Tracy Porter - The Author
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Our next door neighbours lived in an old wooden house which needed a lot of work. Although I did not know it at the time, they were in fact very poor and needed money desperately. The husband had had several operations for a tumour in his brain, and it was only a matter of time before he would succumb to the tumour and give up his struggle for life. When I moved next door to them the, mother already had about six children and had openly declared that she wanted a dozen. I donít think she was ever able to achieve that goal because her husband had lost his battle to cancer only a few years after I was to become acquainted with their family.
I was soon to make friends with the children next door, and although they were greatly in need financially, I actually preferred their company to that of my own family. The fact that I spent more time at my neighbourís home than that of my own incensed my mother, as jealousy seethed out of her being. She could not stand it that I liked the neighbours and derided me for wanting to be with them. The fact that they were nice people was of no consequence to her.
My mother could not stand it that this family, so desperately in need of money, had a garage sale in order to get rid of a lot of their old things and liquidised their assets. Because I truly liked that family, I sat outside and helped with the sale by watching over her things for her. When the garage sale ended, the lady allowed me to pick one item from what remained. I selected a ceramic figure of a dog that had been injured, which in retrospect seemed quite fitting because that is exactly why I often felt, although I was not able to vocalise such sentiments. Although my mother didnít say a great deal about how I could help that family instead of her, I did overhear at least one sarcastic comment pass her lips about the subject.
The family that resided next door was made up of some very good people. They were very religious; not in that superior ĎIím the only one going to heavení attitude that tends to prevail in some of the more fanatical religions, but they possessed genuine spirituality and compassion for other beings, a quality that is often lacking in even the most pious of individuals. They were such nice people that they even invited us to their church and we attended on a couple of occasions.
There is an old, familiar expression, Ďthe good die youngí. When there is so much greed, selfishness, sterility and depravity on this earth, why was such a good man taken from his wife and children at such an early age when they needed him? The people in my family, on the other hand, had very few honourable attributes, but they just lived on and on, some well into their 80ís.
Thanks to the fact that I had lived with my grandmother for two years, my level of education was at a high enough standard that I was able to attend to my studies with little or no help from my family, not that they could have helped me if they had been so inclined. Although my step-father taught school for a living, he showed absolutely no interest in the academic achievements of any of his step-children. He was not, I might add, a good role model for children. If he couldnít give a damn about his own step-children, how was he expected to care about young people who he did not know? I would like to add at this point that many people fall into teaching and they are not particularly well suited to it. I happen to know a couple of teachers who hate children, so one has to wonder how they treat those children in a classroom environment.
My mother had received such an appalling standard of education and had such a low self esteem that she would never even have dreamed up picking up a book and showing an interest in what I did at school. Whether or not I did any homework at all was absolutely up to me because unless it was a matter of urgency, she simply was not interested in what I did at school.
On only one occasion did my mother ever show any interest in how I was doing at school. One of my teachers must have written her a note telling her that I was falling behind in Science, so my mother took it upon herself to sit with me after school and go over my lessons with me. By this time, however, it was too late because I had lost all respect for her and didnít want to listen to anything she had to say. After that one disastrous attempt at motherly help, she left me to sort my schoolwork myself because it was just too stressful for the both us to have a study session. One thing that particularly upset me was the fact that she was trying to use the Bible to get me to learn, which I found to be quite hypocritical to say the very least.
It was not long after we went back to live on Bunch Road that my mother and Bill decided to go out for the evening. My mother never even gave a second thought to how her children would cope with being left all alone for an evening, as she and Bill left for wherever it was that they were going. Because Granny had never left us unsupervised when we lived with her, we had become unaccustomed to being left to our own devices. As we innocently watched TV on the couch in that insecure trailer, someone knocked at the door. The three of us looked at each other, terrified. What would we do? We were totally unequipped for the fact that someone would actually knock on the door and want to come in. In the Country we were never left on our own and we rarely had unannounced visitors. In our juvenile minds, there sheer terror of the experience left little room for any rational thought. We were sure that whoever was outside, at the other end of the door, surely meant to harm us in some way.
My sister and I ran into the large bedroom that my mother and Bill shared and hid under the bed. Marc had to take command of the situation and therefore decided that the best course of action was to telephone the police. Minutes seemed like hours, as my brother, sister and I huddled together underneath our motherís bed, praying that those individuals at the other end of the door would not harm us. When the police finally did arrive, my brother went to the door and spoke to them.
The police decided that since Bill and my mother did not have the courtesy to even leave a telephone number where they could be reached, they would contact one of my relatives to come and stay with us until our mother returned. When my uncle was summoned by the police, I felt brave enough to venture outside where everyone was speaking. As my eyes gazed toward the ground, I saw a small piece of card that was lying just outside the front. I was not really paying attention to what I was doing as I picked it up, ripped it in half, and let the two segments fall back to the ground where I had found it.
I suppose that my mother and Bill just wanted to die of embarrassment when they came home from wherever it was they had gone to find that the police had been around the trailer. I doubt very seriously that my uncle needed to say anything to my mother. She should have known better than to leave her children home alone, but sadly, she didnít. What is odd is the fact that Bill, being s a sixth grade teacher who should have known better, colluded with my mother to leave her children all alone at night. It is simply amazing to think that a school teacher had so little concern for his step-children that he would leave them alone unsupervised, while he went out with my mother. As unbelievable as it sounds, it really did happen.
My mother found the two segments of the calling card the following day and telephoned the number given. As it turned out, the people knocking on the door were from some church and were merely trying to recruit new members. I can just imagine that my mother gave them a piece of her mind about what they had done because there was no way on earth that she was prepared to admit that she had in some way been negligent by leaving her children all alone in order to go out and socialise. When I found out that my mother complained to the man on the telephone that whoever came to the house had ripped up the calling card and threw it on the ground an anger, I didnít dare say a thing in his defence because I knew that if she found out that I had been the one to tear the calling card in two I would have caught all kinds of hell. I thought is was better that someone else catch my motherís wrath because I was subjected to it often enough.
