The Long Maturing Road

July 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

As I was walking – no, crawling – on my long maturing road, I moved from a junior college to a university and switched majors from Communications to English Literature.  Why?  I was afraid to drive the freeways.  Embarrassing to admit back in the day, but it was true.  Anxiety regarding driving the freeways actually changed my entire college path.  I had transferred to a state college with a forty-minute drive on the freeway, but on the first day of school, I had a panic attack, and realized I couldn’t force myself to meet the challenge; when it came to fight or flight, I was a flight risk.  So, with a lot more shame than embarrassment, I ended up transferring to a university with a mere fifteen-minute drive from home to classroom… on streets.  At the time, it was just another seemingly paralyzing, shameful reason as to why I was stuck in a place of arrested development; and another reason why I felt so insecure and would find myself escaping into Tom Jonesville, a place I went to whenever I needed a boost or a release for my many emotions.

Tom Jones - Do we like the striped short-sleeved sweater?

Most people thought my fear had to do with actually driving on the freeway, or a fear of getting lost, which I have to admit, not wanting to go outside a 5-mile radius beyond my home tended to confirm that theory.  However, the biggest reason I didn’t drive the freeways had more to do with the fact that I got severe migraines, which were often triggered when driving.  I would be cruising along and suddenly, the glint of sunlight off of a chrome bumper would temporarily alter my vision and I would see spots and lose part of my vision.  Once the spots showed up I would inevitably have a “light show” in my eyes, followed by temporary, partial vision, and a severe, debilitating migraine headache.  I would end up in bed and stay in a dark room for one or two days.  The pain of these sick migraines was severe and debilitating and lasted for years. 

Because we didn’t go to doctors, I didn’t know what that visual problem meant, and so, in my ignorance, I was afraid that I was losing my vision.  My mother and I would pray, and pray, and pray over this lurking fear of blindness.  I had so many lingering fears regarding my sight and the horrible pain and sickness of a migraine that it interfered with my ability to live my life freely for years.  In my limited world, fear of losing my vision while driving also translated to fear of driving any distance by myself on freeways.  What would happen if I had to pull over and wait for an hour on the side of the freeway to get my vision back?  What would happen if I became sick on the side of the freeway?  Good things don’t happen to girls alone on the side of a freeway.  I would focus on every news show that featured a horrible story about a woman on a freeway.  As usual, my inability to contain my fears always led to catastrophizing.

Tom Jones, 1972 - The striped sleeveless sweater?

At this point, my father, who did see doctors, took me to his ophthalmologist.  The surgeon was shocked to find out that I feared losing my vision, and was quickly able to identify the lights and loss of vision as a migraine “aura,” which can precede a migraine for up to 60 minutes and can include blind spots, fine lines that float across your field of vision, spots that move or shimmer, and flashes of light.  I cannot describe the relief that came with the news that I wasn’t facing blindness.  It was as if I had been living in the Dark Ages, and a man from the future came back to share his knowledge.  (Side note: These migraines can still occasionally knock me off my feet, though in the late 80s I began to use medication to help with the pain and limitations they imposed on my life, and it made a huge improvement in the quality of my life.) 

Speaking of my father, I have to honor how he always moved heaven and earth for me to see Tom Jones.  In fact, I honor all of the men – the fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, uncles, and male friends – that were patient and accepting of all of us women who danced around Tom Jones for years and still do, and made them change their plans, spend money when maybe we shouldn’t have, attend concerts, let us control the TV clicker on certain nights, listen to albums or CDs over and over again, drive us long distances, etc.  For me and Mommio, any trips to our mountain cabin were planned around TV Guide and had to occur either before or after any TJ television shows or specials; Dad just accepted it as “girl rule” and part of his lot in life, as these were the old days, before Beta, video, or DVR.  (Today, can you imagine such a life?) 

Due to my fear of driving the freeways, Daddio would always drive me up to whatever L.A. box office was selling TJ tickets, because I could get better tickets than places like Ticketron offered.  He also gave me the tip to show my photos with Tom to “improve the odds of getting better tickets.”  He was a keen writer, due to the fact that he went to law school, (though getting his law degree was interrupted by the war), and when I was really young and trying to promote “Tom’s Booster’s” fan club, he taught me everything about being specific and checking for details, and how to edit, edit, edit.  He was a great salesman and businessman, and Daddio was probably the one who told me to have a “cheat-sheet” in front of me when I made calls to Tom’s management in order to prompt me what to say.  It actually helped assuage my nerves, and is a life lesson I’ve used for years.  Daddio always had more confidence in me than I had in myself, saying repeatedly, “You can do anything you put your mind to.”  I never believed him, until I met Tom Jones.    

Near the end of his life, my father took me out to a little restaurant on Balboa Island in Newport Beach.  After lunch we would always walk around the Island, admire the beautiful and charming homes, and check out the sailboats and “stinkpots” in the bay.  He was struggling with his short-term memory this summer, more so than ever before.  He forgot three times that we had already ordered our lunch, but was able to describe, in detail, the way his childhood bedroom looked, the first car he got when he was 14-years-old, and what he ate on board ship in the navy during World War II. 

Neither of us knew this would be our last lunch alone together, or that in a mere three months he would be gone.  Out of the blue, he asked, “Judi, was I a good father?  Was there something I could have done better?”  For me, just asking that question was the very answer.  There were so many ways he was a good father that I could write a blog about this tall, handsome man who wore a bow tie, seemed to know the answer to everything, was generous beyond words, and always left me with a kiss on the cheek, saying “I love you, my sweet,” or “Keep your powder dry.” (This is a “Be prepared!” reference that comes from the old days when you had to carry a satchel of dry gun powder to place into your gun when it was necessary to shoot, and meaning you have to be careful with your resources and use them when you need them.)

Tom Jones, 1973 - Or the plaid three-quarter-sleeve sweater?

I have to admit that among the many things I told him I was grateful for was his willingness to pave the way on my long trip to Tom Jonesville.  Like my mother, he knew it was important, but unlike my mother, I don’t think he understood why.  But that was the beauty of my father; even if he didn’t get the why, he simply understood it was.  While we ate lunch, I reminded him about the time he drove me up to my sister’s place to see Tom in L.A., and a few days later, after I seeing him on and offstage, Dad was supposed to pick me up and take me home.  Suddenly something came up in his business and he couldn’t pick me up; mother was ill and couldn’t pick me up; and my neither of sisters could get me home.  I was afraid of going on a public bus system with so many strangers, or in a taxi with only one stranger (on the verge of an anxiety-ridden agoraphobia attack). 

For some reason that neither one of us could remember, I had to get home.  What did he do?  Daddio sent me home from LA to Orange Country in a six-seat passenger airplane.  There was twenty-something me, scared-to-death to be with five very serious businessmen heading home from a long day’s work in L.A.  I was able to manage my anxiety because I was actually flying on a TJ high.  Daddio and I both laughed out loud remembering all of his enabling of my Tom Jones shenanigans.  I thanked him from the bottom of my heart, because by then I was managing my life-limiting migraines, fears of driving the freeways, and oh-so many other things that in my teens and twenties I didn’t dream possible during my Tom Jones days.  We both laughed it off, but I will be forever grateful that he supported me 100% in the long maturing road that included… the singer who saved me.

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