High school is what kind of grows you into the person you are. I have great memories, good and bad, some learning experiences and some that I’ll take with me the rest of my life. ~ Giancarlo Stanton   

I attended Charles F. Awalt High School in Los Altos, California. Most days I walked. It was about three miles. On rainy days I took the bus. This was the same high school Kathy was attending before she moved away to Florida, and then three Cascinai boys behind me. I think the entire school staff was delighted   when Ron finally graduated and there were no more Cascinai’s.

Freshman year of high school is a big transition for any student. For me …. well …. transition happened in many different ways. My head is spinning as I know how much I have to write about in just that first year.

Whether you’re moving to a big regional school, starting at a new private school, or continuing at your same school, the beginning of ninth grade signals change on a number of different levels.

Some kids are starting new clubs and exploring new extracurriculars. Some are selecting classes with an eye for their future and beginning to think about college. All this is on top of making new friends and maintaining old friendships, too. There’s a lot to juggle.

One of the ways in which high school differs from middle school or junior high the most is the higher expectations. You’re expected to keep closer track of your own schedule and responsibilities with fewer people checking up on you. At the same time, your classes are likely to become more challenging. I found it hard to keep up with everything at first, which is totally normal.

I had no solid organization system in place before I started high school. I created my own system to keep track of my assignments and commitments. OCD comes in handy at times.

I somewhat learned to prioritize. I did not have a strong support network, except for my Grandpa George.

I was not a strong student although I could have been had I not been so busy just surviving. I had a few friends.

There were a few teachers and counselors that were heroes for periods of time.

Mrs. Klamm, the Office Administrator was someone who did her best to save me the entire time I was in high school. Mr. Crittendon, the art teacher, got to know me. Art was my favorite class and allowed me to be creative and distracted. He would let me come in to the art room after school and he taught me how to use the potters wheel. I was quite good at ceramics.

Al and Dottie always felt I fell short, and I did live up to their expectations in any way.

Art was not important to them.

The name Dore took hold over Doretta my Freshman year. I did not know who I wanted to be or what kind of person I was or where I was headed. College was not a thought. I was looking for someone, a hero, to rescue me.

What I had started doing was writing to many men and women in Vietnam. By the time high school started I had 50 separate people to whom I was writing. My name kept being passed around as someone who would write.

I believed in my soul that writing to every single person made a difference and I kept every letter they sent me back. They were in a cardboard box in my bedroom closet. Some people sent me maps, coins and one person sent me a doll from China as a thank you. We exchanged pictures and I met a few as they passed through San Francisco on their way home or came through on leave. Others I choose not to meet as I worried I would be a disappointment in person. Some said they loved me. They were young, fighting in a war, scared of dying. They needed to love someone and feel loved, just in case they died.

Some did die.

I needed to feel loved too, however, I knew it was not real. We all dreamed in our letters of a better life.

Some of the boys (I say boys because many of them were 18, 19 years of age – teenagers) got “Dear John” letters.

A Dear John letter is a letter written to a man by his fiancé, girlfriend or wife to inform him their relationship is over because she has found another lover. While the exact origins of the phrase are unknown, it is commonly believed to have been coined by Americans during World War II. “John” was the most popular and common baby name for boys in America every single year from 1880 through 1923, making it a reasonable ‘placeholder’ name when denoting those of age for military service. Large numbers of American troops were stationed away from home, overseas, in Vietnam, for many months or years, and as time passed many of their fiancées, wives or girlfriends decided to begin a relationship with a new man who was at home, rather than to wait for the original one to return.

It has been claimed that the Vietnam War inspired more Dear John letters than any other US conflict. These people became my people. I would be up until midnight writing their letters. The Vietnam War caused me to reflect deeply.

58,652 American soldiers were killed in that war. We should never forget.

“Hi Dore.

How are you doing today? I made it another day. Still alive. I guess I am doing O.K. I am soaked right now. We go swimming every day in the river we go in with our clothes and boots and splash around awhile. I got your letter about two days ago. Our Lieutenant hands out the letters. I write as soon as I can. It won’t always be the same day. Well what have you been doing, besides going to school? Please write and tell me all do. I hope today we are left alone and it is quiet. I wish I was back in school. Do you have friends in school? Please, please keep writing. I promise to write as often as I can. How is the weather? It is hot here. very, very hot and humid ……”

When I started high school in September that year, girls were not allowed to wear pants to school. There was long hair for the boys, little makeup for us girls, bras were optional. As a way to provoke change, we had a ‘sit in’ the first week of school. The hundred or so of us girls showed up in pants and no bras. We were warned that as protesters we would be disciplined, but none of us were.

