Tracy Porter - The Author
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I suppose that bringing up three young children in a single wide trailer while working full time and still trying to maintain a social life no doubt proved too much for my mother. My grandmother agreed to look after my brother, sister and me so that my mother could sort her life out. The three of us stayed with our grandmother during the week and stayed with our mother one day during the weekend Ė usually a Sunday because my mother had to work on Saturday.
Although I did not know it at the time, money was very much on the agenda. My mother never discussed it with me, but she was actually paying my grandmother to look after us. I am sure that my grandmother was fond of my siblings and myself, but her agreeing to look after us was purely a financial arrangement. Sadly, when my mother was no longer able to pay my grandmother the money, she promptly sent us back to our mother even though she knew very well that my mother was not a fit person to look after children. Sadly, my grandmotherís love for me did not extend beyond the power of the almighty dollar. She would have rather sat back and watch me be abused than to suffer any kind of financial inconvenience. I would never be more important to anybody in the family than the dollar, and they wonder why I donít want to have much to do with them as an adult.
It was during this two year period that we lived what could be considered a normal life. Granny woke my sister and me up every morning, turning the lights on and singing, ĎRise and shine!í to get us out of bed.
I hated the bright lights and didnít like getting out of bed so early in the morning. We would get dressed and go to the table in the living room and ate our own breakfast, which usually consisted of cereal or oatmeal. After we brushed our teeth and Granny considered us sufficiently ready for school, she would pile us into a blue, 1961 rambler and drive about a mile down the road to the nearest bus stop where we waited to be collected by a yellow school bus that had the cartoon character Pluto painted on it.
I remember the bus stop and wooden house so vividly because next to it sat a row of silver mail boxes. Because we lived out in the countryside, our mail box was perched along with the rest, more than a mile from where we lived. The bus stop formed a crossroad as there were two paths a person could take while standing at the spot. If the driver turned right, he would find himself on a gravel road which led back to our house. If he turned left, he would go onto another road which led to the local church that we periodically attended. Going to the bus stop was a major event in my life because it meant that I left my insular surroundings in the countryside and ventured into the big, wide world.
When the bus finally reached its destination, it took us to one large building that had six classrooms in it, one for each grade. It was a nostalgic old building that contained countless memories of teachers who had taught and students who had studied there. As you entered the front doors you were greeted by a coke machine, which was undoubtedly the most favoured item in the entire school. After you passed the entranced you faced an auditorium, and to the right and left sides of this massive room were the classrooms specific for each class. One room was allocated to each grade. Candice was in the first grade, I was in the second, and Marc was in the third.
From a very early age my brother, Marc, learned to detach himself from my sister and me. I have no idea why he chose to remain distanced from us, but his attitude left me feeling as if I could not confide in him. While as children my brother was always there to rescue me from imminent danger, such as pulling me out of harmís way or killing a poisonous snake that would not have hesitated to strike at either Candice or myself, emotionally we could have been a thousand miles away. I can actually count on my hands the number of conversations that I ever had with my brother, and I consider that to be a sad reflection of our inability to communicate with one another.
Mr relationship with my Candice was not much better than the relationship I had with my brother. It seems that when we were in the first grade and the teachers separated us, an invisible link had been broken that made us whole beings. For this reason, when we were put into different classrooms we began to develop independently of each other, which may or may not have been a good thing. If this situation that had been forced on us was not bad enough, Candice had been held back a year and was forced to go through the first grade all over again. Candice later told me that she found this to be a very humiliating experience and was a contributing factor to her extremely low self-esteem. She hated being a year older than her other classmates.
The practice of not allowing children to progress with their peers is not necessarily a good thing. A viable alternative would be to allow children to progress to the next class and then give them remedial lessons. That, of course, would require a bit of effort on the part of the teachers, who would rather use the demoralising method of failing students.
I remember quite vividly our first day at the East End school because as all of the other children went to their respective classrooms, while Candice and I just stood in the hallway not knowing where to go. When our teachers realised that we were not in our seats, they came to retrieve us from the auditorium. That was the last I was to see of my sister for the rest of the year. She would go her way and I would go mine in academia, as well as the rest of life. From that point forward we had become individuals and began to lead separate lives.
Because all three of us were in different grades, we had different friends, and eventually developed different interests. Metaphorically speaking, we had become three planets orbiting in a solar system and never really had contact with one another in school or outside of it. I suppose that our family was classically dysfunctional.
