When I was in high school, in addition to my mother I had other motherly figures. The widow-lady next door (Mother #2), Kaye Brown (Mother #4), and Cyclone (Mother #3 and the subject of this post).
I was a regular user of BBSes in the 90’s and it provided me a social life that for various reasons I wasn’t getting at school. Camelot, the main board that I spent my time on, was run by Excalibur, a college dropout in his early twenties that was spending upwards of $150 a month on an 8-line BBS. Excalibur ran the board and had various “cosysops” that helped him run it by keeping tabs on other users and performing other various tasks. I was one of the cosysops and Cyclone was another.
Cyclone found the BBS by way of her son and daughter, the son about my age and the daughter about five years my junior. She was only about 20 years older than I was, though, which was young in comparison to other mothers of my peers. Checking up on her kids, she found that she liked the BBS, despite that it was populated by people my age rather than her own, and befriended Excalibur.
At a time when I couldn’t talk to my own mother about such things, when Mother #2 was drunk and Mother #4 was on the other side of town (and I didn’t know her when I met #3), I spent a lot of time talking to Cyclone sorting out my personal problems and talking about life and philosophy. Being a public schoolteacher, Cyclone was used to the naivete of young people and seemed to enjoy her role as mentor. I also had a good relationship with her husband, though I could understand why she liked the BBS. He was a pretty blue collar fellow and many of us youngsters were probably better thinkers than he was.
Excalibur and I were never personally very close. Not nearly as close as Cyclone and I were, at any rate. But he, too, was something of a mentor to me in something like a big brother to me. He was kind of a hard nut to crack and a difficult person to get close to, but I was in awe of the BBS that he ran and, like a real brother, I was his friend by default and requirement more than anything else.
Shortly before I graduated, the World Wide Web was becoming the big thing. A lot of BBS users started logging on more and more to the Internet rather than our rinky dinky little system. It wasn’t too much of a surprise when Cyclone was among those gravitating towards the Internet, though I was missing her presence in Camelot. Excalibur was much more upset about that. It figured, though, because they had a special friendship and he was not the kind of guy that came by friendships easily.
Excalibur and Cyclone’s friendship had more or less evaporated by the time I was heading off the college. The ostensible reason for this was that Cyclone had set Excalibur up with a really nice job at the school district and Excalibur was jeopardizing it and her reputation by sleeping with a student at the high school. She was 17, it was technically legal (because he wasn’t an actual teacher), but it was nonetheless bad stuff.
As their friendship fell apart, I started finding out things. I found out that my motherly figure had actually been cheating on her husband with my brotherly figure and the real reason for the dissolution of their “friendship” was that she had met some dude on the Internet in Chicago that she had taken to sleeping with. Excalibur, who was closer and closer to getting engaged to the soon-to-be-graduated high school student, was torn up about it, and in his pain he started letting more and more things I didn’t need to know (such as the adeptness of Mother #3’s oral sex skill). It was hard for her to be at all motherly as it all started coming out. I started making fewer and fewer trips to Southfield to visit her.
Looking back it should have been a lot more obvious what was going on. The fact that Excalibur’s previous serious girlfriend was about 15 years his senior and even looked a little bit like Cyclone would have provided a helpful clue. They spent a whole lot of time together. But Excalibur had his relationships and she had her husband and it seemed like if they were sleeping together, they wouldn’t have been so open about being so close. I’ve since learned that cheating couples often do hide their relationship in plain sight. In part because people like me can’t believe that they would be so brazen.
I continued to log on to the BBS after the whole revelation, though much of the sense of family that we had had evaporated. I was upset at Cyclone’s infidelity as well as to a lesser extent Excalibur’s (not as bad because they weren’t married at that time), but mostly it was just the incestuousness of it that bothered me. It also made me think differently of all that time I spent with Cyclone. Not that I thought that there was anything sexual about it, but that she wasn’t the honest, devoted person that I thought she was and that her interest in young people generally was a little more suspect than it had been.
I’ve heard it said that drug users stop emotionally progressing whenever it was that they started using drugs. I’ve even heard that emotional development after they stop using is still hindered. Cyclone was a pretty heavy drug user back in her younger years (in fact, her later husband had won her over in part by being the guy that visited her in the emergency room after an overdose). It made me wonder if her interest in young people — not just the BBS but her life’s work as a teacher — had a lot more to do with immaturity (being emotionally on the same page as young people) than it did with influencing young lives.