One of the earliest lunch counter sit-ins of the Civil Rights Movement was started by a group of Morgan State College (now University) students and the Baltimore chapter of CORE. Their goal was to desegregate Read’s drug stores. The peaceful impromptu sit-in lasted less than one half an hour and the students were not served. They left voluntarily and no one was arrested. After losing business from the sit-in and several local protests, two days later the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper ran a story featuring Arthur Nattans, Sr., then President of Read’s who was quoted saying, “We will serve all customers throughout our entire stores, including the fountains, and this becomes effective immediately”. As a result, 37 Baltimore-area lunch counters became desegregated.

The dress code at Await High School was lifted and became all but nonexistent, except for requiring that underwear must be covered, as well as the midriff and bras must be worn. Most complied.

My Freshman year of high school I met Stephen, age 18, and he introduced me to all kinds of illegal drugs – Acid, LSD, peyote, psilocybin mushrooms, reds, yellow footballs – uppers, downers, just about anything that did not require a needle, which is what kept me away from heroin. I hated needles. We met in October. I loved Stephen and he loved me. He was my hero.

The reason first loves are so compelling is because there is something so powerful about a young love experience. I met Stephen through Sharon, my best friend. She was a junior and her mother was involved in the illegal drug trade as an importer and distributor.

Stephen was a romanticist like me. When I was a teen, I was a romanticist and a dreamer, longing for someone to cherish me. A believer in fairy tales with an irrepressible optimism despite my gloomy circumstances, I knew I was destined for a great and powerful love. Oh yes, I was a dreamer. Stephen was tall (6-foot to my own 5-foot-5) and handsome, funny, smart, and talented.

He was shy and yet still wooed me. We fell deeply in love, and in our young hearts and minds we felt we were destined to be together always.

He brought me gifts of wild flowers that he picked in the park. Stephen made me feel like a princess for the first time in my life. We nurtured each other. I was very vulnerable and it was an impressionable time in life. He was the very first since my mother to bring about the understanding of my own value as a person and he did his best to reignite my intuitive abilities, which he recognized.

Stephen and I took a lot of risks.

I taught myself how to drive using my friend’s 1965 Ford Fairlane. He would let me borrow it and I would take a friend or two or four and drive to San Francisco for the day, cutting school and being high on something.

It amazes me still to this day that we were not stopped, pulled over or got caught in any way whatsoever. And we never had an accident. We had to look so very young driving that car through the city.

I went to the Junior prom with Dan, my second best friend. Dan drank, a lot. He was a funny drunk and always so sweet and kind to me. He knew about my life and wanted to make me laugh. A kind heart was all of Dan who was a big guy, a line backer on the football team. He died just one day after he graduated high school.

I don’t remember which college, but Dan had a full ride football scholarship. Of course his parents were devastated. Dan was an only child. In celebration of leaving Los Altos and California, for college, he drank vodka to the point he passed out while driving his 1954 classis Chevy green truck and ran head on at full speed into a light pole on Foothill Blvd.

He never even put on the brakes. Alone, drunk, and now dead at 18. Dan always wanted a girlfriend. We were just friends. We took care of each other. Perhaps I was his hero and he was mine in those moments. I still think of him all these years later.

Al moved out of the house, again, just before the holidays in November, and dated a Playboy Bunny. He was a member at the The Playboy Bunny Club in San Francisco.

November of 1965, was when the San Francisco Playboy Club opened, and Al became a member. Hugh Hefner designed the Playboy Club to embody the lifestyle portrayed in his magazine. The Rabbit-headed metal Playboy key, of which Al had, was required for admission to a club. They were presented to the Door Bunny. The club was directly across from Portsmouth Square.

One weekend Al took me camping with his girlfriend and her 17-year-old son. Just the four of us. All three of them had sex on their mind.