Since my mother and Bill were not prepared to make arrangements for someone to stay with us when they went out at night, their social activities became very limited indeed, which no doubt put further pressure on their marriage of convenience. The responsibilities of step-fatherhood undoubtedly took its toll on Bill. I suppose he never took into consideration what it would be like to marry a woman who had three children from a previous marriage. He naturally assumed that since we lived in the Country with our grandmother that we would just stay there. He was not prepared to accept another manís children, which was just one of his many character flaws.
It was not long before my mother began her litany of verbal abuse aimed at Candice and me. On one occasion I came home from school to be accused of something that I may or may not have done, and was told by my mother in a very harsh tone that were it not for the fact that my father did not want me, she would make me go live with him because she did not want me either. On another occasion my brother told my mother something that I had said in jest, and my mother replied that I was Ďwarpedí. All of the verbal abuse that I was subjected to inevitably took its toll on my psyche and played a significant part in forming my personality, which is rather depressed on even the best days. My mother called me so many derisive names that I really believed there was something wrong with me.
Although Mama would not leave us in the evenings because she did not want any more trouble with Social Services, if they did in fact exist, she and Bill would still go out for the day without any regard to what me or my siblings were up to. On one of the many occasions that Mama and Bill were away from home the telephone rang. When I picked it up, the person on the other end of the line was obviously trying to sell something, but since I was very naÔve at the time, I had no way of knowing this. He left a strange message that left me quite perplexed, and implied that the family had a chance of winning something.
When my mother come home, in my eagerness to tell her about the phone call that I had taken, I ran up to her in a state of excitement to tell her about it. As I approached my mother, all excited, wanting to tell her about the phone call, she glared, bore her teeth, at me and raised her hand to strike me. I was completely confused by my motherís reaction. As far as I was aware, I had not given her any cause to be angry with me and I certainly did not deserve to be hit. When my motherís offensive behaviour registered in my mind I backed away and returned to whatever it was that I had been doing before she came home. That was the last time that I ever approached my mother in a friendly manner again because I knew that any such attempts would just be met with hostility. In contrast, I could tell my grandmother anything. With the exception of that one time she beat the living daylights out of me for saying ďfuckerĒ, I do not recall her ever being aggressive with me at all. She never even carried through wither threat even carried through wither threat of a spanking when I said that I did not like her. I can only assume that she saw the terror in my eyes when she threatened me because I got quite enough spankings at home.
Not surprisingly, I developed some rather aggressive patterns as response mechanisms for what was happening in my life. Because my mother did not hesitate to use verbal and physical violence against me, I began to perceive it as a perfectly acceptable way to behave. Therefore, one morning when I was getting ready to go to school, Candice said something to me that really annoyed me. In retaliation, I pushed her up against the wall Ė not once, but several times. When Mama and Bill heard the commotion, they got out of their beds to see what the problem was. Naturally, I was punished for pushing my sister against the wall. What no one bothered to ask was why I felt it necessary to resort to violence in the first place. No one asked because deep, down inside everybody knew that my bad behaviour was a response to my bad home life. No one at all thought there was anything at all out of the ordinary to use violence as a way to get oneís way. Is it any wonder, therefore, that I would learn to use violence whenever I became angry.
As early as I can remember, I have always been responsible for getting up and going to school on my own. Although I did not even possess an alarm clock, I was still expected to get up and out of the house in time to catch the bus that took me to school. Mama and Bill did not want their sleep disturbed, so the task was made even more difficult by the fact that my siblings and I were expected to be really quiet so that we didnít wake her up because she needed her beauty sleep.
Because I did not have an alarm clock that would wake me when I needed to get to up every morning, I was forced to get up at least two or three times every night and go into the kitchen and look at the electronic clock that was installed in the oven. I would accomplish this by tiptoeing into the kitchen and turning on a very small light that enabled me to see the time. Amazingly, I only overslept on the rarest of occasions, which I find to be highly commendable for a pre-teen. It should not be surprising to learn, therefore, that as a result of my early conditioning, as an adult I am an incredibly light sleeper who cannot stay in bed for any great length of time. While I try to get eight hours sleep each night, Candice seems to get by on only five or six. I am such a light sleeper that I wake up at 7:00 almost every morning whether I have to go to work or not.
Every morning when Candice and I got up, we would go into the bathroom to brush our hair and teeth. When that was finished we would go into the kitchen and fix a bowl of corn flakes and milk for our breakfast. After we had finished eating, we would then make our lunch, which consisted of a baloney sandwich to take to school. There was never any deviation from this, as our mother was not interested in the least in hearing about what we would like to eat.
I am sure that corn flakes and baloney sandwiches are very good, nutritious foods, but to this day I can barely even look them. I am only able to eat cornflakes about once a year and find it to be quite pleasant. If, however, I decide that they taste so good that I will buy a second box of them, the appeal suddenly wears off and I revert back to my former state of apprehension. I have found that if I fry baloney it is actually quite tasty, but nevertheless am only able to eat very small quantities of it because it brings back the memories of that very unhappy time in my life.
