Dodie is the one who saved me.

She is the one who patiently explained to me what ‘motherfucker’ really meant when I was about 6 and fell in love with the syncopation of cursing.  (Which, by the way, I still love.)

She is the one who fed me butter and white sugar sandwiches on summer nights after my long days of playing along the rocky edge of the railroad tracks. She knew my real mom would be upset if I arrived home filthy so she would hose down my bare feet outside and tame my unruly hair into Princess Leia braided buns.

She is the one who showed infinite patience when I showed up uninvited at her front door nearly every day and never wanted to go home – even when she was dealing with the many crises of her erratic husband and troubled children. I was that odd dangling .3 in her made-up nuclear unit of 2.3 children, always making myself quiet and small so I could stay there while everything else raged around me.

She is the one who found time to drive me to a Planned Parenthood in the next big town over … every month … in her Dodge Aries.  She waited outside – and never asked a single question about it.  No lectures. No disapproving looks. Just a chocolate milkshake and quick hug at the end of every trip.

She is the one who taught me to save some of my lunch money every day until I had the money for the little packet of birth control pills – and the other affordable health services Planned Parenthood provided – exams, tests, screenings. And she taught me to save for my future, too.

Yes, my future.

She is the one who first told me that I had a future – for which I was responsible – something I could shape into my own.  The first one to tell me to watch and learn from other people’s mistakes, including her own – to dream about happiness bigger than the feel of the warm sun after a self-serve car wash – and to leave our small town if I wanted to have any chance at all.

Dodie had a sickly red beehive, even in the 1980s, and wore garish lipstick and submissive sex costumes to please her husband.  Dodie believed in aliens, feminism, paranormal conspiracy theories and junk food – which probably also explained her ability to be a devout member of a cult-like religious sect in town.  Dodie worked at the local hospital watching people die for money, and when she wasn’t doing that, she made hurried meals for us out of cans and boxes while her husband worked the night shift at the local plant.  Together, she and her husband also slowly built a shelter in their backyard for the end of the world – but in which they mostly indulged in his bizarre sexual fantasies.

Dodie’s own children – who were my closest childhood friends – were a brilliant mess. We met in the gifted programs at the public school but her kids honed their skills in arson and shoplifting while I finetuned my cursing — until eventually, a vice principal at my middle school took note of my mastery of both obscenities and grammar and pulled me in a different direction.

Dodie still lives in my hometown, a divorced chain smoker with an old Dodge car.  She talks about signs of the apocalypse in between bursts of excitement about the latest television show thrillers. She continues to devote herself to her messy (now adult) children, disturbed (now ex) husband and their continuing crises.  She wears crazy off-kilter wigs,  no bra and a slash of orange-red lipstick smeared across weathered lips.  She is – always was – this zany mix of contradictions, most of which as an adult I do not really like or understand. 

And as unlikely as it may seem, I consider her to be my modern day savior.  Takes all kinds, I suppose.

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