Becoming Miss Janice

I have spent the better parts of many days trying to chase down some memories. This is both the power and the curse of the internet–you know the information you want is out there, if only you click one one more link. One more link. One more link. And if you’re me, you’re too cheap to actually pay for a subscription service that might answer some, if not all, of your questions.

Here’s what I know for sure: In 1978 I was failing the 5th grade. Miserably. I wasn’t even passing my beloved Language Arts, I was doing so badly. My brother was slogging through the 9th grade, a year behind, having repeated the 7th as another part of the Ronnie fallout.

Also in 1978, my mother remarried. His name was James, he was originally from Georgia, he looked strangely like Abraham Lincoln, and he drove a beautiful white Ford LTD with plush burgundy upholstery. His car had an FM radio and a CB antennae. He was the foreman of an underground cable crew. Their marriage lasted for about a year, maybe a bit longer legally. That’s one of the pieces I haven’t been able to find, when they were legally divorced. Perhaps they never were.

James had three kids (that we knew of), all of whom shared a first initial and referred to my mother as “Miss Janice.” (The correct pronunciation was JaNEICE, but we all gave up on explaining that after a couple of weeks.) I believe one of my crowning childhood achievements was the day I called one of them, to his (and my mother’s) face, an asshole. My mother slapped me, for the first and only time ever, then as soon as we were alone apologized saying, “He is an asshole, but you can’t say that to him.”

It was a long time ago. We didn’t keep in touch. Now, I’m trying to find them. Not because I want to reconnect, but because I have so damn many questions. The first is this: was their father a sociopath? Because that’s how I remember him. The second is how many times was he married? Because my mother once admitted that she thought he’d only been married once before, but when we met his mother she called my mother by so many different names that it just got confusing–even more confusing than this sentence has become. It seemed James been married quite a few times before then. The third question, well, I don’t really have a third. The first two cover pretty much everything I want to know.

I’ve spent most of my energy trying to answer the second question. Google couldn’t tell me that one. Neither could free trials of various subscription services that I now need to go cancel before they bill me. I finally went to Facebook, which I gave up over a year ago because I couldn’t handle it any more. You may now call me Penelope Bottomwater, because I dunno, I didn’t feel like being myself. Brooke Baker isn’t much of a stalker, but Penelope Bottomwater? That bitch is nothing but trouble.

Penelope has now stalked every single person she could find matching any and all variants of their names. She thought she found one of them, and spent a good couple hours reading every single one of his posts, hoping to see a reference to or photo of his father, only to find a three-year-old post in which he referred to himself by his full name and it wasn’t the right guy at all. I now know a whole heck of a lot about a random stranger, so that’s something.

I think, though, that I’ve finally found two of the three. I picked the one most likely to respond and sent a pm that included my real name. We’ll see if that goes anywhere. In the meantime I’m trying to come up with polite words for “sociopath” and “complete nutter.”

On the assumption that I’m going to have to tap into the sketchiest of recollections to tell the stories of her Miss Janice year, I keep making notes to myself. The look something like this:

  • Alabama, sulfur water, John
  • New Boston, bowling, campground
  • Georgia, Cleta, green beans, bike wreck
  • Kingman, roller skating, Pam
  • Missouri
  • Sad Eyes
  • The Jellystone Campground, Grand Canyon
  • Lake Mead

And truth told, this is where I really wish I could talk to my mother because I can’t help but wonder how closely my memories dovetail with her reality. But hey, I’ll keep chugging along, trying to make sense of it because it’s what I do both as a human and as a writer.









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