well! I’ve put my life back on Annie Oakley Street. After hundreds of strolling, after dinner…
Yeah, Katie Oakley, we did it! And in record time, too. I mean, I’m only 28 and Summer’s only 21 months old. And I am back to who I was at 16. I’m again as irrepressibly confident, half-glass full and focused, as sharpshooter Annie Oakley. I feel like a greyhound at The Gate of Life, again. I’m ready to grab adventures. I’m ready to be my most self-sufficient!
I got lost all these 12 years. I mistakenly thought I must pour all my time and energy into making others happy. I took my attention away from making my own happiness. I forgot I can’t love anyone until I love myself. From now on, I will choose who is in my life. I will create my own dreams and make them come true. All these past 12 years I’ve been whimsically wishing my life away. Telling myself, “one day, I’m going to…”
I even gave up my childhood dream to get my MA Degree from Stanford University. How could Charles, just a week after our wedding, spring a shock announcement on me?? Even though he already had his BS Degree in Business Administration/Marketing, he told me Lincoln Law School accepted him. Until that I had no idea, he even wanted to become a lawyer. I’m angry at him for keeping that secret and for dumping that bombshell decision on me. That meant home would be in the Sacramento area for the next four years. Feeling over the moon about my acceptance into Stanford’s master’s degree only lasted a few minutes. Being his wife, I gave that up. Doing my MA Degree at the number one Speech Pathology college, at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, only took a tiny edge off my devastating disappointment.
Two days ago, July 22, was Charles and my 8th Wedding Anniversary. I still can’t believe I did it. Talk about ripping off the band aide. What I said to him will ring in my head, with both guilt and honesty, for years to come.
“Charles, you know I love you. But It never happened. Not the way you said it would. I have not fallen in love with you as you claimed I would do.”
“I’ve been a total jerk. I’ve been acting. I’ve been fooling myself, you, and everyone. I pretended we were the perfect, so-in-love couple. You’re in love with me. That must feel wonderful. I wouldn’t know. For 10 years I’ve been with my best friend, you. Not in love. I filed for divorce yesterday.”
Even after my confession of how I blind-sided him, Charles still did not say a single angry or mean word. But, after knowing him now 13 years, I know it is not in his nature to show anger.
But then again, just maybe he said nothing mean or angry because deep down inside him, he already knew I wasn’t in love with him. Maybe he figured he had a good run… I mean, he had his 12 years of being head-over-heels in love with someone. And just maybe he feels I deserve to have a turn at being head-over-heels in love with someone??
Now, it’s 10PM, in her little Alameda apartment; and retracing her journey to who she is now, restores her contentment. And with that accomplished…
She scoots off her waterbed. and right out loud exclaims, “Time to celebrate! Have a few drinks. Maybe have a few dances. Yeah! Rusty Pelican here I come!”
But there’s a ruckus at her neighbor’s house. Kathy and Mark are having their monthly fight.
“You’re my wife! You’re supposed to make me happy!”
“Oh, please, Mark. When do I have time to do that? Huh? I’m the chief cook and bottle washer! I don’t have time to even make myself happy!”
“That’s what I mean. It’s always about you! You love being the martyr!”
“No, Mark. I’m not a martyr. I’m a slave! And now, you want me to be like some Gennie in a lamp! Make you happy! What the Hell??”
Hearing all that, Kate flops back onto the bed. She knows she won’t enjoy tonight until she confides with her best friend, her Katie Oakley Homework journal.
Black Friday, 1984
“Make me happy.” Hmm… That’s got to be the one sentence I never ever want some man to say to me or I never ever want to say to some man. The one good thing my mom did for me this whole last year was give me that book ‘Men Are Just for Dessert.’ OK, 95% of it was blaming men for women’s woes, but the one good thing I got out of it was: only get into a romantic relationship after you are self-sufficient emotionally. I am that. I mean, I am my own best friend (besides Katie Oakley). I like being with me. I know what to do to entertain myself. I know what to do to make myself happy. Hmm? I wonder if there is some man out there, who is his own best friend, too?
“Happiness??” Yeah, Thoreau wrote something about that. But I bet it’d work fine if I swapped out the word ‘happiness’ for the word ‘love.’ “Love is like a butterfly, the more you chase it, the more it will elude, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and softly sit on your shoulder (in your heart and soul).”
Love?? It’s at the bottom of my list. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever look for it. Let alone find love. My world is a nice kind of small. A career that’s more a hobby than work. A daughter who is the light of my life. It’d take a super-duper Mr. Wonderful to even turn up in my life. I’m not one of those people who looks everywhere for love. Wow. Come to think of it, I never literally look for love.
As Kate tucks her journals back into the closet, her ear-to-ear smile and the sparkle in her eyes are back.
It takes her under 10 minutes to get ready for The Rusty Pelican. Quickly brushes her hair. Brushes her cheeks with a bit of blush. Throws on her favorite sweater which matches her ruddy brown eyes. She indifferently shrugs her shoulders as she sees its frayed sleeves. She slips into her most comfy jeans. The ones with frayed cuffs. Deciding which shoes is a slam-dunk. Of course, she slips on her fawn-colored suede desert boots that are covered with scuff marks and bald spots.
As she starts her Toyota pickup, she checks the time. 11.15PM. She whispers, “Oh, yeah! Perfect timing. The ’ole Rusty Pelican will be jumping.”