When I was young, around ten years old, a close friend’s mother was obsessed with Rod Stewart. I was never a fan, per se, but when I hear the song “Maggie Mae” by Rod Stewart I am instantly transported back to those summers spent with my friend. It is a mix of happiness and sadness.
My youth was misspent to say the least. I lived, technically, in New York city but my parents bought a weekend home in Connecticut when I was seven years old — 1976 for those inclined to know (now you can calculate just what a Methuselah I am). About a two-hour car ride away. The original house was a 1929 Sears and Roebuck catalog home. This meant that the original owners ordered the home via catalog and received all the parts that they had to put together themselves. Think IKEA for homes. It did not have heating and was “insulated”, I put that in quotes for a reason, by newspapers that were stuffed between the walls. There was no privacy in this home as the walls were, just shy of literal, paper-thin.
Since we spent every weekend and most summer vacations, even a few winter vacations, in this house I often forget that I was actually raised in an urban environment. I went to school in New York city but the rest of my childhood is associated with the house in Connecticut and the nearby lake. Oddly, the lake was actually in New York state. Our road and, subsequently three homes, were the last within the Connecticut border. In other words, the house next door where my best friend (and her Rod Stewart loving mother) lived was Connecticut but the house across the street where we scored our weed was New York. The lake we skinny dipped on hot summer nights took less than a minute to walk to, was New York. However, I always considered this all Connecticut.
My friend’s mother was a waitress, divorced, raising two daughters on her own. When my family arrived on Friday evenings her house was the first place I went, not ours. Usually her mother was blasting Rod Stewart, often Maggie Mae, which seemed… I’m not sure how to describe it… my parents were German immigrants so their musical tastes leaned more towards old-fashioned German music. Her mother’s musical choices seemed modern, exotic, intoxicating by comparison.
Her family life was not any happier than mine despite her mother’s exotic taste in music. My friend was a few years older than me and her mother often worked the night shift. In other words, even if Maggie Mae was playing when I arrived, it ended shortly after as her mother had to go to work. This meant entire weekends where we were left all to ourselves to spend as we pleased. My parents didn’t care what I was up to as long as I was sitting in the backseat of the car when they were ready to return home to New York on Sunday evenings.
My father whistled for me when it was time to leave. His whistle was like a dog whistle, I heard it no matter how far away I was and scrambled to return before his patience was lost.
This is where the happiness and sadness live. Many weekends were spent, as kids will do when left to their own devices, exploring everything from alcohol and drugs to sex. We had fun. We always had fun. We may have had to walk for hours through the night to reach our destination of fun, but we had fun. My friend, in her dysfunctional damaged way, always took care of me. But, like the song, there is a twinge of sadness because sometimes a child taking care of a child does not yield positive results.
Rod Stewart sings of a relationship between an older woman and young man. The older woman was lonely and took advantage of the young man, leaving him with years of heartache he’d rather live without. At the time I never realized the lyrics would echo my life in a strange way. I understand both the older woman’s and younger man’s perspective now, as a middle-aged woman myself.
My friend was older by a few years, as I said, so often things we did were typical for her age group but advanced for mine. By the time I reached high school I was bored with things that my peers were just beginning to explore because I experienced them already years earlier. I began smoking by the age of ten. I began drinking and smoking weed by the age of eleven. My first experience with a heroine user was at age twelve.
When I was twelve years old my friend met an older man, already in his seventies, who offered her rides when she needed. He also provided alcohol, cigarettes, weed and I’m sure other things. My friend was around seventeen at this point, driving age but too poor to own a car. When I arrived on weekends I knew no better and accepted these rides as well since it meant we no longer needed to walk for hours to the local grocery store for cigarettes or alcohol.
This was also the first time I met a heroin addict.
This man drove us wherever we needed. He bought alcohol and cigarettes, as I said, when we asked. He also took us to his home so we could drink, without fear of parental discipline, when we needed someplace to hang-out. That was when I met his daughter. I have no idea how old she was. I do know she was at least in her twenties if not thirties or older. What I do remember is needing to find the bathroom and stumbling into her room instead.
When I first entered she was asleep, or so I assumed, on her bed in a darkened room. When I stumbled in she roused, sitting up, and looked at me morosely. I asked where the bathroom was and she pointed before leaning over to grab her works. Even then, at twelve, I felt her sadness, her despair and realized something was very wrong in this situation. I asked if she was alright. She said yes as she reached for the syringe, after cooking her heroin, eventually bending over to find a vein between her toes. I watched silently unable to grasp what was happening as she shot up. She never spoke another word. After her hit she collapsed back onto her bed.
I used the bathroom and felt leery about the situation I found myself in. Sometimes I wonder if it actually happened, if it was a dream or my imagination, or if I actually watched a grown woman shoot up heroin on a summer afternoon.
The old man offered me a Margarita when I re-emerged. All I remember is passing out in the tall grass behind his house. Ironically, perhaps, his house was located just over the border in New York. This, obviously, has lingered with me all these years later. However, as I said, sadness mixes with happiness. I remember arriving back at my friend’s house afterwards. We watched videos, blasted music, and laughed the night away while her mother worked through the night. Together we slept on the floor between the closet doors in the hallway.
It may seem odd, sleeping in a hallway closet, but the way it was set up was actually pretty amazing for us as kids. There was the hallway that led from the dining room down to her mother’s bedroom. It was a long hallway with three steps in the middle. Just after the three steps there was her bedroom that she shared with her younger sister to the right and to the left was a small indentation where the closet resided. It was actually two closets and when you opened the doors it made a small room unto itself, which is where we slept to avoid her little sister. There was also a window.
If we climbed out this window we could stand on a small roof of sorts that was above the main entrance to the house. From this small overhang we could easily climb to the roof of the house. We did this often. At night we climbed out to smoke weed and drink beer. During the day we did it to sun bath. Anytime of day was to hide from adults. On a side note — I am scared of heights but I still climbed to the roof. Once there I was fine as long as I didn’t look over the edge.
I think my friend enabled me to overcome my fears. I so wanted to be with her since she accepted me whenever, however, any age, any time, no matter what. She truly was a rare friend who I miss dearly in many ways. At the same time that she introduced me to situations that were beyond my scope of comprehension at my tender age, she also protected me as best she could, and held on to me because she was so damaged herself.
So, when I hear Maggie Mae, despite not being a fan of Rod Stewart, I remember the happy times. I remember smoking pot just before going skinny dipping in the lake. I remember the cool water on my bare skin on hot summer nights when I wasn’t even sure of my own body but she always made it all seem alright. I remember sharing vinyl records on Friday nights, when she introduced me to classics like Yellow Brick Road by Elton John in exchange for Ant Music by Adam Ant. I remember smoking, and choking, on my first Marlborough. I remember sneaking a six-pack of Heineken from my father’s stash in the basement and drinking on the roof of her house while we watched the bats emerge from the attic at dusk.
I remember my friend who helped shaped, for good or bad, who I am today. If she ever reads this I hope she understands, for all the bad there was so much good, and I miss her.