Sticks and Stones… and Rope

November 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

Sticks and Stones… and Rope

Everyone knows the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”  Right?  Wrong!  Words are our greatest means of communication.  The pain of words can rip at your emotions far longer than the pain of a physical injury.  While a physical wound can leave a scar, words can sear into your psyche and leave a hidden, open wound.  It can damage your self-concept in a way that can stunt your development as a person, and make you question your very existence.

I remember two sisters in my neighborhood who were younger than me.  They lived at a home that was only one really long block, and then a short left turn and a quick right turn to the street where I lived.  One day when I was still in school and walking home from a long torturous day at school, I was walking by their house.  I couldn’t walk across the street because there was no sidewalk, just an enclosed drainage gulley.  I always tried to walk tall with my head up, pretending to ignore the typical name-calling that would occur whenever I walked by and they were playing in their front yard.  “Hey Stick Legs” or “Where you going, Spaghetti Legs,” was always followed by loud guffawing and tittering.

This time, however, they did something totally unexpected.  They ran behind me, and with a jump rope, looped the rope over my head like I was a cow they were trying to lasso, and then pulled hard on the rope.  The rope pulled down on my arms, making me jerk back and drop my notebook and schoolbooks to the ground.  I was shocked and shaking, but I did something even more unexpected.  I grabbed the rope that was around my elbows and pulled it, with all of the strength I had, away from one of the sisters, while crying and screaming, “Stop it! Stop it!”

Maybe the sisters saw the pain in my face and heard the anguish in my voice, because they suddenly apologized profusely as I threw the rope to the ground like a dead snake, and began to pick up my books and papers that were strewn all over the sidewalk.  I was so hurt and livid at the same time that I couldn’t see or think straight.  I just knew I had to get my stuff, walk the rest of the block, make a left and a right, and then I was home.

Home – where I was safe.  Home – where could listen to Tom Jones again and again and again.  I was like Russian scientist, Ivan Pavlov’s proverbial dog.  Side note:  He discovered that environmental events (a bell ringing) could trigger a learned response called a reflex (a dog salivating for food when he hears a bell ring).  The process by which humans (teen Judi) learn to connect a stimulus (Tom Jones) to a reflex (feel good, relaxed, safe, or whatever emotion a particular song and music evokes) is called conditioning.  The moment I heard his voice I was fed.  Tom Jones saved me from the sticks and stones and rope, and was… the singer who saved me.

Hold On

October 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

Well don’t you ever be sad,                                                                       Lean on me when times are bad.                                                                       When the day comes and you’re in doubt,                                                           In a river of trouble, about to drown.                                                                 Hold on, I’m coming.  Hold on, I’m coming.                                                                              Song by Isaac Hayes and David Porter

Atlanta Early 70s

After I broke out of my high school “prison,” I was safe at home.  Or was I?  I noticed that for a while, I was never left at home alone.  It was probably a wise decision made by my parents.  I often took a bubble bath and would plant my feet up on the end of the tub, almost floating in the water, surrounded by clear opalescent bubbles, thinking of ways to end the emotional torment.

In the old days, the taunting might have made it to the principal’s office, or maybe to the parents of the bullies.  Today, sadly, we see it on the national news and watch as parents talk about their beloved child committing suicide because of relentless bullying; we hear the anguish it has caused in the angry, quivering voice of the father who’s handicapped child has been teased and tossed around on the school bus; we hear about online cyber-stalking; and then we hear the professionally calm voice of newscasters speak dispassionately of teen suicide statistics.

I always wish that I could reach out and grab that child who decides to drive off the cliff.  I was that teen ready to put my foot on the gas pedal, full speed ahead over the cliff a’ la Thelma and Louise before there was Thelma and Louise.  I felt ugly… a misfit… rejected by and alienated from my peers… depressed… hopeless.

But – BIG BUT – if you can just hold on, hold on, it can get better.  You can grow up to find life, love, and happiness.  But, you have to hold on, despite the immediate and seemingly endless pain and humiliation.  You have to hold on to the seed of a promise of hope that the suffering will eventually end.

I held on to my mother.  I held on to my father.  I held on to my sisters. I held on to my cat.  I held on to my God.  I held on to my religion.  I held on to education.  I held on to my passion for clothes and fashion.  I held on to writing as a form of self-expression.  I held on to the TV (remember, in the “old days” there was no PC, no internet, no email, no Facebook).  I held on to music.  I held on to Tom Jones.  And the singer saved me.

“Lean on me when times are bad”

My head was filled with The Voice.  I tape-recorded his TV shows before there were Betas, VCRs, and DVDs, so I could play the music while I did chores, got dressed, did homework, etc.  Tom Jones was in my head 24/7 – even when I wasn’t listening to him, the Memorex in my head was blaring his voice and fueling my adolescent girl crush on the pop star.  He soothed my broken soul and was the reason I sometimes walked with a beat in my step.  It wasn’t a song he was known for or recorded, but I could remember him sing, “Hold on, I’m coming.  Hold on, I’m coming,” and I held on… to the singer who saved me.

One Way Ticket to Tom Jonesville

October 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

What do you do when you are young and feel alone in the world? I went home from school one day, and I stayed home. While Tom Jones’ isolation was forced upon him by TB, at the age of twelve, my isolation was by choice and withdrawal, at the age of sixteen. How do you tell your parents you don’t want to live? After crying day after day, week after week, month after month, I finally told my parents that I could not, would not go to school for one more day. It was just too painful. I remember my mother in tears, made me, in tears, go outside the next morning and tell my best friend and her mother, who were my regular ride to hell, I mean high school, that I wasn’t going to school that day.