Every now and then we would go as a family to see my motherís parents. Although I was never really close to them, on one particular evening I was having an intimate chat with my grandfather when I discovered he worked at a service station. Knowing full well that candy bars were sold at such places, I begged him to get me some chocolate candy bars because I never got any at home. I must have spoken with such great earnest that I made a huge impression on him because the following day my step-father brought home a bag of candy bars. I donít know whether my grandfather gave them to Bill or if Bill bought them because he was embarrassed because we had to ask other people for candy. When Bill brought the bag of candy into the house he gave me a stern look and told me to never ask my grandfather for candy ever again. Because I viewed Bill as an authority figure I did as I was told. Who was this man who did not even want me sharing his space to tell me what I could and could not do? It seemed that I was not even allowed to ask my grandparents for anything.
It seemed that whenever any punishment needed to be meeted out, Bill was there in full force to inflict whatever pain he deemed appropriate. Bill even had a piece of wood with a handle that he had painted the words, ĎBig Redí onto that he used whenever he wanted to hit us. Bill would use ĎBig Redí on us whenever we committed major crimes like spilling a drink on the table or failing to clean our rooms. As an adult I find it absolutely amazing that Mama gave Bill carte blanche in our punishment because most mothers would go absolutely hysterical if another person hit their children. But then again, my mother was not like most mothers. Years later, I recall Mama declaring to a group of her customers that she never would have allowed her husband to harm us. I donít know what kind of a fantasy world she was living in. My mother allowed her husbands and girlfriends alike do anything they wanted to us.
One time Bill hit Candice with ĎBig Redí just because she had not cleaned the room the way he wanted her to. Evidently, he had given her 10 minutes to clean the room to his specifications and when the room did not meet his criteria he did not hesitate to do what he thought was best Ė and what he thought was best was hitting Candice with a piece of wood just because the room was not tidy enough. I saw Candice sitting in the corner of the room, crying, and could not understand whatever happened to bring her to such a state of despair. Upon reflection, when Candice grew up and had children of her own she did not hesitate to use the threat of violence to get them to obey her. I wonder if the abuse she incurred as a child is in any way related to the way she raised her own children.
One year, on the last day of school, some girls came and asked me if I wanted to walk to the shop with them. Knowing fully well that if I dared to do such a thing without my parentís permission I would be in big trouble, I was hesitant to commit myself to such an endeavour. I am not sure how it came about, but someone suggested that I phone and ask permission. I was not able to get in touch with my mother, so left a message at Billís place of work, which was the school where he taught. Of course, he never returned the telephone call, which meant I was unable to go with my friends to the shops. I thought nothing more of the incident, but when Bill returned home from work that day he told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to phone him at work, ever. It sure didnít take an intellectual dynamo to realise that Bill wanted absolutely nothing to do with his wifeís children. It is odd, really, because most working parents make sure their children have numbers where they can be reached and want them to phone. Our parents, it seemed, did not want us bothering them during the day. It is even more perplexing that they chose to be parents in the first place because they certainly did not act like they wanted children.
My mother was never happy with the people who I befriended at school. I cannot understand this because she only met them on the rarest of occasions. I was not interested in anything my mother had to say because she was so aggressive towards me, and as a consequence let anything she said go in one ear and out the other. I never listened to the negative comments that my mother had about my friends and felt that her unwarranted remarks were intrusive of my privacy and right to choose my own friends. I didnít choose my motherís friends for her and was deeply offended that she should try to tell me who I could and could not be friends with. I just naturally assumed that everyone had minds of their own and could not be so easily manipulated, but it was not until years later that I was to discover that many are easily persuaded by the manipulations of others. I have never been able to understand why my mother took such a dislike to my friends and I can only assume that she did not get along with the mothers of my friends for one reason or another.
Whenever my mother and Bill were at home, I tended to go to a neighbourís house, stay outside, or play in my room. Although I did not realise it at the time, on a subconscious level I suppose I felt that just about anything was preferable to being in their company. Whenever I did go into the living room to socialise, my mother would usually just criticise me. She would complain about my friends or tell me that I was dirty. I must say that all of my motherís derisive comments did wonders for my already incredibly low self-esteem.
My motherís relationship with both Bill and Lela seemed to be deteriorating. Lelaís husband was a pilot and therefore commanded a substantial salary. He had such a nice income that he even gave Lela $1,000 a month housekeeping money. Lela knew that Bill was an elementary school teacher and could not afford to take Mama to the movies, to nice restaurants, and on expensive holidays, and she took advantage of Billís poverty. Lela took Mama on holidays to Galveston and Mexico, just to name a few. In addition, when Bill was teaching night school twice each week, she took Mama to the movies and nice restaurants. Candice and I were always included in these outings and as a result developed a deep liking for Lela because she was able give us a lifestyle that we would not otherwise have achieved.
Bill and Lela shared a deep animosity towards each other, as they both vied for my motherís affections. Although Mama had originally met Bill through Lela, the fact that they were both rivals in love took its toll on Bill, who could not accommodate Mamaís desire for the finer things in life because he commanded such a modest income. He had attended Central High School in Little Rock and had been very popular. He played varsity football and no doubt dated an assortment of pretty girls. My Aunt Eliza, although a couple of years younger than Bill, went to Central High School at the same time he did, and she told me that he was considered to be a BMOC, or Big Man on Campus. I spoke to Bill about that years later, and he told me that he actually felt very socially inept because his father died when he was 5 years old.
Bill served in the Marine Corpse for seven years and was certainly very fit. He told me that part of his training was to run 15 miles at a time. So what was this obviously eligible bachelor who didnít want the responsibility of fatherhood doing with a woman who had three young children that she didnít want, had never finished high school, and was practically illiterate? Well, they say love is blind.
If Lela had been a man then Bill would have known how to compete with her. He was, therefore, completely out of his element, as he watched Lela successfully woo my mother by buying her presents and taking her places. My mother had a taste for the finer things in life and Lela took advantage of her materialistic nature. If a person had the money to provide my mother with the lifestyle that she wanted then it was never difficult to win her heart. My mother was very much a materialist. The only thing my mother has ever wanted was to live in a nice house, eat in nice restaurants, and go on lavish holidays; and Lela had the resources to provide my mother with just that.