I became a flower child. Flower power was a slogan used during the late 1960s and early 1970s as a symbol of passive resistance and non-violence ideology. It is rooted in the opposition movement to the Vietnam War. This is what drew me to Woodstock.

The expression, Flower Power, was coined by the American beat poet Allen Ginsberg in 1965 as a means to transform war protests into peaceful affirmative spectacles. Hippies embraced the symbolism by dressing in clothing with embroidered flowers and vibrant colors, wearing flowers in their hair, and distributing flowers to the public, becoming known as flower children. The term later became generalized as a modern reference to the hippie movement and the so-called counterculture of drugs, psychedelic music, psychedelic art and social permissiveness. The iconic center of the Flower Power movement was the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco, California. By the mid-1960s, the area, marked by the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets, had become a focal point for psychedelic rock music.

Musicians and bands like Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin all lived a short distance from the famous intersection. I saw them all, for free, in Golden Gate Park where they would just show up and play along with Cold Blood and a few other local bands – Chocolate Watchband, Sly and the Family Stone, Moby Grape, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Boz Scaggs, Quicksilver Messenger Service,  and It’s a Beautiful Day.

Some even played at the local high schools.

The Grateful Dead played at Awalt High School on May 18, 1967. Iron Butterfly played the year I was a Freshman. Tickets were $2.50.

My school counselor was Mr. Gary Bonanno.

From my year freshman through my junior year of high school, aside from friends, there is no one with whom I spent more time with. He went beyond what was expected. He did his very best to assist me with my personal challenges. I was always polite and respectful to Mr. Bonanno. I was still cautious not to say too much, and yet, he knew. He knew it all.

He knew I was a risk taker. He was as well.

Heads up. Risk taking has a long memory. Know what you are stepping in to.

That’s the thing about risk taking. When you choose to be a risk taker, you have to live with the consequences.

Pre-teens, teens, as well as young adults, are not aware of what real risk taking involves. You always give up something. Nobody takes a risk and goes unscathed.

A toxic version of risk taking lurked through my teen years and into my twenties. I was spontaneous. And not always smart.

Risk comes in all kinds of shapes.

My whole life has felt like a risk. I knew up front I’d rather fail at the thing I wanted than take the safer course. That kind of shit leads to a midlife crisis. I’ve always worked on backup plans. In fact, my backup plans turned into dreams.

Meanwhile, Al and Dotti grew increasingly judgmental of me. I fought them both to stay a free spirit. The bitch, as Dotti referred to me, was alive and well, and usually stoned.

Risk has never been a difficult thing for me. I’m not sure why. When I want to do something, I’ll do it.

In my 20’s, trespassing into abandoned buildings, dating a high-profile marijuana drug dealer and being interviewed by the FBI, wave surfing at midnight while drunk and naked, driving a tiny red sports car at night high on acid in the Santa Cruz mountains with the lights off, jumping off a two-story apartment building into the pool below while drunk on 151 Rum. Please do not do any of these things. I don’t recommend any of them.

Whatever felt right – and although not consciously – at times suicidal. I kept looking for my hero, holding out from one person to the next. Always disappointed.

Thought, ‘the next one will be better.’

I did go sky-diving on my 50th, however, tornado hunting is no longer on my bucket list.

Passing up opportunities because of fear or intimidation, that can kill a persons dreams.

The safe feeling comes at a price. I’ve always given serious thought to any decision that might get my fingers blown off or would physically harm another person.

Also, I can take a pass on climbing Mount Everest.

For those that want to eat the Tide pod, please do it in the ER waiting room. On a more serious note, please don’t eat the Tide pod. That’s an example of a senseless and serious risk. Just the thought of eating Tide pods makes me slap myself across the face.

Taking risks doesn’t make you cool. It won’t improve your life automatically. Risk comes with the package and you have to accept the whole package. Not many people wing their entire life. They plan. Strategize. They don’t risk everything all the time. They decide what to risk and when.

Sure, I still take risks. I also exercise caution, patience, and sound judgment.

Start small. Build momentum. Take medium risks.

Most big risks come from the wrong place. Overconfidence. Desperation. Too much alcohol, drugs or even caffeine.

You always have to balance risk with caution. Do that and you can conquer the world, one turn at a time.

“Leap and the net will appear.” — Zen Saying


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