The woman of whom Mother issued a warning was the second woman to whom Dad broke promises. I suppose in some miserly, empathetic way, I can allow myself to envision and understand the weightiness of her position; however, the weight of her perhaps legitimate complaint did not belong on my tiny shoulders.
Admittedly, I have no personal knowledge of the discussions which might have taken place within the home my Father shared with this woman and if I knew, I could not divulge it here because again, it would not be my story to tell and having never been invited into his home, I’d laid witness to nothing which might have occurred there. But conversations about me assuredly happened there. The fact that they are both long deceased does not hinder or soften the affect their lives and the decisions they made had upon mine and it is that, the affect, of which I apply unchallenged relevance. I understand that some, who have known of me and the others of whom my story involves, could possibly have reasons to contemplate my truthfulness in this matter however, as I’ve said from the beginning, my truth is my truth, and no one’s opinion, challenging my truth matters. No one suffered or carried these scars except me. I make no apologies.
The woman hated my existence. I suppose because I was a constant, living reminder of my father’s infidelity. Solemnly, I am being neither petty nor bitter as I assert that I cannot in truth call this woman my father’s wife because numerous, exhaustive searches failed to reveal any documentation ascertaining her right to legally being called his wife; yet whether she was or was not does not alter the fact that she was the woman who shared his home and the woman to whom he surely must have at least theoretically, pledged to be faithful in word if not in deed. Either way, it does not alter the absolute truth of the matter.
As I contemplate the sharing of this next chapter of my life, I imagine people I know who are still living or perhaps those both long and recently departed, would likely have advised me, “to let sleeping dogs lie”, meaning to leave things as they are, to avoid restarting or rekindling an old grudge, or to leave disagreements in the past; but I don’t intend to do any of these things because those dogs are lying on my bed! Beyond that, as I long as I live, as long as my children live and as long as their children and the ones following them live, I will fight and teach them to fight for their places in this world. This painful rendering of my life in this forum, will prayerfully encourage them to never remain silent when their right to exist is challenged. The quiet path I was made to travel, now yells loudly that silence is not always golden.
Mother never again mentioned the warning she’d given me months before and I hadn’t forgotten, not yet. This was the very early ‘60s and a time of change, a shifting of old notions. A new decade bringing new promises and it seemed everyone was excited about the possibilities of changes in the political arena and new hope ran rampant. Everyone I knew seemed to have let go of the past and strained to reach toward a new future just beyond their reach but near enough to keep grasping for it. Everyone, as it were, except one.
It was the summer of my sixth year when I was to soon be heading to first grade that my second eldest sister and her husband came visiting from their home in another state. During their visit, my brother-in-law treated me as though I was his own special princess, placed in his life to be constantly fawned over by him alone. The fact that I was a child favored with neither loveliness or even a pixie cuteness and having been deprived of my father’s attention, helped me to glow under his welcomed attentiveness. Each time he left the farm and returned during this visit, he would present to me with great flair, a package of my beloved M&M’s! Any cavities I developed later in life could undoubtedly be traced back to this fleeting, “almost” idyllic summer. Oh, how I loved this man; he was everything I imagined a man should be; if there was a hero in my life other than my grandfather, my brother-in-law filled the bill that summer. He was tall, terrifically good-looking, strikingly strong and he had a smile that would melt solid chocolate into a smooth silky stream in seconds. Kindness exuded from him yet there seemed to be just under the surface, a tautness, a readiness to spring into action to defend anyone he loved, if they were being threatened. I felt safe and protected with him, he was my first crush. He knew the special place he held in my life and he tolerated my quiet, constant adoration in such a deliberately sweet way that for years as I approached early adulthood, every male in my life was measured by my brother-in-law.
It was during this visit on one especially brilliantly beautiful East Texas morning and just a few days before my sister and brother-in-law were scheduled to return to their West Coast home, he’d thought to surprise my younger sister and me with a day at a park near our home. It was a popular place which offered not only a green area for children to play but also a fairly lengthy dock reaching out into a large, lovely, blue lake (though it was called a pond) where fishermen spent long hours angling, visiting, sharing cold beers hidden openly in coolers which traveled in the trunks of cars or in the passenger section of their pickup trucks. Unbelievable thoughtfulness was even afforded to the women of the area by offering them a Washateria, aka Laundromat on the property so that they might keep busy with laundry duties as the men enjoyed their leisure. This laundromat was located out of view and beyond ear-shot of the dock. It was also several steps below ground, I suppose to somehow help cool the large non air-conditioned room.
Before arriving at the park, my brother-in-law stopped for snacks: sodas, chips, candy and a brand-new red rubber ball for me! It was a rare treat to receive a new toy at any time other than Christmas. I was enthralled. It was turning into a very special and memorable day indeed…But that day would later be recalled not so much from the joy it brought but for what marred that joyful, brilliantly beautiful East Texas summer morning.
As my brother-in-law and sister pulled fishing poles from the car’s trunk, I was given strict but gentle instructions to stay away from the water’s edge. I was to stay within their eyesight as I played with my ball. Fair enough, agreed to and off we went.
I played on the paved area of the parking lot, bouncing and tossing my ball into the air, being thrilled when I caught it and chasing after it when I missed. One of my misses sent me chasing my new ball across the parking lot. It bounced & rolled faster than I could catch up to it and I watched as it rolled down the steps into the laundromat, out of sight and earshot of my family.
I looked around quickly and just as quickly decided to chase my ball down those steps; with eyes down, I searched and spotted it still rolling across the slick linoleum floor and just as I caught up to it and reached down to pick it up, a foot covered it, I mistakenly thought to prevent it from rolling further. I was grateful for the help because I wanted to escape this dimly lit room and return back to the parking lot before I was missed.
