My Origin Story

November 10, 2015 — 117 Comments

subwayc-couple-kissing-nyc-c-1987

 

If I go back to the beginning, if I start all the way back…

maybe I can figure it out.

 

—–

 

I wasn’t always the happening chick you see on social media. I was a skinny unattractive nerd, a white outcast in an all-black neighborhood who got her ass kicked on the regular.

I grew up on Staten Island –  The Land That Time Forgot. It’s the only borough the New York subway system doesn’t run through, and this isolation from civilization has turned it into a caricature of itself.

Staten Island is like, New York lost a bet to New Jersey, and was forced to house douchicles cloned from the characters on The Jersey Shore. The amount of hairspray used on Staten Island is solely responsible for the hole in the ozone. It houses the world’s largest dump, the receptacle for all solid waste in New York city, so all of Staten Island smells like a rotting volcano with irritable bowel syndrome.

 

I grew up in one of the worst housing projects in all of NYC – The Stapleton Projects. My mom was a widow with six kids, and we were poor as fuck.

Fuck you, we had an elephant.

But fuck you, we had an elephant.

 

Mom did the best she could raising the six of us, and that best included beating the snot out of us. Mom was like Elasti Girl – her fist was attached to an arm that could reach around doors and under beds.

I got my ass beat inside and outside the house, so I suppose my childhood wasn’t very safe. I wasn’t aware of it then. Who has time to process psychobabble when you’re scrambling around, dodging beatings?

I do know that my mother’s approval was sacred to me, and I never got it. Nor any attention, unless it was at the receiving end of her fist.

This was how I began to mistake abuse for love. This was how I learned that if I just tried hard enough, if I did better, was better, I could make abusive people love me. 

 

You know how kids just LOVE hearing about their parents’ childhood?

Little Dude’s favorite anecdote of mine?

The time I was walking down the dark, dank staircase in my building. I was 7. As I rounded the corner, holding the railing, I felt something furry and warm. I focused in. There, sticking up out of the banister at the foot of the stairs, was a dead cat’s bloody dismembered head. Still warm.

Ah, memories…

 

Stapleton was made famous as the birthplace of the Wu-Tang Clan. They went to school with me and NO I DO NOT KNOW THEM.

Wu-Tang was a gangsta rap group, back in the day when gangsta rap meant you had a prison tattoo and an unlicensed gun, not a trust fund and a beach house. I was a flat chested nerdy ginger growing up in a gangsta rap video.

Pippi Longstocking meets Ghostface Killah.

 

I grew up confused. I possessed a white-hot rage, a desire to love and be loved, fiercely;  a profound appreciation for the underdog, and a project girl’s survival instinct. If you fuck with me, or my kid, I will Take You Down. My Stapleton instincts have quelled some, but not entirely. You can take the girl outta the projects, BUT.

Just last night, a friend posted online about a sixth grade boy who was frightening her 11-year-old daughter with talk of rape. Everyone advised her to contact the school. Me?

Not so much.

stealth 3

 

 

As I kid I was desperate to find an escape and an outlet. So I read. Constantly, because we were poor and books were available.

At 9, I tried to wrap my brain around “A Wrinkle In Time.”

A science fiction masterpiece of Inter-dimensional time travel and quantum physics. Reading A Wrinkle in Time is similar to taking a hit of really strong blotter acid. This book twisted my mind up to where 37 years later, it has still not fully recovered.

 

I came from a family of overachieving geniuses. Five brothers, all brilliant, all obsessed with music. My older brothers gave me an invaluable education in music, forever putting all the best of the best to my ears.

I also began writing at a young age. I filled notebook after notebook with ideas, fantasies, poetry.

And then-

In one of the true defining moments of my life, my older brother put a copy of Patti Smith’s debut single “Hey Joe,” into my 11-year-old hands.

Patti Smith. Skinny, brainy, gangly, unpopular, unattractive by society’s standards.

patti

 

In the 1970’s, Patti Smith put her poetry to punk music and was eventually crowned Godmother of Punk.

The B side of her first single is “Piss Factory,” an ode to New Jersey factory work, and the experience of getting her head shoved into the toilet by the other workers.

 

She became my idol. She gave me hope that I could escape, and transform into someone other than the strange nerd people used as a punching bag.

 

The only public transportation to get to Manhattan is via the Staten Island Ferry, which is like the Love Boat – only when you get off, you automatically have herpes.  Although now refurbished, when I was growing up, the ferry was seedy and dilapidated. It also sells beer and used to allow cigarette smoking. At 2 am on a Saturday night, it was filled with homeless people and drunken degenerates.

