When I was 15, my boyfriend and I left Queens to join my dad and brothers, who were living in California in a pick up truck with a camper shell. As we realized the FBI was in pursuit, my intuitive dreams became part of the story.
We traveled up and down the California Pacific coast. In San Francisco, we cruised around Golden Gate Park during the day and visited other hippie households. Dad had staked out his favorite places where we would sleep in the pickup until the police chased us away. Dad’s favorite dining spot was the Marina Safeway parking lot. He could dumpster dive at night to get a fresh selection of outdated food just as it hit the dumpster walls, and we’d dine off the tail gate. Dad told me these were his happiest moments.
Life was getting a little tight with all five of us, Dad, my brothers, Ricky, and me, living in the back of the truck, so we checked out some communes. We drove into the Sierra Mountains to visit a friend, Cynthia, who lived on an American Indian Shaman’s land. The residents donated their welfare checks and income to the leader, Sun Bear, and in return he supposedly provided for his tribe. Tribe members slept in the cold mountain outdoors with patches of snow on the ground and the wind blowing through their old, ripped tents. Little wood fires were scattered around for people to try to keep themselves warm. Meanwhile, Sun Bear stayed in a lovely hotel in Sacramento, attended the theatre, and dined in fine restaurants. Cynthia explained initiation into the tribe: You faced Sun Bear who unzipped your pants, had sex with you, and then made his decision whether to accept you or not. I am glad this group did not interest my father.
Ricky and I needed to figure out a way to get out of the truck and be on our own. We had a few obstacles in front of us. Ricky’s draft evasion during the Vietnam war and the FBI problem made it impossible for him to get a job. I couldn’t help because I was only fifteen years old, but I always knew something would work out because our love for each other was so strong.
Meanwhile, back in New York, Mom called me. “Gail, truant officers are coming to the house and wanting to know where you are and how come you’re not in school. They’re driving me crazy, I can’t take it.”
“I’ll figure out something and call you back,” I said, sounding just like Dad.
My father saw a psychiatrist who said Dad was eligible for Social Security disability payments after he heard Dad’s life story. I decided to see that doctor and ask him to write a letter explaining that I was not capable of attending school at this time. I was determined never to return to my high school and was willing to say or do anything to make sure I wasn’t sent back. The psychiatrist reviewed my New York files from the Manhasset Health Center where I had seen my first therapist a year earlier. We agreed for him to send a letter stating that I was a very intelligent girl but emotionally unstable right now and should not attend school. I did not see myself as unstable, but I was willing to go along with this if it would get me out of school. My mother was delighted because the truancy officer stopped calling her. I would be sixteen soon, the legal age for dropping out.
In order to live in San Francisco, we needed money. One evening my father and his friends were scheming on how Ricky and I could “beat the System” and get welfare. They came up with the glorious idea that I would dress as a pregnant Indian woman — Little Flower — and that Ricky would be Tommy Gunn. They spent a week indoctrinating me and instructing me how to walk like a pregnant woman. Then, on the day of the welfare office visit, they safety-pinned towels around me so that I looked like I was six months pregnant. They put my blonde hair in pigtails and made a feather headband for Ricky. They dressed us in Indian garb to match. Great. We looked like we came from the Shmohawk Tribe.
My father dropped us in front of the Welfare/Social Services building in San Francisco on Mission Street. We filled out the papers while we waited for our interview. I was nervous. The interview went fine, but inside I was a wreck. By the finale, when I figured we were going to get a check, the interviewer said no matter how pregnant I looked, I still needed to provide a urine sample proving I was pregnant.
“You mean all the paperwork and being here today is not enough?”
“This is always required no matter how pregnant you are. As soon as you return the lab results to us we can complete your application for welfare assistance.”
I told her I’d get one and ran out, mortified.
I wanted to kill my father when he said, “No problem, we’ll get one of the pregnant people we know to give us a sample.”
I was boiling inside from the embarrassment of being dressed as a pregnant Indian. And the whole lying thing was too much for me. I yelled at him and ripped off the towels. The plan was dropped. The beautiful part was how close and loving Ricky and I were, no matter how little we had.
During that period in San Francisco, I had nightmares that were so real I would wake up gasping for breath from fear. Two men in suits come to our front door, ring the bell, and take Ricky away.
The next morning I would get a call from my grandmother in Queens. “The ABC vus here esking kvestions.”
“Do you mean the FBI?”
She spoke very little English and kept asking them, ‘’Vus vat?” which must have frustrated the men in black.
The FBI went around the neighborhood asking our whereabouts. They knew I was with Ricky. Eventually I learned that Bobby Carter, a boy who had had a crush on me, had told the FBI that Ricky and I were in California.
In 1977 President Jimmy Carter granted amnesty to all Vietnam draft evaders and Ricky was really pleased to have that chapter in his life over. One Carter had ratted him out; eventually another Carter freed him.
After the Little Flower scam, Mom sent word that she would be flying out soon to live with Dad. Ricky and I needed to make some money and rent a place. I signed up with an employment agency telling them I was twenty years old. This was easy compared to posing as Little Flower. I was only sixteen, of course, but I was so self-possessed and voluptuous that no one ever questioned my age. From the money I made there, Ricky and I were able to move.
I was sent on an interview for a job at the Haverhills mail-order company, where I was hired as a temp in the sales room. Later they offered me a full time position. But my job was short lived because the vice-president of the company kept pinching my tush. I was outraged that this little old man felt he had access to me the same way he had to the water cooler.
He was shocked when I entered his office on a Friday at 5:00 and said, “I am quitting my job here. You are not a very nice man and this company is terrible. There is a woman in inventory in the basement who has worked here for years and she makes less than I do. You have workers here that steal things. And you are pinching my tush. And by the way I am only sixteen, not twenty.” I started to cry and walked out the door.
This is a peek at a larger memoir. The other stories already on Medium can be found here. If you enjoy what you’ve read, clap generously! Feel free to contact me at ghayssen at sonic.net.