When Bill was ever asked by a person what he thought of my mother spending so much time with Lela, his only response was that so long as he didnít have to pay for anything he wasnít particularly bothered what she did. Bill was certainly jealous of Lela, but he did not have the wherewithal to compete with her. He therefore allowed his resentment towards his wife simmer until he eventually decided to look outside the marriage for love. His anger at my mother certainly did nothing to help his relationship with his step-children.
My motherís relationship with Lela was volatile to say the least. While I have never, ever seen my mother engaged in a disagreement with Bill, her rage against Lela at times became extremely violent. On one occasion I witnessed my mother chase Lela around our mobile home with a hot iron and actually burned her forearm. By this time I was so accustomed to my mothers viscous nature that I had become anaesthetised to the severe case of domestic violence that I was witnessed.
A few days later Lela took all of us to Six Flags Over Texas, and when I asked her how she got such a bad burn on her arm she said that she burned it on one of the mammoth slides. Because I was only about 10 years old at the time I believed her feeble excuse. The only thing that I can phantom is that Lela must have been seriously in love with my mother to put up with such hateful, aggressive behaviour. As odd as it sounds, Lela was a victim of abuse from my mother. Although my mother complained bitterly that my father had hit her, she still did not see that violence is no way to solve problems. The only thing that my mother learned from her own parentís and her husbandís battering was how to hurt others. She therefore wasted no time in abusing those who would not fight back, such as LelaÖ.. or her children.
Because my mother was having difficulties with her relationship with Lela and the fact that she married a man she did not love, she developed severe migraines and other health problems, which I believe were psychosomatic in nature. Nevertheless, Candice and I were constantly walking on eggshells trying not to do anything to upset Mama. That was a major task in itself because merely breathing the same air that she did was enough to put her in a tirade which would last for hours. Needless to say, Candice and I stayed out of the house as much as possible because we found the whole situation intolerable. Such an austere domestic situation certainly thwarted our personalities and adversely affected our ability to function out in the world.
I suppose that in the beginning Bill did try to live the family life because in the he and my mother socialised with a couple every weekend. Because money was tight, they alternated going over to each otherís house during the weekend. During these get-togethers, the two couples would tend to play cards or other games. I personally did not get a great deal of enjoyment out of these weekend events because the evening always entailed the eating of mass quantities of refreshments, invariably leaving a huge mess that must be cleaned up. My mother, I would like to add, never lifted a finger around the house. That task was always relegated to her daughters.
When Candice and I went back to live with our mother, she made it quite clear to us that we would be responsible for cleaning the entirety of the house from top to bottom every week. I suppose that my mother didnít see why she should have to lift a finger around the house when she had these children who she didnít want anyway to do it for her. It is because my sister and I were responsible for cleaning that house that I absolutely dreaded that couple coming over to the house because the mess we had to clean up following morning would be absolutely horrendous.
My mother and Bill knew that they would not have to clean up the mess, so they spared no expense when it came to cooking greasy, sticky meals and dirtying up as many dishes as they pleased. The following morning, which was supposed to the day of rest as decreed by Jehovah in the Old Testamentís book of Genesis, I would gaze at the culinary mess and wonder if I had what it took to sort it out. For what seemed like ages, I would sort the dishes into categories, throw out the residual effects of the food, and proceed to wash the dishes and wipe down all of the counters. Amazingly, it never occurred to me not to do it because I knew there would be hell to pay if so much as one speck of grime was left on the table or the counter, or every dish had not been washed and put away.
On Sunday mornings, after I had washed the dishes and cleaned the kitchen so that it was spotless, I would then put on a pretty dress so I could go to church. It never mattered, however, how much effort I put into cleaning the house because it was never good enough. My mother would get out of bed, put on her bathrobe, and go into the kitchen. I have never once received any gratitude whatsoever for all of the cleaning I did for her. No matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough. Because my mother never gave me any words of encouragement to me I never expected it. I suppose my mother saw my sister and me as her own personal slaves. She never wanted us in the first place, so she decided she was going to make us earn our keep. It would be over a quarter of a century before I realised this, but what my mother did was actually a form of child abuse. Treating my sister and me as her own personal slaves who had to be at her beckon call every hour of the day is considered by social workers to the child abuse. It is a pity that no one thought to inform my mother, not that it would have mattered to her.
After I had cleaned the kitchen and dressed for church, Bill would take my siblings and me to Sunday school at Olive Hill Baptist Church, which was located about two miles down the road. After Sunday school we would go to the main church and sit through the hour long sermon, which I felt very uncomfortable with. It was bad enough I had to go home and be yelled at and endlessly criticised, but I hated the fact that every Sunday I had to go to this place and be told that unless I believed exactly what the preacher standing at the pulpit believed then I was going to burn in hell for eternity.
While Mama was supposed to accompany Bill to church, quite often Bill came on his own. I donít think it took an intellectual dynamo to see just how dysfunctional our family was, as we occupied an entire pew at the church. Bill would sit with Mama, his arm wrapped around her; Candice and I would still occupy they same pew, but as far away as possible; and Marc may or may not sit with us because Mama never gave him any directions about what he should or should not do.