It took my friends a while to notice that I wasn’t going back to school. How could I tell all of my normal friends that I was so not normal that I thought about driving off a cliff? How do you tell the belle of the ball, the brainy secretary of the student body, and the girls-at-lunch that I can’t see them any more because I am going to take my little self – ironically, I felt so small – and just disappear?

Tom Jones

By the time he was sixteen, Tom Jones, was more than making up for his two years in isolation — he married his childhood sweetheart and a month or so later, became a father. Living his adolescent life by being sexually active, he took the fast train to adulthood. I have always been fascinated that he has never talked about having a wife and child at such a young age as a burden. In fact, in many articles, he has spoken of it as having made him “feel like a man.”

At sixteen, I certainly did not feel like a woman. I didn’t even feel human. I felt like a freak because people would stare at me or make comments related to my height and/or skinniness. I felt alienated because the bullies always managed to get away with teasing, even when my mother went to the school to talk to my counselor about it. I felt alienated because my friends didn’t…or couldn’t… really understand the heart-pounding depth of pain from teasing. They were just trying to survive their own teen years. And I had never fully revealed to anyone but my mother how anxious I was about life in general, so no one really understood how my own young fears were fueled by the torture of teasing. I just wanted to disappear.

And that’s what I did. I disappeared. I stayed home. It was 1969 and there was Tom Jones and his voice to comfort me. I took an adolescent girl’s trip to Tom Jonesville, and didn’t leave that part fantasy, part reality world until I… well, you’ll have to take the journey with me to see how my coming of age story turns out and the many ways…  the singer saved me.

Tom Jones

Note: Once I entered the world of Tom Jones and his legions of fans, I received many photographs taken by many fans throughout the United States via “snail mail,” back in the old days when there were no PCs and Internet. Most of these photos are not labeled with the name of the photographer. If you see your photo of Tom Jones and can remind me how/where/when this photo was taken and would like a credit, please feel free to contact me at

The Challenges of My Youth

September 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

I grew up in Orange County, known in the past as the home of John Wayne, and currently known as the home of the “Real Orange County Housewives. Our beautiful beach communities make living in southern California idyllic.  My father worked hard in sales and my mother worked hard at what used to be known as a real housewife. Growing up around the Balboa peninsula, Balboa Island, Newport Beach, Corona del Mar, beautiful beaches, Newport bay, and the ocean.  My elementary school playground was along the beach and we literally learned our ABCs listening to the ebb and flow of the ocean waves.

The Jetty at Newport Beach

I was the youngest child.  The unexpected, “surprise” child and, therefore, the “baby” who was nearly a generation younger than my siblings.   In my eyes, my older sisters were always comfortable in their own skin.  They always seemed to know who they were, what they wanted, and where they were going.   As a teenager, I used to tease my mother that when I was born, my first wails were begging to be let back into the warm, safe, water of the womb.  We would laugh, but we both knew that my humor deflected a life-long fear of… well, that was it… we didn’t really understand my fears.

As I look back, I can see how multiple unresolved issues came together at an early age to cause my teenage psychological angst.  I remember as a very little child being uncomfortable in new or unfamiliar places, noisy places, being around lots of people, and being anywhere without the safety of family members, especially my mother.   As a child, nursery school, Sunday school, preschool, and school caused dread.  Even Disneyland was scary – I remember being terrified of rides like Snow White or Alice in Wonderland in the “happiest place on earth.”

As I grew up, I discovered that overnights at friends’ houses made me nervous, as did adventures with groups of kids, which became extremely limiting.  I had a brief time of social ease and acceptance when I was 12-years-old and totally “clicked” with a new girlfriend.  We both loved music, clothes and fashion, decorating, and boys, and I had the best school year of my life.  It was 1965, and we tried to emulate the characters of Sally Fields in the TV show “Gidget,” and Marlo Thomas in “That Girl.”

While we dressed in mini-skirts, wore Capezio shoes, and had our first boy-girl party, worlds away in 1965, a struggling singer working in a group as Tommy Scott & the Senators, hooked up with manager Gordon Mills, became Tom Jones, and made “It’s Not Unusual” (by Les Reed and Gordon Mills).  It was his first number one hit song in the United Kingdom, and it made the top ten in the United States.  I remember being a preteen and hearing that song on my little transistor radio (does anyone remember those?).  I still had no idea that there was a dark storm in my future, and that the first few bars of the orchestral arrangement of “It’s Not Unusual” would become encoded in my episodic memory, or that I would even need… the singer who saved me.

My Story

August 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

I have loved three men in my life, respectively, my father, singer Tom Jones, and my husband.  My father was married to my mother for over 60 years before he passed away days before his 91st birthday.   It is well known that Tom Jones married his first love.  And I am married to the love of my life.

Tom Jones is what I like to call the object of my transformation, but in object relations theory of psychology, he was technically my object of transition.  He came at a time and place in my life when, as a teenager, I was teetering in the abyss of a black hole.  While life appeared so simple for so many, it felt so complicated for me.

This is my story of how Tom Jones saved my life and how my path to maturity took a twisted turn into song, sound, celebrity, and sanity.  It’s a fun superficial story – a sexy pop star, backstage visits, and Vegas in the 70s baby!  It’s also a journey that took me years to fully understand.  Would I have gotten to peace, love, and joy without Tom Jones?  I don’t know, because he is inextricably linked to my delayed development.

Shortly before my mother passed on, I bought the old TV show, “This is Tom Jones” DVDs, which we watched in her bed together.  Time and space and illness disappeared and we were as giddy and giggly and had as much fun as we did when we watched it together four decades ago.  My mother was very religious with conservative values, and I decided this was my moment to ask her why she encouraged and allowed me to chase my Tom Jones dreams.  She reached out her hand, squeezed mine gently, and looked at me with love in her eyes and said, “Because he was all you had, Judi.”

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