The summer of 1982, I was going on 13 and about to enter high school. I fell in with a group of older kids and we starting taking that ferry into Manhattan, the gritty, grimy, pre-gentrified graffiti-ridden city of the 80’s.

The Village was our playground. We bought loose joints and hung out with street musicians. We carried a boom box the size of a suitcase and blasted it as we roamed downtown.

We had a THEME SONG (don’t judge):

 

The following summer I enrolled in a New York City program that allowed poor slum kids to obtain their working papers at 13.

My first job – The Public Library.

The library owned every banned book – but did not circulate them. All illicit books were sequestered away in a super-duper top-secret file named “Banned Books.” I cleverly unearthed these nuggets of literary rebellion.

And read every motherfucker in that file.

 

I discovered On the Road, an American classic of crazy adventure and freedom, and riddled with drugs, jazz, drugs, sex, and drugs.

I tore through Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs.

Naked Lunch? This isn’t a novel; it’s a twisted series of disturbing, drug ridden, sexually explicit vignettes. Burroughs wrote it while living in Tangiers, in a one-room apartment above a male whorehouse, strung out on smack and male prostitutes.

This was the shit I was feeding my 13 year old brain.

Are things starting to come together?

I thought they might.

 

We finally moved when I was in high school.  Were you hoping for the happy ending?

Not. So. Fast.

Back in those days, if you were “bright,” you got “skipped” so I was 2 years younger than most kids in my grade. Get the picture? No more scary gangsta projects.

Instead, we’re talking TRAINING BRA in the GYM LOCKER ROOM. I think my pal Ghostface Killah did less damage to my psyche.

So, to heal all those psychic hits on my ego? I read. I listened to music. I wrote.

And I planned my escape.

 

I eventually got out of the projects when I left for college. The very first summer, I decided I would stay in my college town instead of going home for the summer. What was there for me?

 

I never went home again.

 

 

If I go back to the beginning, if I start all the way back

maybe I can figure it out…

 

To be continued. 

 

Have you ever tried to figure out how you came to be who you are? 
Tell me about your childhood. 
Talk to me. I’m listening.

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117 responses to My Origin Story

  1. 

    I love that you read and wrote to cope. You found work that challenged and inspired you, and that’s what it’s all about. My 11yo wanted to read my book. Most parents I know would’ve said no way, because of language and a few mature moments….but I said hell yes, if he is interested in reading, LET HIM. I won’t dumb him down, It’s not like he hasn’t heard a swear word before. and you know what? He’s reading it in record time, for him.

    *** i Know I went off on a tangent about reading/writing, but I that’s what spoke to me most about this post. Plus, you said I’m not allowed to tell you you’re plucky and brave. xoxoxo

  2. 

    Fibonacci spiral… we have to circle back to continue to have growth. Also, I knew I loved you before but seriously, Madeleine AND Patti? We were meant to be friends. Nerdmasté, the nerd in me acknowledges the nerd in you.

  3. 

    OMG I love this so much. You are poignant and hilarious and insightful and I love you like frozen crazy.

  4. 

    Dude. The cat head… can’t top that. I once grabbed a bloody maxi pad that was wedged between the metal bar and the wall in the handicapped bathroom at my skank middle school. The bulbs were all blown making it impossible to see, so I was trying to hover over the filthy toilet by hoisting myself over it, holding on to the rails. The pad, similar to your cat head, was fresh and warm…and quite bloody. It’s perplexing when well-meaning people say, ‘I don’t understand your aversion to public restrooms. Yeah, they’re gross, but it’s not THAT big a deal…’ Maybe the very memories that are ensconced in our cells, repeatedly traumatizing us, are the same nuggets that allows us to spin words into stories. We writers go deep in a desperate attempt to make sense of the unfathomable. You do it well. Please don’t ever stop.

    • 

      I won’t ever stop if you won’t! That maxi pad story is a blog post!
      Yep. It’s the ones like us who have seen some crazy stuff who need to write it out. xoxo

  5. 

    I’m in the process of trying to figure out who I am based on where I came from. Mine is a very different story, as I suppose all of ours are, but what I love is the small similarity… writing was my escape, it was the only part of my life I had control over and it is still the only way I can sort shit out in my head. Love this, looking forward to the continuation 🙂

    • 

      I don’t know if we become writers because we need to sort stuff out, or if we use writing to sort stuff out because we already are writers –
      wait. that made sense to me, did you understand it?
      Thanks for reading. xoxo

  6. 