One Sunday Bill came to church alone. Candice and I were aware instinctively that something was amiss by Billís stoic demeanour. When we returned home from church, Bill pulled into the driveway, got out of the car and started to walk inside the trailer. Candice and I were not particularly thrilled with the prospect to going into the house and listening to Mama rant and rave about some real or imagined transgression. Since it was a nice day, we loitered outside, not wanted to enter what we knew was a den of horrors. As Bill walked towards the front door, her turned around and made a sarcastic comment to us like, ĎWhatís the matter. You afraid to come inside?í
What kind of question was that? Of course we were afraid to go inside because we knew that whatever was bothering Mama would in one way or another come down to us because were not able to defend ourselves and therefore the lowest common denominator. We were easy targets for Mama to vent her rage on, and we knew it. We were not stupid enough to walk into the house when Mama and Bill were having a domestic.
One day we all went to the Sunday evening service, and a woman stood at the pulpit saying that she had not been to church for the last couple of weeks because some people in the congregation had upset her. The woman then gave a detailed account of all the perceived wrongs that had been done to her, and after the service I overheard my mother telling Bill that she had been the subject of the womanís discontent for some reason. Obviously, Mama was very upset about the fact that some woman who she apparently knew had stood up and in front of the congregation and had spoken ill of her. Today, I find it amazing that such behaviour would be allowed in a church, but it did. People are supposed to go to church to be one with God, not look down their noses at other people. Sadly, however, many churches are used more as social clubs than places of worship.
Obviously, the so-called Christians who formed the church we went to only heeded the parts of the Bible that suited their needs. What would have been the outcome if the people in the church had showed my mother a little brotherly love and helped her when she was in need? Had they never heard Jesus the Christ words, ĎJudge not, lest ye be judgedí? I guess not. After a while Mama stopped going to church. The reason she gave for this was because the other women talked about her because she had been married three times. I donít know what the other women said about her, but it was obviously very upsetting to my mother. Considering the fact that going to church was one of the few things that we did as a family, Mamaís refusal to go probably did our fragile little unit more harm than good, as we slowly began to drift apart. I personally feel that Mama should have held her head up high and went to church anyway, but she chose not to do that.
Mama has always been a very religious person because I can recall her forcing us to watch the Sunday morning television services, hoping somehow to attain salvation I suppose. I think that she honestly believed what we were taught at church and Sunday school, and it is precisely because Mama did have a sense of values that she had such a low self-esteem. Mama had done all of the things that she was told were wrong, and for that she punished herself long after others had forgotten her lack of adequate planning when she was very young.
My mother did do one thing that I did not understand. Whenever she did go to church with us, at the end of the service when the preacher invited people to go to the front of the congregation to have special prayers, my mother would always go to the front of the church and kneel down for the special prayers. I though her behaviour was quite odd but did to dare question it. I have always wondered what could be so wrong that my mother would feel she needed special prayers. Only my mother knows what demons resided in her being that were so pronounced in her being that she felt the call to get special prayers in front of the congregation.
To give Bill credit, I honestly believe that in the early years he did try to make a go of it at times. For instance, one Valentineís Day he actually bought Candice and me heart-shaped boxes with candy inside. On another occasion Bill brought home a book on astronomy for me to read because he knew that I was interested in it. I was so pleased that I read it from cover to cover. It reality, it is those small, insignificant gestures of kindness that really matter in life. Expensive presents that people tend to purchase when they are eaten up with guilt are what my mother often bought me, but after a while she didnít even bother to do that.
While my mother was possessed with the ability to charm the skin off of a snake when she wanted something, she never showed this side of her nature to me. It was not uncommon to come home from school and be accused of making a mess or not cleaning something up. One occasion that is indelibly Marced in my mind is one warm afternoon when I arrived back from school. I cannot remember what major crime that I, a mere 10 year old, was supposed to have committed, but my mother lashed out at me and told me that she didnít want me and would like for my father to take me but he didnít want me either. Now how on earth was I expected to respond to such a rash but honest statement? I was in no position to defend myself and if I had even dared come up with a retort my mother would not have hesitated to use physical violence and justify it as discipline. Even though her scathing comments hurt me to the core of my soul, by this time I was so used to her abuse that I was able to accept the hatred that she had directed specifically at me without even batting so much as an eyelash or shedding a tear. Now that is truly sad when a child stops responding to her motherís verbal abuse.
Because I was so stressed out from having to live with people who clearly did not want me and took every opportunity to make it obvious to me lest, I forget, both my sister and I had developed a habit of rocking. When we were babies, Candice and I tended to rock each other for comfort. My paternal grandmother told me that when Candice and I came to live with her all we would do was lie in our playpen, whimper, and rock each other all day long. This behaviour no doubt stemmed from the fact that our mother never picked us up or showed us any kind of maternal love Ė why should she show us anything other than contempt when we only came into this earth due to the fact that she and my father could not be bothered to use birth control. While this foible was always in the inner core of our being, in times of great stress it was exaggerated. Just like LaToya Jackson, who was also an abused child, I often rock myself to sleep.
I cannot speak for my sister, but when I closed myself up in my room and rocked, I was in my own world. I fantasised about the life that I would like to have and I was in essence in my own little world. I would daydream about being a cheerleader or a member of the drill team. When I was in my own little world, I was capable of anything, but when I returned to reality I was forced to pay over and over again for my motherís mistake and had to knowingly live with the fact that I was not wanted.
My mother must have confided to my Uncle Danny about the fact that Candice and I had a habit of rocking. One warm evening when we were all outside with my uncle, he came up with a profound assertion that children who rocked had mental problems. I could not believe that he had the capacity to say such a thing, and my attitude towards him has never been the same after that thoughtless comment. I was also a compulsive nailbiter at the time as well, so I should consider myself lucky that he didnít try to link insanity with nailbiting while he spoke with such a lack of authority on the subject. In retrospect, considering the fact that I personally witnessed his own daughter repeatedly banging her head against the wall as hard as she could during a temper tantrum, he should have been concentrating on sorting out the mess in his own house before making such callous accusations to my sister and me.
