Roachclip From Methuen

May 1981, Gloucester, Massachusetts

I met Donna Marie at the Cape Ann Food Co-op. She was very energetic and we got to talking after stocking the organic produce. Our conversations  drifted to resisting nuclear power, eating healthy, and “sticking it to the man”. I asked her where she was from and she said “Methuen”. She asked me if I knew where it was. I knew; Methuen was a tough working class city on the Merrimac River next to Lawrence, the city of the legendary women’s textile strike decades before. Donna Marie became active with the Cape Ann Mobilization for Survival, our local chapter of the anti-nuclear group that was seeking to bring peace activists, environmental activists, and social justice movements together in a broad coalition for change. We became friends quickly and hung out together long after meetings, talking and sometimes getting high. Donna Marie had a lovely three year old daughter named Alicia. She was in the process of breaking up with Alicia’s father, who tended to drink too much and become abusive when he was drunk.

Donna Marie was friends with a lot of friends before I knew her, and we spent a lot of time at Bob and Kay Rubin’s house on the outskirts of The Rocky Neck Artist Colony. I introduced her to my friend Phil. Phil had been in the Air Force serving in The Philippines until he had a nervous breakdown. He came home and had spent a decade living with his parents in Beverly, growing his hair and studying meditation. We would hang out for hours laughing and talking about possibilities. Back in those days I pretty much believed in everything.

During the summer of 1981 there were a couple of times that Donna Marie called me after her soon to be ex-boyfriend Chip became violent. One afternoon she called frantic, Chip had hit her, called her a whore and thrown a chair at her- while their little girl Alicia watched. I drove my Ford Pinto to the edge of her street and picked her and Alicia up. Donna Marie asked me to take her to a cabin in New Hampshire where Chip couldn’t find her and she could have some quiet time to think about what to do next.

Many people, including some of our friends thought we slept together that night. I’ll admit I had thought about it more than once in those days but our immediate focus when we got to the cabin was helping little Alycia feel safe. She had seen something terrible that she had no words for, and we wanted her to be comfortable and sleep free of nightmares. Once Alycia was asleep Donna Marie rolled a joint & we lit up, sat back and talked about all kinds of stuff. Donna Marie told me how she’d respond to the frequent catcalls she’d get walking in her hometown Methuen. She’d pick her nose and stare back at the guy till he drove on. We had a few laughs and I affectionatedly named gave her the pet name “Roachclip From Methuen”. The next day I drove back to Gloucester. I was starting a new job the following week and was moving. I didn’t see Donna Marie for nearly a month. She went back to Gloucester and kept away from Chip as best she could, staying with the Rubins, then staying at Donna OSullivan’s house. She got a waitressing job in Lanesville. Phil and I went with her to a reggae festival at Brandeis University. Donna Marie met this guy Errol. Donna Marie liked him instantly. I couldn’t put a finger on it, but I didn’t trust him.

A couple of weeks later I had called out from work when I got a panicked call from Donna Marie. Chip had punched her and caused a scene at her job. She left work and took off with Alicia, renting a place in Rockport, out of site. She said she didn’t want to be alone. I was not feeling well, coming down with a fever but I sped up the highway from Foxboro to Rockport, getting there ninety minutes later, ready to hear her story. I know I’ve been guilty of this in the past, I guess it’s not uncommon in your twenties. ..breaking up with someone and sleeping with someone  else right away to drive the wedge and put distance between yourself and the person you used to be with. It felt good to have her arms around me, but it felt really strange. So many times I wanted to be with her like this and she picks the day when I’m  not sure i can stand. My ears still ringing from the NPR report of the Royal Air Force bombing Argentina to secure the Malvinas Islands. Not feeling romantic but not able to say no, after all Donna Marie knew I wanted her…

I would later learn that same week she called our friend Jeanine’s ex-husband Joe who took off from his maintenance job at Central Grammar Apartments and made love to him, and then called Errol, who ditched his classes at Brandeis to complete the Revenge Trifecta. I didn’t hear from her for awhile after that. In June i got laid off from my job and moved back to Gloucester. One of Jeanine’s roommates had moved out and she invited me to replace him at the apartment she rented in Lanesville. It was a beautiful apartment and my share of the rent was only $162.50. Two months later after one of our other roommates moved out, a very pregnant Donna Marie approached Jeanine and asked if she and Errol could rent two of the rooms in the apartment, one for them & one for Alicia & the baby.I had mixed feelings about their moving in. I loved Donna Marie but didn’t trust Errol & had seen Donna Marie go through so many changes in such a short time i feared this was not going to turn out well…


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Written by PaulPallazola