    Whenever I read about your childhood, I’m amazed at all you’ve been through. You are a survivor Samara. A fucking warrior. Doesn’t mean you’ve got it all figured out yet, but you’re a fighter. You will. You’ll fight through all the bullshit that’s happened to you and all the bullshit you’ve done and you’ll come out the other side. Happy. At peace. Dammit.

    • 

      Wait, you were supposed to tell me about you, not tell me how plucky and brave I am, remember??
      Happy and at peace sounds good, but not so tranquil that I lose my edge. You know?

  7. 

    I went home once, but realized quickly that while I was physically there it was no longer “home,” and hadn’t been for some time before I’d even left.
    I need to read some of these banned books,
    Maybe they’ll curb the dirty inward looks,
    I cast upon on my troubled past soul,
    That splintered ragged gaping hole,
    That spans between the old me,
    And the one you claim to see,
    From across the states,
    The hour grows late,
    This poem ends,
    Or… begins?

    • 

      Of course, now I’m just pining for you writing. Methinks I owe your blog a visit, although I haven’t read many blogs lately. I’ve been rather caught up in the muck and mire of life.
      No excuse, though. xooxoxoxoxox

  8. 

    Your writing is brilliant. Can’t wait for the next part.

  9. 

    Those brilliant brothers of your also have a brilliant sister who has spent her life fighting to become who she knows she can be in her heart. I can tell by the honesty and clarity of this opening chapter that you’re beginning to not only understand that — but believe it yourself. Nothing else matters but that. Keep writing. Keep understanding and keep believing.

    Don’t worry. I’m not inserting a clip of “Don’t Stop Believing” from Soundcloud…

  10. 

    I was the mixed-race kid that was white enough for one group and Puerto-Rican enough for the rest. I was a bookworm and very much a wallflower and would sometimes say the wrong thing. I got stalked by a child predator who followed me when walking home from school alone (latch-key kid since 3rd grade) and somehow got my home number to call me pretending to be giving a survey about “health education”. We got a visit from the FBI, which was cool by Glenwood Houses standards. Those were the days, alright… 😉

    • 

      Mixed race is tough. Sometimes neither side accepts you.

      Let’s hear it for the project latch key kids! Holla! My son would shit his pants if he came home to an empty house, and he’s 12. 🙂

      • 

        He has NO IDEA… I literally walked around in school all day with my keys around my neck on a lanyard. Lucky FBI got that perv before he got his hands on me! 😉

  11. 

    As an addendum to the above, I never actually saw the child predator but the FBI informed my parents that he followed kids in the neighborhood to and from school. I did speak to him, though, which was super-embarrassing because he duped me into telling him things that were private. Piece of shit…

  12. 

    I love you, Samara. I wish we had known each other then.

  13. 

    Starting my blog was my way of figuring out how the hell I ended up who I am. I’ve spent too much time wondering how in the fuck someone from a white, middle class, catholic, upstanding family with non-divorced parents with intelligence levels to rival the whole of Yale ends up as a smart-mouthed, addiction-riddled slut who can’t balance a checkbook to save her life. I’m getting there. My dad abandoning us, though never actually moving out, didn’t help. Neither did study abroad at 16. I think the rapes sealed it for me though. I intend to remain a slut, and smart-mouthed. Though I would like to figure out how to balance a checkbook someday.

  14. 

    Waiting, with bated breath, for Part Two. ❤

  15. 

    I’m blown away. Had no idea about your beginnings but I’m eager to keep reading what you write.

  16. 

    The origin story of who I am isn’t that interesting to me.
    But the “who I could have been”, that keeps me company on long nights.

    • 

      *sputters in complete disbelief*
      Holy hell! You’re alive!! I’m so happy to see you!!

      And yes. The “who I could have been” is a bitch. Well, we still have 40 years left, give or take, to become who we want to be. Maybe we’ll get there.

    • 

      Hi. I didn’t have a similar upbringing. I was born in Detroit. I moved to CA. I went to the library just because. Every Saturday and after school when i could. I was still a smartass, oh well. When I was 9 I was assaulted by the closest friend I had. Trust was broken and I retreated more into books. Still can’t trust. Doesn’t matter. My inner smartass comes out. Okay

      Look forward to your next installment.

  17. 