Before Uncle Danny went around telling people that my sister and I were mentally ill because we rocked, I had a high opinion of him because he actually took an interest in us by coming to see us and taking us to church. Needless to say, his estimation in my eyes diminished rapidly and I have never really spoken to him since. It is very difficult for me to speak to people who accuse me of being disturbed. I may be damaged through years of abuse and neglect, but I am not disturbed. It was my tormentors who were disturbed. Only a disturbed person could harm an innocent child.
If my mother was so concerned about the fact that my sister and I rocked ourselves to sleep that she found it necessary to confide in other people, who subsequently labelled us Ďmentally illí, then why didnít she take us to the doctor to see if there was any physical reason for our behaviour, such as epilepsy maybe? My mother would never take us to the doctor because that meant she would have to invest time and resources into helping us with our problems. If my mother tried to understand why we rocked then she would have been forced to come to terms with the part she played in making us nervous wrecks. Deep down inside, my mother probably knew why we rocked but could not admit the reason to herself, much less anyone else. It was much easier for my mother to invest as little energy as she possibly had to in the lives of her children, which would leave her plenty of time to pursue all of the pleasures and happiness in her own life. Her pursuit of her own personal gratification would, however, prove to be her downfall. Although she was drunk from her own indulgences and indiscretions in her younger years, by the time she had reached middle age her past had caught up with her. At the age or 50 she had become clinically depressed and has been on doctor prescribed drugs ever since, so she would not have to think about her less than honourable deeds in the past. Although she never thought she would have to reap what she sowed, she was very sadly mistaken.
When it became apparent to my mother that Bill would not be able to provide for her in the manner what she wanted, she was forced to go back to work. She saw Billís inability to give her an adequate standard of living to be a personal insult and was no doubt just one of many reasons that their marriage has ended up in such a shambles. I suppose that because my mother has never bothered to pick up a newspaper or read anything any more intellectually stimulating than True Love or Real Story, it never occurred to her that teachers in Arkansas, and the rest of the world for that matter, are very poorly paid. If she had bothered to enquire about Billís financial standing then I doubt very seriously that Mama would have even given him the time of day, much less contemplating marrying him. In the words of Madonna, my mother was and is a Ďmaterial girlí.
In the early days of their marriage, I suppose that Mama and Bill tried to make a go of their marriage of convenience. Because Bill could not afford to take Mama on expensive holidays, we went places where very little outlay was required. One time we stayed in one of my motherís customerís trailers in Texas for a week. On another occasion we went up to Niagara Falls to visit my motherís sister for a week. Since those were the only two excursions we ever went on as a family, I can only assume that the strain of their marriage was too much for the both of them to attempt any more family holidays outings.
When Mama went back to work it was initially on a part-time basis for a salon in Little Rock. Eventually she decided to convert the single-wide that we had lived in when I was in the first grade to her own beauty salon. When Mama opened up her shop I suppose it was very successful because she had a large clientele from the local area. With the money she earned she was able to pay for Candice and me to attend piano lessons. I never wanted to take piano lessons and considered it a burden because I was forced to practice an hour each day. Evidently my sister expressed an interest in it, so my mother therefore decided that it was something that both of us must do.
Even after all of the money my mother spent to pay for lessons, I have never been a particularly good pianist. I personally know that people who have been given much less instruction than me and have performed far better at the keyboard. While I have a cousin who actually has a PhD in music and other relatives who can play to a very high standard, I have never been musically gifted. I felt my mother must surely be a bit of a sadist to force me to practice all those hours and endure the monotony of lessons every week when it was quite clear to my teacher that my mother could be utilising her expertise on more capable students. But we are all out to make as much money as possible, so I went back week after week, even though I was not interested in the least in it.
My mother needed someone to answer the telephones and to help her out on Saturdays, which was her busiest day of the week. Candice and I were initially supposed to take turns helping Mama out in the shop. One week I would work in the shop and Candice would clean house, and the following week Candice would work in the shop and I would clean house. That little arrangement didnít last long, however, as I was only allowed to go to the shop and answer telephones for one week, and thereafter I was expected to spend all day Saturday cleaning house while my sister sat in the shop helping my mother. No doubt, my motherís inability to treat all of her children equally caused a great deal of animosity and served to further alienate the members of our family. My mother didnít have a clue in the world about how to treat children, yet miraculously, she was allowed to keep us.
I was very jealous of Candice because she always seemed to get more affection from Mama that I did. Although my mother swears on a stack of Bibles that she treated all three of her children the same, I did not feel this to be the case. Whenever I was sick with a cold, my mother insisted that I stay in the house all day long regardless of how much I wanted to go outside and play. Candice, on the other hand, was allowed to go outside and play with the other children even when she was supposedly sick. Such preferential treatment did not go unnoticed and I found it to be very unfair. As a result of my motherís unequal treatment of her children, I was loathe to tell anyone when I was not well because I absolutely dreaded the thought of being confined to bed, not being allowed to go outside.
Because I had been put in this alien environment where I had absolutely no say in anything in my environment, I began to display some rather aggressive tendencies that had not been apparent before. When I got in a fight with my sister I would kick and scratch her to defend myself. Of course, Candice would start crying and say that she was going to tell our mother: the fact that she often instigated the skirmishes was totally irrelevant in her way of thinking. Because Mama tended to favour Candice over me, I did not want her to tell our mother that I had kicked her because I knew that my mother would resort to physical violence to solve the problem. My motherís way of showing me that violence does not solve problems was to use violence, absurd, isnít it.
On one occasion Candice and I got in a fight and I bit her. Candice felt the harm she had influenced onto me was totally irrelevant and went straight to Mama to tell her what I had done. My mother never bothered to find out what had transpired to cause the raucous, but instead yelled at me and bit me in retaliation for having bitten my sister.
