Working with a group that helps boys at risk, I’ve learned a lot of sad stories about kids no one raised, kids born hooked and tough enough to survive somehow in spite of abuse and neglect. Now these boys are working to help each other and there is at least some help for them in little groups of a dozen, though recovery and maintenance is always on the edge.
I’ll tell you about a girl in Browning, not an Indian. I’ll call her Josie. I knew her more than fifty years ago so the other people who knew her are either dead or too old to care very much. Except one or two. No one seems to know where she is -- Texas, they say. Maybe.
She grew up in the midwest. Her mother deserted the family when she was very small. Her father brought she and her sibs to the Montana High Line, running away. He was abusive and she was SUCH a pretty little blonde (just like Brigitte Bardot) that men just couldn’t resist her. When she got pregnant, they moved to the rez to be invisible. She had the baby, it was given up for adoption, it had a heart defect -- maybe due to her behavior which included a lot of drinking -- and died as a toddler. If sex didn’t work to find her a protector, the story of that baby usually did.
But she still got raped, still had to leap out of cars miles from town and walk back though she’d only intended some necking, because the men figured if she’d already had a baby, she was fair game. She never got pregnant again. Given the time and place, she may have been sterilized without even knowing it.
She appealed to an older artist to protect her. Slept with him. Slept with his son. Ran off with a truck driver who wanted to marry her, but then came back. Fell madly in love with a young handsome alcoholic Indian artist who beat the hell out of her. She didn’t give it up until he broke her arm. By that time the older artist had marched the two of them up to Cardston to be married, which is what she had said she wanted. He also had helped with the divorce. Then she left for Seattle where things were good for a while. She never remarried. If I told you what happened to the young artist, you’d know who she was.
If I told you what happened to the older artist, you may have already guessed. I was his third wife and I never remarried. Born in 1914, he died in 1999. When Josie began to contact him for money, after I finally left in 1973, he lost interest in her. Mostly. She really was irresistible as an Easter chick and I thought of her as just a kid, but when I began to research, I turned out to be only a few years older. I thought I was sooooo smart. I thought I was living the life of Marjorie Morningstar, a novel about artists popular at the time, and finally catching up to my college classmates who had already paired off, one couple famously-- Dick Benjamin and Paula Prentiss.
But this story started at just the leading edge of the sexual revolution. Benjamin and Prentiss made it work -- career, excellent kids, good works. They were tight with their birth families. Josie, I suspect, has spent much of her life tending bar at descending levels of society. Both artists married four times but that hardly accounts for the number of women who came along.
I never slept around and I never caught an SDT, though maybe herpes but I had measles as a kid, so . . . But I’ve gone on being an underachiever sex-wise, drug-wise, out-of-step age-wise, and academic-wise. There’s a name for girls like Josie that’s neither nice nor fair nor wise. There’s no name for girls like me. But we exist.
Today’s male version of Josie -- just “Joe” -- will be confronting a far greater array of ghastly dangers. Prominent among them are meth and AIDS. Heroin is still around, pot is almost a given, and the designer drugs are from outer space -- they could do anything to you. These dangers are far worse than an illegitimate child or sterilization. To survive HIV alone will take a couple of “large” a month but society will help if you can accept tight control over your life, including a rigid compliance schedule.
My own life used that older artist as an education and a springboard, not because he had influence in the world but because he had been a teacher and continued to be a teacher. He taught “doing,” not thinking about it. Also, he was an embracing, warm, safety-providing person so I could finish growing up. But he was also a capturer, who kept the benefits of my growth. When I began to separate and operate on my own terms, he began to move towards the violence of his early marriages. But he let me stay alone on our little old ranch all winter and we stayed a little bit attached for the rest of his life. I went back to university and have paid that seminary debt for the rest of my life. I paid the last thousand or so with my mother’s estate. She also paid much towards my undergrad degree though I had a full-tuition scholarship.
In our culture people end up living on other people’s money: kids who borrow for college, women who have babies on welfare, anyone who has HIV-AIDS. Also, houses and cars. So many of us live as indentured servants. The stipulations that come from outside ourselves are required and enforced as indentured servitude. It changes our larger culture.
At some point children who remain part of a family begin to contribute back to the earlier generation, but this set of parents are so busy working or zonked on substances that the attachment doesn’t “take.” There can be a dread of what one’s parents might need, an additional burden. It’s easier to make distance, not even keep in touch. But to live on debt is to return to feudalism. After paying interest, there is never quite enough to accumulate what would be enough capital to really operate and there is always the tax bill, which is also seen as a kind of interest because people raised in this way don’t identify with the larger culture. Anyway, tax/government capital gets drained in many small strategies along the way before arriving at its designated use. Most obviously, the managers take a major cut. This encourages the formation of parallel but hidden systems, sometimes criminal and sometimes at the top invisible level.
Long ago I attended a law seminar on the exotic animal trade, which tends to be international, moving the exotic and dangerous to bored, self-important and irresponsible bourgeois people. One speaker advised us to ignore criminal law, which is public, recorded, debated, and used by media and non-profits to create issues. Instead, we should pay close attention to regulations because they are arbitrary, local, and can be changed without notice, often with the excuse that there is no money for longer library hours or more mental health beds. Or that the main provider didn’t deliver the necessary drugs. Or that the real need is for training. These true things can be manipulated.
So now both Josie (if she’s still alive) and I are on Social Security. Neither of us has children. Both of us are fat. Have you seen Brigitte Bardot photos? There is a kind of cultural regulation called “morality,” which is just regulations that are not written down but disseminated through stories about behavior and what it will get you. Karma, commandments, whatever you call it, the consequences, like natural law, are self-enforcing.
Josie’s story is well-known, Biblical. And there have always been boys in the sex trade. The difference is in the new elements: HIV-AIDS and the ability of the government and big pharma to exploit it and other needs. So far I’ve heard a lot about school debt, piled onto highly paid and highly generative people who survive to pass it on by adding it to the costs of their service. So far, I’ve heard less about the people deeply in debt who drop out before they get to the pay-off of a job. Or how much debt puts the encumbered into the hands and plans of those who control their jobs. It’s a form of gambling and you know how dangerous gambling debts can be. This is a system that is so complex and subtle that only computers can manage it, and even they make mistakes.