    Damn I love this and I could relate to the vibe. Geography was different but I was once a semi nerdy skinny flat chested white girl with crappy hair (hair is still an issue) who took and gave her share of beat downs. I had glimpses of the ghetto though we moved a lot so we upgraded to white trash trailer which also has it’s charms. I could relate to the rage and the dysfunction and the bad assery to move up and out. Waiting for part 2….

  18. 

    I think the thing I admire most is that in each situation, when it got intolerable, you found a way to escape and move your life forward. Perhaps not always in the healthiest of ways, but like G said – you’re a fighter, and you will always find a way to survive.

    I can’t think of a way to make anyone laugh today, but I will tell you I’m all too aware of my own origin story, and it’s something I’m constantly trying to escape in all manner of ways.

    • 

      I’m trying to escape, mine. Lighting a big ol light on it, and hoping to set it free, forever.
      I’m my future. And you are yours. We’re not our past.
      I love you.

      • 

        Yes. Just a case of focusing on who we want to be, and taking steps to get there in the best way possible. I think we both have some evolving to do, but I’m glad we both have so much support, and people who love us very much, who will help and encourage us to be the best we can be 🙂 🙂 ❤

      • 

        I hope we get it all figured out by the time we’re old book ladies together. xoxoxo

      • 

        Fingers crossed we get it figured out a LONG time before we’re little old ANYTHING! 😉

  19. 

    You’re back:) With bated breath, I’m waiting for what comes next💗

  20. 

    You are way more badass than me so I won’t even try to compete. I grew up in the ghetto to an extent (which I didn’t realize until much later in life when I discovered my stories weren’t normal) but nothing like your stories… Canada isn’t that crazy. But anyways, in kindergarten a boy told me I couldn’t be pitcher because girls can’t throw. I threw my fist into his face. 😉

    • 

      I’m not so much of a badass. I cry easily and crave people’s approval. But I have some badass details in my story.

      About that kid in kindergarten – wanna see if we can find him on facebook? Maybe he needs a reminder that girls CAN throw. 🙂

  21. 

    I’ve found many a compassionate person, and shared many a story, a piece here and a piece there. Given the awe and speechlessness given to me in return, I’ve decided only therapists can handle the whole.
    Our backgrounds are truly different, but the … fucked-upped-ness is not, and the draw to artistic outlets, I mean, that doesn’t even need to be written, does it?
    I respond well to your bravery, your balls — I am yet too weak and fearful to showcase early pain. I admire this about you, but I will be a very old woman when I tell my tale in type.
    xo

    • 

      Joey, you know what’s interesting? The early stuff I can push out.
      It’s the parts to this story that have occurred more recently that scare the shit out of me to publish. Which means I must.

  22. 

    Oh yes. Narcissistic mother who frequently turned me over to equally narcissistic much older sister. Lots of emotional and sometimes physical abuse. Growing up with narcissists can fuck you up in a big way. Yup. Going back to the beginning? I do it all the time.

    Thanks for this post.

    • 

      This is uncanny. The whole reason I’m exploring my past is that I became involved online with a narcissist and he almost destroyed me.
      I know nothing of them, but I’m learning fast. It’s SO weird when someone you are close to fits EVERY SINGLE DESCRIPTION of a narcissist. Wow.

      I have a lot of sympathy for you. That must have been a rough upbringing.

  23. 

    Our lives started on much different paths. Like REALLY different. But this is amazing to read

  24. 

    I grew up quite differently in Suburbia (think Mean Girls and Heathers) so dodging fists is not a skill I possess but avoiding catty Barbie cheerleader and her entourage of drunk Wonderbra skippers slinging hurtful gossip is a skill I’ve come to appreciate. I love the dark humor you were able to put into this and look forward to the next installment.

  25. 

    Compared to some – many – people’s lives, mine was okay. I am not really sure where I came from. Some people react to their parents (I had 4) by replicating those relationships, being the ‘victim’ over and over. Some people react by becoming them, being the perp over and over.

    I did neither. I just set off in a new direction, making ‘stubborn’ and ‘clever’ my two poles, and have done my thing ever since. I stopped trying to decide if that was good or bad once I realized there are many good ways to do something, and you need more than just one anyway.

    • 

      4 parents? Did each divorce and remarry?

      I wonder if that was as challenging as only having one.

      I take turns. Sometimes I’m the perp and sometimes I’m the victim. I think I’d like to stop being either of those.

      • 

        They did. And my mom divorced again, thank bob. In fact, long story short, everyone in my immediate family who has been married has also been divorced – my brothers, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, in-laws, wife, daughter – except me.

        That used to be a stubborn goal. Now it’s just an odd fact.