As all of this was going on, my mother never bothered to question why I was behaving in such a way. Perhaps she did not want to delve too closely into my psyche because she would then have to acknowledge her role in the total mess that I was becoming. If I was violent and aggressive, it was because she taught me to be that way.
My mother has also been a bit old fashioned in her approach to child rearing. In her rather immature mind she felt that since boys could not get pregnant, however, then they could do just about anything that they wanted. Because girls could get pregnant, their activities needed to be closely supervised. For this reason my brother was in the fortunate position to be able to come and go as he pleased, and my mother never so much as asked one question about what he might be getting up to.
Marc, probably the more stable of the three of us, took advantage of my motherís attitude and was always away from home. He got a job at the local golf club, which enabled him to be away from home most of the time as well as earn his own money because none would be forthcoming from my mother or Bill. As soon as Marc had earned enough money, he purchased his own motorcycle and achieved the freedom that he longed for. He could come and go as he pleased, and no one cared enough enquire of his whereabouts. I so envied my brother because his physical anatomy gave him the freedom that I longed for but would have to wait several years to acquire.
The one thing in this world that I absolutely yearned for was a dog of my own. We had Flu Flu, a miniature poodle, but he was most definitely Mamaís dog. Mama and her friend Lela had decided to get poodles, so Mama got Flu Flu and Lela got Fe Fe. Mama absolutely adored Flu Flu, and sometimes I thought that she loved him more than her own children; she certainly paid more attention to him. One Sunday when we all piled into the car and drove to my grandmotherís house, I wanted to go out and wait in the front yard. Evidently, when I got out of the car and closed the front door, it shut on Flu Fluís foot. While I was completely unaware of what was going on, my mother wasted no time in rushing over to give me a spanking and a sharp talking to for hurting her dog. The fact that it was an accident was of no consequence, and of course my whole day was ruined to have been hit and berated yet again for something I did purely by accident. Actually, the fact is that my mother resented me breathing the same air that she did and even if I had been a perfect child in every way she still would have found reason to criticise me.
I dreamed of having my own dog and even tried to construct an imaginary gate in the back yard where it would stay unharmed. Maybe it is because I prayed with such earnest that my dreams were answered, but one day a female puppy came into my life. This young dog, specially bred for fighting, had been severely abused and abandoned in our street. Maxine, as we were to later name her, was initially such a timid animal that she was even afraid of our motherís toy poodle, Flu Flu. Although I am sure that my mother did not want to be bothered with Maxine, because she could see how much we adored the animal and wanted her to stay at our home, she relented just that once to allow us to have something that did not fit in with her lifestyle. In esoteric circles it is a well known premise that the part is a reflection of the whole, so it could not have been merely a coincidence that an abused, neglected dog came into the sphere of existence to accompany abused, neglected children.
When I was in the fifth grade I befriended Carol and Tammy, both of whom lived on Bunch Road as well. Every day after school I went to their house and played, and felt that it was so nice to have friends. Until we were in the sixth grade all three of us were friends, and we had some good times together after school. It was in the sixth grade that Carol and Tammy both decided that they wanted to be friends with each other, but not with me, and I therefore received one of my first social snubs that I can recall. To tell you that it hurt was an understatement because I could not see that I had done anything wrong and could not understand why they would not want to play with me anymore. As far as I am aware, Carol and Tammy stayed fast friends at least through high school, but I was unfortunately forced through circumstance to move on and make other acquaintances. Although I will never know this for certain, I believe that some aspects of my motherís private life were the cause of Carol and Tammy rejecting me the way they did. I believe their mothers must have told them they were not allowed to play with us anymore.
One day when I was about 12 years old, one of the girls at school let me try on some lipstick. I was so elated to cover my lips with this red colouring, which I felt gave life to my rather bland face. I was so pleased, in fact, that when I came home from school and went into my motherís shop to say hello, I still had the remnants of this moment of joy on my face. As my mother studied me, she gave me a disapproving look, as she questioned me about what I was wearing. After I proudly told my mother that I was wearing lipstick that one of the girls from school had let me put on, my mother glibly informed my that I was not allowed to wear make-up until I was 13 years old. Although I was hurt and disappointed, I did as she wished and took the lipstick off. Although my birthday was less than a year away, it seemed like an eternity for me as I counted the days until I was 13 and would be able to wear make-up. I wanted to earnestly to be able to wear make-up like the other girls in my school, but at the same time I did not want to go against my mothers wishes. Although my mother never took any time to get to know me as a person, she tried to control every aspect of my life, which included my friends, the clothes I wore, make-up I wore, and what I ate.
When I reached that magical age, I was finally able to wear the colours on my face that I had always dreamed of. Possibly due to a past incarnation, I always had a penchant for the Egyptian look, and absolutely adored heavy eye make-up. Blue was my favourite colour, and wore quite a lot on my eyes to enhance them. I even received compliments from the other girls at school about it, so it must not have looked too bad if other girls would make positive comments.
My mother, however, always imposing restriction upon restriction on me, did not like my choice of make-up at all, and rashly declared that I would not be allowed to wear make-up until I was 15. I was heartbroken that my mother could go back on her word without any hesitation whatsoever. There was nothing I could do, however, because if I dared say one word about how she had broken yet another promise, she would not have hesitated to use violence against me. Instead, I ran to my room and cried relentlessly. What more could I do? I suppose even my mother realised that she was being unreasonable and later came back and said I had to wait two months before I could wear my make-up again. So happy that my mother had changed her mind and commuted her sentence, I counted the days until the two months had transpired. It never dawned on me to disobey my mother, and I never even pondered how she could be so inconsistent in meting out punishment. My mother never set clear boundaries, and it seemed to me that she had one rule for me and one rule for everybody else.
