An Angry Little Girl
We are driving down the road, talking happily, my 2 kids in the back, Mr. Glow is driving. We're on a business errand in one of the towns I lived in growing up. After a little talk, we are driving to one of the two houses I lived in. I can barely remember it. I was nine years old. We find it, and I feel emptier somehow. The house is there, and I know it, but it was never my home. So we're looking for the other one. It was out in the middle of nowhere, and I can't remember. I have vague notions of the bricks on the neighbor's patio and of the deep ruts in the road that lead from my house to the field where we planted our garden that year.
I am remembering my step-brother that year. he was sixteen and I was ten, and he was the coolest thing ever. I adored him. I remember that my step-dad used to raise dogs, and I can remember the noise, the smell, puppy kisses on top of puppy kisses. I remember that there was a drought that year, and that we carried 5 gallon buckets of water down every day to water the garden. I remember that I was angry that my step-brother was trusted to cut the okra with a knife, and I was not. I remember how hot it was, and my new perm, and begging to wear makeup. I remember the time when my mama cut her hand on that okra knife, and went up the hill to bandage it, and the big snake that was in the garden, and how my step-brother showed an amazingly cool head and got us out of there unharmed.
It was a good summer in my head.
Somehow I have blocked out the horror that was my childhood.
I don't mean that I can't remember it, because the vivid details spring to mind with ease. But I have tried to pass it off as nothing because I couldn't stand to see the horror on people's faces.
So I'm telling Mr. Glow stories about this house, and this step-father (one of five), and the good ones are making us laugh, and then I'm telling stories about my father and step-father - how my daddy used to carry a gun to Mama's house, just in case. I didn't know it then, but have been told later...and that this step-father was afraid of my father, and that may have saved the life of my mama and me.
I remember when we lived downtown, and the time when the step and my mom were fighting so loudly that we could hear them from the car. I didn't want Daddy to know, told him all was well. I went back in, and tried to help my mom. She'd tried to get to the phone to call the police, and he jerked the cord out of the wall and started choking her with it. My nine-year-old body hurtled through the air to land on him, biting, clawing kicking...I knew he wouldn't hurt me because he'd been threatened by my father. He'd draw his hand back, and I'd remind him of Daddy.
That night, he had nearly broken her arm, blacked both her eyes, tried to choke her with the phone cord and then his hands. I ran outside at the last, yelling that I was calling the police, trying to draw him off of her to chase me. I ran out in the road, in front of a car...and it was my father, having been circling the block the whole time.
I'm sobbing hysterically, finally get to the neighbor's to call the police. Able to call my aunt, to get him to leave. Mama's alive, and will live. My job is done.
How many times did this happen with him and the others? No idea.
I know that by the time I was ten, I was sneaking into Mama's closet and keeping a bag of necessities hidden in my closet, so that if we had to leave in the night, we'd have clothing, shoes and a blanket. I stole money from her purse to keep in that bag too, so we'd have the gas to get somewehre, or the money for a hotel if need be.
I never rested easy, always on tenterhooks, always afraid of what would happen next. Afraid of every little noise in the night - was that just walking around, or was "it" starting again? When was the right moment to show myself? You had to time these things just right, sometimes they'd settle down on their own, and I would get in trouble if I jumped in. So I needed to be damn sure it was life or death before I added my presence to the altercation. and God forbid I call the police. That was embarrassing to my mom. She hated that. So I needed to be sure he was 1. actually attempting to kill her at that moment, and 2.that he wasn't going to stop by me yelling or throwing things, or picking up the phone.
I have wondered, since that day a few weeks ago - how my mother could have raised me in that situation. Forgetting for a moment the blind stupidity that she showed by going back time after time to men who tried their hardest to kill her - how could she take her daughter into that? How could my father, my beautiful, wonderful father - who always made sure I had a new book or some kind of dollar store toy to take back every week, just to remind me that he loved me and would be back for me on Friday...how could he have left me there? I am a mother, and there is no way in Hell that I would let my kids stay in that if there was an alternative. How could two parents who loved their daughter allow it to o on? Did they think I was really that resilient - that I could just cowboy up and move on? I guess I did. But it has caused lifelong scarring that I am only just beginning to uncover. We never found the house. I don't know if it burned or if my memory is just faulty, and I couldn't stop crying. I don't know why, but it was like the floodgates opened. I didn't realize that I was so affected by these memories...I am just realizing that that angry, scared little girl still lives inside me, wishing for those happy memories to be the only ones, wishing she was whole again.
Mama died when I was sixteen - of colorectal cancer. She was married to a man who was not physically abusive. He just stole the pain pills that made living with cancer a bearable thing. By then, I was so used to covering things up that I didn't even notice. I tried my hardest to blend in, tried to not cause a stir, because I wanted people to like me. I haven't really even allowed myself to think of this as something big. The cancer that took my mother was dreadful, but everyone who praised me for being "so mature" had no idea. I had already lost my mother. Nearly every night from the time when I was six to when I was fourteen. Compared to the violence of those years, cancer was an easy killer.