        Yes, it’s actually easy. You just shed anything you may have received from anyone parental, and start completely over with what seems reasonable and sane. Next, you don’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks about your parenting or your personal life. That part is a bit harder.

      • 

        I don’t think I have any parental behaviors.

        But I worry what people think about my personal life. Not in general. Just recently. I may not have made very wise choices.

      • 

        Recently you say? Oh no – why do you say that?

      • 

        yeah, not for the comment section.

      • 

        Of course not. Email me, or not.

  26. 

    I remember that Kids in American song! Ha! We have one thing in common, Samara. The six-kid family and lots of music. We had music blasting from tall stereo speakers 24/7. I loved it! Summers in the pool and not a lot of money, but when I look back I see it as a good time in my life, mostly! I hope you have some good memories, too. xox

    • 

      You’re from a big family, too? Like a three-ring circus, right?

      I don’t have a lot of good memories from childhood, but if there are any, they involve us playing instruments and singing together. There was always music pouring out of our home. xoxoxoxo

  27. 

    You’ve told me much of this already, but it’s still a heartbreaking read. Considering your beginnings, I think you’ve turned out quite fantastic.

  28. 

    Crappy kidhood here too.Parents phoning it in, divorce, (them, not me) rapist stalker

    • 

      Oops … hit ‘post’ too soon … discovering Science Fiction saved my life. Writing it is making my life.

      • 

        A Wrinkle In Time changed my entire life. It gave me hope that there was a different world beyond what appears to be the one we inhabit.

        I’m not a science fiction fan, but that book was everything to me. I’m glad you find your way to breathe, as well. xoxoxo

  29. 

    Your background is so strikingly similar to mine. No wonder we get along. You were right across the bridge from me. I could’ve walked across the Bayonne Bridge and been in your stomping grounds shortly. In fact, I often did in my early teens. Jeez. That seems like ages ago now. I’m getting fucking old.
    *hugs*
    Love you!!

    • 

      I love you too, and I always knew we had a very similar background. I can just feel that sort of thing, you know?
      And you are NOT old. Because I am older!! xoxox

  30. 

    So…we aren’t allowed to say plucky and brave? In my whiny voice, “What’s with these rules??”
    Loved this, Samara. I tried once to write about my origins – one piece went in the trash, the watered-down, pretty version landed on my blog. I still hate it.
    Then I wrote an angry version and that landed on my secret blog – I buried that one, too. Long story, short…I haven’t found a good way to deal with my beginnings. Maybe I’ll just work on a really great ending.
    Can’t wait to read more. I’m sorry I’ve been gone so long. xo

    • 

      Michelle!
      I’m working on a really great ending to my story too. I think I needed to air out some stuff along the way to get there.
      I love your face!! And miss you very much. I’m coming to visit your blog very soon. xoxooxxo

  31. 

    I remember being the shortest girl in the whole elementary school when I was in third grade. Including the kindergardeners. I had stringy hair and usually went completely unnoticed. It didn’t bother me at all.

    I had no friends until 5th grade. Probably because none of the other girls wanted to play Star Trek.

    I know. Weird.

    Can’t wait read the rest.

    • 

      Loved Star Trek. First crush was on Mr. Spock. I was 4, and I used to…
      Never mind.
      Us weirdos have to stick together. That’s why we all blog, I think. xoxoxoox

  32. 

    I’m still laughing at “rotting volcano with irritable bowel syndrome.” This shit is gold I tell you. GOLD!

  33. 

    That skinny unattractive nerd grew up to be a skinny hot redheaded nerd!

    Oh Staten Island. At least you survived it and lived to tell about it. That place is like one giant island where the show Jersey Shore should have taken place.

  34. 

    Wasn’t sure if you’d seen this,but a pal shows up here. See the tags. http://blog-woman.com/2015/10/24/faded-promises-old-stories/

  35. 

    I hear you. I’ve seen that long arm and a belt. I wonder if any childhood these days is a childhood. I don’t think you’re a buick. More like a Jeep grinding along in 4-wheel drive over rocky terrain, eh?

  36. 

    great writing, keep it up, I look forward to reading more!

  37. 

    Wow, I like the way you talked about your life, I am just starting, Mine is ” My Story, My Life. But I started it when I was young and I am to the point at 8 years old when I think started turning into a nightmare I never thought could ever happen to me. I liked your story, to me I feel everyone has a story that makes them who they are in life, unless you take the road you know nothing about. Tough girl. Your a winner for sure

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