I know how to read people. When you grow up in a rough environment, you have to have a sixth sense. Daddy Yankee  

Day one of sixth grade, I was right there, self-confident, smiling, bursting with childish exuberance and curiosity. I brought Miss Smith some rocks I had found over the  summer. She cried when I gave them to her and they sat on her desk all year. I found that between the summer when I left fifth grade and the summer when I begun sixth grade, the kids changed, a lot. The kids in the classroom acted and sounded like another creature entirely.

They were not the fifth graders I remember. Perhaps I wasn’t either. I just stared at them blankly — and who knows what they’re thinking? Especially the boys.

And then there was Shawn. He was new to the school. Every girl had a crush on him. Certainly, every sixth grader is different and each child experiences this transformative school year in their own unique way.

Developmentally, some kids are far ahead on the emotional, social, and physical curve, while others seem more pre- than teen, still looking and acting like a little kid. I felt older and looked younger than some of the other girls who seemed to have developed big breasts over the summer.

Especially Becky. She towered up and out over the summer. I was going through a pint-sized version of a mid-life crisis.

At home Kathy helped me with hair, make up and clothes. I had a big sister. How cool!

Kathy was in high school, smoked cigarettes, had a boyfriend, would sneak out our bedroom window at night.

She was my hero. I covered for her, lied for her, would have done almost anything for her. However, there was a tumultuous turning point going on in her life with Al and Dottie. I prayed. I prayed all would be okay. Changes were going on, on every level of our existence.

Kathy was assessing who she was and where she fit in.

Kids need to find their place in the new order, and it was not easy for any of us.

The back yard was changed to include a built-in pool.

The garage was changed to be a living room, bedroom, with a bathroom and laundry room. l felt like a little fish in the big, scary pond. I prayed.

I had Miss Smith, one supportive teacher. I prayed she would move to middle school with me next year.

She saw to the emotional needs of the kids in the classroom as well, as best she could.

At this age, kids often make huge cerebral leaps, tackling more challenging intellectual concepts and questioning how and why things work the way they do.

Now it’s about peer approval and I needed that desperately. I prayed I would be liked.

I prayed each day that Shawn would like me better that Becky.

My peer group was important to me. I didn’t want to be seen as a baby. I had to be in charge of my life, in charge of my destiny.

Sixth grade also marks the onset of fierce social cliques that can be merciless in their inclusion and exclusion based on rigid caste systems — especially for girls.

There was an incessant social pressure to be ‘bad’ (which was cool), and to be ‘groovy” (which was outstanding) as well as pretty. You can be in with the group one day, and out another. Or God forbid you’re wearing the wrong thing or you say the wrong thing or someone thinks you’re encroaching on their boyfriend or you befriended someone who is a total ‘bomb’ (a total failure). All of this changes on a dime and it may never revert back again.

You’ll never know what you did.

I was miserable every day. I prayed each day.

Kathy was miserable every day. She got caught smoking in the girls bathroom at high school and was sent to the office where she had to call Dotti. I am not sure of the specifics as I was not there. What I heard was that Kathy was so angry she picked up something from the principles desk and threw it through the window. She had been sneaking her boyfriend into the house while babysitting us, and they were watching the ‘boob tube’ (television) in the parents room in the back of the house. She said the needed privacy. Actually, they were having sex. Once her boyfriend left his condom in the parents bathroom and they found it.

Big, big blow out!

Kathy tried marijuana one night and it freaked her out so badly she woke me up. She was sure the devil was in our kitchen. I walked in with her and saw the shadows on the wall. They were being made from the kitchen chairs. I laughed. She didn’t.

Marijuana was becoming this generation’s illicit pleasure. As much as I remember, I think Kathy was a dabbler, someone who experimented with marijuana, and did not use the drug frequently.

Kathy did break into the liquor cabinet. It actually was not locked. It was a cupboard in the kitchen which had all of Dotti’s liquor.

I remember lots of kids who had no trouble getting into their parent’s locked cabinets, either having found the key or picked the lock.

Dotti was an alcoholic. An angry alcoholic.

She had extreme depression and anger problems.

There was always a substantial amount of screaming and shouting in the house each and every day. My dad didn’t drink and he was very passive and just sat there taking her outbursts.

Dotti drank daily and in huge quantities.

At times Dotti was a very kind and considerate woman who was loving to Rick and Ron and hilarious, until she reached for alcohol.