I tugged at the ball, but the foot would not relent. I couldn’t comprehend why the foot would not remove itself from my ball. Desiring an answer as to why the foot stayed instead of allowing me to retrieve my ball, I looked up and met a face that sent cold, consummate fear throughout my small body and gripped my heart with a pounding force of which adults should not suffer, far beyond what a not quite six year old child should suffer. The new ball now forgotten, as the face of my mother’s warning loomed above me. Time slowed. Actually, time seemed to go backwards as colorful snapshots of me sitting on my mother’s lap at our kitchen table flickered across my mind’s eye. Remembering her soft hands lifting my chin was far removed from what was happening now. No longer able to see the face of my nightmares because she had forcefully lifted and turned me so that my back was pressed against her abdomen. I squirmed trying to get away, seeing the door but unable to move toward it, but her desire to restrain me was every bit as urgent as mine was to get away. My fear was no match for her hatred and I was losing this battle. I felt a painful, tightening sensation around my neck which made screaming impossible. The pressure increased and it felt as if that pressure would cause my head to explode. The dimly lit room was getting darker and I could hear mother’s voice calling my name. Calling, calling, calling…but I couldn’t answer because the darkness had stolen both my voice and my sight. My last conscious sensation was feeling the confusingly cold yet warm floor beneath me. That confusing situation was then made caustically clear in my fading thoughts…the cool linoleum floor was being introduced to the warm contents of my bladder as the stocking she wrapped around my neck grew tighter and still mother’s voice called to me from somewhere much too far away.
I had no idea how long I had lain there alone in a dim corner of that laundromat but just as I had heard mother’s voice calling to me as I was forced into unconsciousness, hearing my name being called again roused me from the dark place I had been cruelly sent both carnally and spiritually. Even then the sound of my name being called had an edge of panic attached to it and frightened me almost as much as opening my eyes and perhaps seeing that dreaded, hateful face above me again. When keeping my eyes closed begin to frighten me more than opening them, I forced my grit filled and swollen eyes opened and saw nothing above me except an overflowing sink spilling water onto the floor, soaking my urine stained dress. I was grateful for what was surely a purposeful flooding because it masked the shame of my soiled dress. Twice now within only a few months, adults had caused me humiliation beyond imagination and this one almost cost me my life. I wish I could say that the physical and emotional abuse I suffered from adults ended here but this was sadly, only the beginning.
The sound of my name being called was coming from my sister & brother-in-law. They sounded closer than they had when my eyes were closed. They were looking for me! I attempted to stand but each time I tried the room would spin, defeated, I sat down on the water and urine-soaked floor and begin to tremble at the thought of mother discovering I had been disobedient by not heeding her warning. All my fears converged and caused tears to join the water and urine, soaking me thoroughly. I squeezed my eyes shut again wanting, this time, to surround myself in darkness; too afraid of seeing the bad things that showed themselves in the light.
As my sister entered the building I heard her say, “I looked in here already”, to which my brother-in-law responded, “there’s water running in here someplace, did you see water on the floor before?” My sister answered, “no”. As their footsteps drew nearer, my panic would not be contained, and shock engulfed me. Afraid still to open my eyes, I felt myself being lifted again but this time by strong, caring arms. Arms that were safe and comforting not clawing and choking. Even so, my brother-in-law alternately uttered soothing and berating words. Soothing while trying to stop my violent shaking and berating because of the fear I had caused him by not staying where he had told me to stay. He must have finally noticed that the shaking of my body had nothing to do with the cold water I had been lying in and he hugged me closer, protectively to his taut, angry, not at me, strong chest.
I cried without making a sound, my swollen eyes were no longer capable of producing tears. As I was carried outside, I dared a peek and saw that the bright blue sky that had been when I’d chased my ball into the laundromat was now changing into the orange, gold and purple hues of a Texas sunset. I had been unconscious and hidden from view for hours.
Freed from the dungeon that was to have been my temporary tomb, my brother-in-law tried handing me the red ball he had purchased for me a lifetime ago. Instead of grasping it, I shrank from it, no longer wanting it because now, in my mind, there would always be a disembodied foot attached to it. He carried me to and place me in the huge back seat of his blue sedan. He told me how he and my sister had searched for me, even looking around the fringe of the huge pond afraid I had fallen in. He asked me where I had been and how had I come to be in that laundromat after they had previously searched it? I had no memory of previously leaving the laundromat until he carried me out. With the shaking somewhat but not completely abated, I attempted to answer his questions but try as I might, the words that formed in my thoughts could not be released by my throat. My vocal cords had been damaged by the stocking that had been tightened around my throat. Finally, a good omen…not being able to talk saved me from having to tell mother that I had forgotten what she had told me to remember!
This all happened around the time I believe to be the week of July 4, 1960. Whether the assault happened before or after the holiday, I am no longer sure. It was however about six weeks or so before school would begin but now even two weeks after the assault, my voice had still not recovered, despite the abundance of cold ice and warm teas I had been forced to consume. I had no idea when the swelling of my vocal cords had subsided or that my voice had returned until the day my mother escorted me to school on my first day, which was many weeks after everyone else had started school. After she had deposited me into the care of my first-grade teacher and as she turned to walk away, a fear closely akin to what I had experienced more than 3 months before was unleashed as I screamed to mother and pleaded with her not to leave me alone. I’m not sure which of us was more startled at the months-long unheard sound of my hoarse, crackling voice but she turned back to me, leaned down, and with tears in her eyes, she kissed the top of my head and whispered, “be good and listen to your teacher, Aunt Sally.”
The chickens are crowing Papa; decades later, with tears afresh, I’m screaming, “THE CHICKENS ARE CROWING PAPA!”
…the final chapter in this series, soon to follow