When I graduated from the sixth grade, I left Mablevale Elementary School and advanced to Mablevale Junior High school. At this new school I was allowed to select the subjects that I would like to take and had my heart set on a few. When I expressed my wishes to my mother, she interfered, as usual, and told me that I could not take band, but must take Spanish. While I was very disappointed, I went ahead and signed up for the classes that she preferred because I feared what type of anger I might incur should I disobey her. Although my mother took little or no notice of me, she still thought she had the right to dictate what I could and could not study in school. The problem is that she did. I was too afraid of her to disobey her. Hardly an ideal setting for a healthy mother/daughter relationship.
As I entered the seventh grade at a new school, I felt very self conscious. I was no longer playing with children, but found myself in the company of teenagers who had come from other schools, I did not have a choice as to what classes I could take because my mother had made the decision for me. Of course, if I had had a more defiant personality I would have overridden my motherís preferences and taken the classes that appealed to me, but I was still at that stage in my life where I wanted to please her and make her happy.
I didnít feel that I fitted in to my new environment because I still wore bobby socks instead of the knee-high socks that everyone else wore. In addition to being the source of much amusement from the older children about my dress sense, I was also made to feel like an oddity because I had not yet discovered the razor. One of the girls, who was undoubtedly abused herself because she bullied other children, made some rather sarcastic comments about the fact that I had hairy legs on a regular basis. I was so embarrassed about being laughed for not having shaven legs that I went home and used my step-fatherís razor to remedy the problem. After a few cuts and nicks, I was soon to get the hang of it, and began frequently shaving my legs. Bill, however, was not too amused about this and told me to get my own razor. I would have gladly purchased my own razor, but I did not have any money to get one.
After a while I began to get settled in to the rhythm of junior high school. I started to make some friends from the new faces that had appeared in my life. One person in particular was Sherry, who came to play an important part in the unfolding of my life script.
My two best friends were Sherry and Linda. We stayed friends throughout the seventh, eighth and ninth grades, but thereafter our friendship fizzled out due to the fact that we did not have any classes together and had other interests in life. Even though I was only an adolescent, I already had a reputation as being rather weird. Linda told me that people at school would come to her and tell her that if she was not friends with Sherry and myself, she would be very popular. Sherry also confided to me that people at school told her that if she was not friends with Linda and myself, she too would be very popular. Ironically, no one ever came to me and told me that I would be popular if I was not friends with this or that person, but then again I have never been the type of person to allow my desire for popularity to overrule the people I wanted to be friends with. Linda eventually moved to another school and we lost touch, but Sherry, ever the mercenary, eventually distanced herself from me, because she wanted to hang out with the popular people and didnít want me to cramp her style. Years later, I was to meet up with Linda again and she swore to me that she never told me that she would be popular if she had not been my friend. Because I trust her, I have to believe what she told me, but I felt certain that I was keeping Sherry and Linda from being popular and having lots of friends.
The one class I absolutely hated was Physical Education. I was overweight, clumsy and lacked confidence, and therefore found this daily class to be such a drudge. Group sports were always a total disaster, as I was always the last one to be selected for any teams, thus further undermining any confidence that I may have had. My brother did not fare much better because he was forced to drop the football team and take PE during the same hour as me due to the fact that he had injured his ankle. Although my brother took the same PE class I did, he never spoke to me once during the entire year. Sometimes I would watch him from afar, but I would never dare do such a thing as to speak directly to my own brother even when we were in the same class. My brother and I may as well have lived in separate countries for the level of rapport that we were able to maintain. We never spoke to each other inside or outside of the home.
When I was in the seventh grade Sherry introduced me to her brother, Stephen. For some reason Stephen took an interest in this awkward, overweight adolescent and a romance soon developed. Every day before and after school I would see him, and I soon became quite fond of him. He was my boyfriend for about two months when, as suddenly as it began, he broke up with me. I was totally stunned and could not understand what had happened to make him decide that he did not like me anymore. In my confusion I asked Sherry why he had decided to break up with me, and evidently he told me that I was Ďimmatureí. Her comments hurt, but in retrospection I suppose that I was immature considering the fact that I was only 12 years old.
His rejection nevertheless left me extremely confused and it was apparent to all that I was very hurt by what had happened. Even my mother could see how lovelorn I was, and in one of her rare attempts at tenderness, tried to soothe the pain by relating to me one of her childhood experiences of unrequited love. Although this tale did nothing to heal the enormous tear in my soulís heart, I was nonetheless touched by her concern, which, I might add, was very rare indeed.
It was at the end of the seventh grade that my mother had bought another house and informed us that we were all moving. Although one of my motherís favourite pass-times was to go looking at houses on her days off, I was nonetheless surprised when she announced her plans. Not that it mattered, I would have appreciated having been told before the event, but as always my mother did exactly whatever she wanted to do and expected others to fit in with her plans. Considering the fact that I was only 13 at the time, there is not much that I would have been able to do about any of my motherís decisions, but it would have nevertheless have been nice to have seen the property that I would be moving into.
On the day of the move my sister and I were instructed to go directly home from school, where my mother would be waiting for us. When we arrived home, my mother had made us peanut butter sandwiches to eat for dinner. Well, I was not fond of peanut butter on the best of days, so I can tell you that it was not one of my most enjoyable meals, but as I pensively ate what my mother had hastily prepared, she snapped at me to hurry up and finish it. Her harsh words hurt me, because not only was I being told to eat something that I did not find palatable, I was also being yelled at because I was not eating it as quickly as I should. As usual, I was cramping my motherís style because she had a hundred and one things that she would rather be doing than spending time with me and pretending to be a mother. I could tell that this move was going to be getting off to a good start already.