Aside from the fact that I was not particularly close to my siblings I suppose those two years I spent with my grandparents were the nicest of my life. With them, I was able to maintain a semblance of normality, which is something that I have never been capable of achieving while living with my mother, who was much more interested in her own wants, needs and desires.
One lunchtime I was sitting at a table in the dining hall. My mother had put a picture of herself in my little handbag, and I pulse it out and looked at it. The only emotion I had was hatred, as I observed my motherís features. I did not think she was pretty at all; just very ugly.
My sister and I were allowed to join the Brownies, and while I did not appreciate my grandmotherís sacrifice at the time, it was a good experience for me. Every couple of weeks my sister and I would wear our Brownie uniforms to school. We would stay after school with a group of other girls our age and make crafts and do other fun things. On one occasion we were engaged in making cards ( I assume Motherís Day cards) and the Brownie leader was not amused when I showed it to my grandmother when she came to collect me. The confusion was caused because the Brownie leader assumed that I would be giving the card to my grandmother, and was quite dismayed to find out that I would be giving it to my mother instead. In retrospect, I suppose that my grandmother was hurt that I chose to give the card to my mother, but it was a simple act that I never even thought about. When the Brownie leader said that we would be making Motherís Day cards, I naturally assumed that I would be giving it to my mother.
During the time that I spent with my grandmother I managed to develop friendships, which is something that has always been difficult for me. My first friend was Shirley, who sat next to me at school and was about a month older than me. As we sat in our old, wooden desks, we wrote each other notes, which we tried to surreptitiously pass to each other. I was even invited to stay the night at Shirleyís on one occasion Ė an outing that I enjoyed immensely. It was such a pleasant experience to have friends and be included amongst a group. That was something that I have so rarely ever experienced in my life.
The ray of hope that had shone upon me did contain some bittersweet elements that served to thwart me sense of belonging. On one occasion, when all of the children were playing during a recess, I had a disagreement with one of the other children. The debate must have become heated because another child rushed to my rescue and told the other child involved in the dispute to be nice to me Ďbecause I didnít have a mother.í Her reMarcs, while I am sure were well intentioned, shocked me into speechlessness. I did not even know this person and she was defending me based upon assumptions that she had picked up from others. The fact is that I did have a mother, and I wanted to tell her so. I simply did not have the words to express myself. To the innocent bystander it must have seemed as if I didnít have a mother.
I always felt entirely self-conscious and wholly inadequate around all of my cousins because they had mothers and fathers who actually cared about them and did not consider parenthood to be burden. Of course, most of my aunts and uncles actually wanted their children and this had a huge impact on their child rearing techniques. Some of my cousins were aware of the insecurities that Candice and I had, and true to fashion, this knowledge only served to endow them with an even greater attitude of superiority than they would normally have had. If my grandmother was aware of our feelings it never deterred her from arranging social engagements with our relatives. Although these occasions were quite testing I suppose that in the grander scheme of things Granny was right not to indulge us in our foibles. She was correct to try to make us feel as if we belonged.
I was always close to my Aunt Eliza and sometimes even viewed her as a surrogate mother because I was allowed to visit her during the summer months and played with her three children a great deal. I was always perplexed by the behaviour of my auntís two eldest daughters. Whenever Aunt Eliza would take my cousins to Grannyís for the day or weekend and began to leave, my two cousins cried and screamed, and generally carried on as if the world was coming to an end and they would never see their mother ever again. These episodes didnít last for a few minutes, but endured for at least an hour or so before the wails would subside into faint whimpers as my two cousins were too exhausted to put forth any more effort in their protestations. For the life of me, I could never understand why my cousins were so traumatised at the prospect of their mother leaving them, even for a few hours. The fact is that my cousins had properly bonded with their mother, which was why they did not want her to leave them.
When my mother left me for days and weeks on end I never even gave it much thought, and I certainly never shed any tears at her departure. I had learned to fend for myself from an early age when my mother attended a softball game that my brother was playing in. I looked dolefully into my motherís green eyes and asked her if I could come home with her. She replied in an equally sorrowful tone, ĎYou canít.í. That was the first and last time that I ever asked my mother if I could come home because the one thing that no one could ever take away from me was my innate sense of pride. Iím sure that my mother had her reasons for not letting me go home with her not least because Social Services would not allow it, but of course I was never made privy to that little piece of information. It was no doubt a difficult job for a woman at the pinnacle of her youth to take care of three children when what she really wanted to do was to be with her friends and enjoy herself.