After meeting her mother, Nana, I understood more. Nana was a controlling narcissistic person who Dotti really couldn’t cope with.

One night at the house there was a huge scene. I prayed. It’s the first time I remember the police coming to our house.

It was the beginning of the Los Altos Police Department Cascinai file, which grew to be quite large. I’m not sure what lead up to the argument that night. There was some talk of Kathy being pregnant and her boyfriend and her wanting to leave and go get married. Kathy was 16.

She locked herself in the bathroom and cut her wrists.

Dotti called the police. Al broke down the bathroom door and wrapped her wrists. The three of them were screaming all at once. Finally, the police showed up. I was afraid Kathy was going to die. There was blood in the bathroom.

I figured she was going to bleed out right there.

The police assisted by taking her into their car and driving her off to Santa Clara Juvenile Hall. I prayed for Kathy. I wanted her home. Juvenile Hall had 390 beds. Both boys and girls stayed there. There are different “living units.” The unit where you stay depends on your age, history and what you’re charged with. I got to know this first hand as well just a few years later.

None of us kids ever brought friends over. Not really.

Kathy had one good friend, Sue.

The boys brought over one friend here and there, mostly neighbors. It was too risky to have anyone else at the house. Most nights when I was in bed and Dotti was at the night club singing, I would hear the front door slam when she came home. I would cover my head with my pillow so I didn’t have to listen to the sound of Al and Dotti arguing. I knew Dotti had been drinking again. I would start to worry about getting to school on time and realized I would need to help get my get brothers up in the morning as well.

Lots of people live with a parent who is an alcoholic or who drinks too much.

Alcoholism has been around for centuries, yet no one has discovered an easy way to prevent it. Alcohol can affect people’s health and also how they act. People who are drunk might be more aggressive or have mood swings. They may act in a way that is embarrassing to them or other people. Without professional help, a person with alcoholism will probably continue to drink and may even become worse over time.

No matter what anyone says, people don’t drink because of someone else’s behavior.

So when you live with someone who has a drinking problem, don’t blame yourself.

I felt helpless each day. I couldn’t help Kathy. I couldn’t change Al or Dotti. I didn’t know how to protect my little brothers. Kathy ended up leaving us. She moved to Florida to live with her grandmother, Nana. I prayed for her to return.

As the now oldest kid, I had to take care of three younger siblings. Dotti mistreated George and I and abused us emotionally, mentally,  physically and spiritually. She nor Al provided sufficient care and guidance.

Yes, we had food, shelter and clothing. We had the very basics. I prayed to be loved, accepted, wanted.

Dotti was also the person who first introduced alcohol to George and marijuana to me.

She would do her best to make George and I feel bad saying stuff like, “You two are  driving me crazy!” or “I can’t take this anymore., so just leave and don’t come back.”

She would put us outside and lock the door. It didn’t matter what time of day or night it was. It always happened when Al was not at home. I would pray, and then get angry when God did not answer. It all seemed like too much and what kept me sane was talking to my angels. It is also what gave Dotti the ammunition to say I was crazy.

I think Dotti had feelings of anger, disappointment, frustration, sadness, embarrassment, worry, loneliness, and helplessness. She could behave unpredictably.

One day I might be walking on eggshells to avoid an outburst because the dishes aren’t done, or because Miss Smith walked me home from school. It felt like too much trouble to have a friend over. Instead I was putting my energy into getting a boyfriend at school.

Shawn. I had a crush on Shawn and he knew it.

Dotti came to the school once for a parent / teacher conference. She showed up drunk.

It was scary to listen to Al and Dotti in the house, or in the front yard, yell, fight, and break things. I did not feel it was fair that I had to be the grown up and take care of things around the house. Dad spent as little time there as possible. I prayed for him to come home. Although each family is different, people who grow up with alcoholic parents often feel alone, unloved, depressed, or burdened by the secret life they lead at home. Our family had so many secrets. Aunts, uncles, grandparents and teachers all had to deal with things like frustration or disappointment. I wanted to avoid being at home as much as possible so I started sneaking over to Shawn’s house. I thought about running away all the time.

There were no ‘hotlines’ back then, no 9-1-1.

I finished sixth grade and was ready for middle school. First, I went to a party, and what a party it was.

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. ~ e. e. cummings


If I Am Not For Me, Who Is? If I Am Only For Me, Who Am I?