My brother, Marc, seemed to be much happier when we were living with Granny. Although he has only on the rarest of occasions engaged himself in conversation with me, he joined the boy scouts and attended the meetings every Monday night. We had at least six other cousins who were relatively in the same age group as we were, and as Marc was in his element. He had people to play with both at home and at school, thus giving his confidence boost and helping him to feel as if he belonged.
The arrangement my mother had made with Granny was that she was to keep us during the weekends, so every weekend we would pack our bags and go stay with Mama in her little single-wide trailer on Bunch Road. The time spent with my mother was not particularly memorable because she was tired from working all week and did not particularly know what to do with three children anyway.
While we didnít really do much of anything when we were staying with our mother, I did look forward to my weekly visits to see her. I recall on one occasion Granny informed me that I would not be going to see my mother that weekend because she was going to Galveston, Texas. I was very disappointed that I would not be seeing her that week, but the weekend came and went, and I forgot all about the incident. On some very remote level I suppose I did care about my mother even if I had learned not to show it through fear of rejection. If I had ever bonded with my mother, the bond had been broken long ago, which meant that I did not feel close to the woman who gave me life. My mother was not someone who I would ever go to with a problem.
While my mother has the capacity to be pleasant and loving, she does however, possess a sinister side to her personality, which only becomes apparent to those who know her very well. My motherís dark side became evident to me one evening when it was very late. My mother and her girlfriend had bundled my sister and myself up in the back of the car and drove to a full parking lot in an apartment complex in Arkansas. Candice and I were instructed to crawl on the floor of the back seat and stay there while my mother did her dirty work. Using only the light from the night stars, my mother and her friend proceeded to poor sugar in the gas tank of a woman who had written my mother a bad check that had bounced. I donít know whether my mother contacted the woman to give her an opportunity to repay the debt, but damaging a car the way she did is no way for a businesswoman to behave, especially in the presence of her children. My mother certainly did not set a good example to her children. She instilled in us the motto that we should not get mad, but get even. My mother prided herself on being a bitch, and unfortunately she would teach her children to be bitches as well.
When Mama had been dating Bill for a while she took to his apartment to meet him. At the time I thought nothing of it, but I think it may have been Mamaís way of trying to get us acquainted with our future step-father. This meeting, however, had a very definite purpose because Mama had devised a plan, and Bill was a part of it whether he liked it or not.
During the Christmas vacation when I was 8 years old I was to learn that Mama had married Bill on New Yearís Eve. This realisation came to me when Bill was at the trailer the day that we were supposed to be spending with Mama. She informed us that she had married him and I simply could not believe it, and told her so. Even after I learned that my mother had married for a third time, the realisation of what she had done did not quite sink in. It would be almost three decades before I would be able to come to terms with the magnitude of what my motherís actions.
Mama and Bill moved into a rented house, and my siblings and I went to stay with them during the weekends. I did not particularly like these visits because it seemed that all my mother ever wanted to do was to stay in bed and sleep. I remember quite vividly one Easter when I was in third grade. Instead of waking up to the Easter Bunny and all of the other trimmings that children expect on Easter Sunday, we woke up to nothing. Because Candice and I must have been making noise, my mother woke up and put the baskets and candy together while we watched, quite disillusioned as we realised that the Easter Bunny did not really exist. The Easter Bunny did not put our baskets together, but our mother did. I was so disappointed, as I had expected a little bit more of an effort than that from my mother.
My mother was always such a light sleeper that even the smallest noise would awaken her, and for this reason she was even grumpier than she would normally be. Because my sister and I had always been early risers, we often woke up in the middle of the night when we were staying with our mother and Bill. We had nothing better to do, so we started playing with our dolls and colouring books in the middle of the night. I didnít think we were making that much noise, but evidently it was enough to wake up our mother and Bill, and of course our inability to sleep therefore was met with hostility as our mother yelled at us to be quiet and go back to sleep.
Even though my mother suffers from insomnia, and to this day cannot have even the tiniest bit of caffeine for fear of not being unable to sleep that evening, I donít ever recall her being hateful to us before she married Bill. I donít know if her dissatisfaction in her marriage and resentment towards Bill affected her behaviour towards her children, or if she would have been abusive towards us anyway.