Tracy Porter - The Author
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When Bill dropped me off at Grannyís, that was that. He emptied all of my things out onto the front yard and was gone just as quickly as he had arrived. His only function was to dump me off at my grandmotherís house so. Bill could not wait to get back to the bizarre lifestyle that he lived with my mother and Bobbie on Colonel Glenn Road. It is so easy to imagine him being a decent guy for taking me to my grandmotherís, but he got something out of it or he never would have offered. He got peace and quiet, and one of the children out of the house.
When I arrived at Grannyís it was somewhat of a whirlwind, as I did not know exactly what was going on. No one really wanted to talk about what had happened to me, so I tried to settle in to my new home. I was given a bedroom that had been used as a storage place of sorts but I suppose it was better than nothing. Among other things, it contained an engine that my father had intended to re-build as well as all sorts of other odds and ends.
I had to leave my boyfriend behind in Little Rock, but I wasted no time in telephoning him as soon as I got myself settled into my new accommodation. Little Rock was about 20 miles from Hensley, but it seemed like another state away as far as I was concerned because I did not have any transportation to go where I would like to go. What I missed the most was the fact that I had to give my job up because I did not want to ask anyone to give me a ride to work.
I was, however, permitted to finish my summer school class, as I had already started it and I only had a couple of weeks to go. My aunt was kind enough to give me a ride in every morning and I suppose that I had to make my own arrangements with regard to getting home, which was fine with me because I wanted to spend time with my new boyfriend.
One will never know what my life could have been like if my mother had treated me with a little decency and respect. Now that I had been forced to live with my grandmother in what I considered to be the outbacks of Arkansas, I felt alienated and alone. Had it not been for all of these circumstances combined my life may have turned out completely different. I may very well have grown up to be a happy, well-adjusted woman.
My Aunt Ida and Uncle Duncan had come down to visit for a short while, and they were kind enough to ask me to stay with them for a couple of weeks. I went to Texas and stayed for a couple of weeks and had an okay time. During that time I went out with my cousins, who were very nice to me. I spoke in depth to my aunt about my life, and generally chilled out for a couple of weeks.
During that stay I got close to my cousin, Greg. Nothing became of it because he was, after all, my cousin. In retrospect however, I am sure that my aunt was not pleased in the least that I had gotten close to him. We were both 16 and I felt there was a great deal of chemistry between us, but since we were cousins we both knew that any liaisons that occurred would be frowned upon. Although I could never speak about it to anyone, I was a bit disappointed when Greg developed a liking to one of my other cousinís friend who I considered to be tall and lanky.
One thing Greg told me, which did not quite register at the time, was that his friend had committed suicide by taking a gun and shooting himself in the head. I could not understand what would possess someone to do such a thing and had no words to express sympathy. That was the first time in my life I had ever heard of a young person taking his own life.
At the end of the stay I came back to Arkansas to try to piece together what had become of my young life. I found out later that when I was in Texas my boyfriend had gone to visit someone who I thought was a friend, Sherri. Evidently they just sat on the swing and chatted and as I was so naÔve at the time I believed what I had been told. I will, of course, never know what really went on between the two.
While I was at my grandmotherís house, I was to learn that my brother had to go back into the hospital. Evidently all the efforts that had been made to save his leg were in vain, and they were going to have to amputate his leg. So, in addition to all that was going on my personal life, I also had to deal with the fact that my brother was losing his leg. I was having a great deal of difficulty coping with what was going on in my life.
Because my boyfriend, Mike, was the only link that I had to my old life, I clung on to him in desperation. I cannot help thinking that I was somehow thrown into his arms because I felt like I had no one else. It seems that my only lifeline to normality and the life that I had once known was Mike.
The fact that my mother was so opposed to me spending any time with the male gender whatsoever meant that I did not feel comfortable with my boyfriends coming to see me at home. As a result of my anxiety, when he did come to visit, I took him to the laundry room for some privacy because I did not know how my relatives would react when they realised that a young man was visiting me. I just assume they would be angry because that was how my mother always reacted. When Mike left, my grandmother told me that it was okay for me to entertain my boyfriends in the house and did not need to take him to the laundry room. I am sure she was just as amazed that I was afraid to have men in the house as I was that I was actually allowed to bring them home.
Except for being with my boyfriend, all I wanted to do that summer was lay in bed and listen to music. Such behaviour was not surprising, however, considering what I had been through. Other people, however, were not that sympathetic to me trying to come to terms with my traumatic experience. While I liked The Who, my grandmother did not and told me so one morning when she was very angry with me for listening to music all day long. I donít know what upset her so, but she told me that she did not want me listening to loud music any more, and if I did not like it then I could just go back to my motherís house. I was upset by her comments because I had not done anything to anyone except be myself and listen to the music, which seemed to be all the comfort that I had in the world. I wish it was just a simple matter of going back to my mother, but after the way she treated me I did not even consider that an option. Wild horses could not drag me back to that house.
My grandmother was not particularly thrilled that I wanted to spend so much time with Mike, but he was all that I had. On a couple of occasions I asked if I could go out with him, and my grandmother categorically said no. I was upset with her for doing such a thing, and did not understand what her motives were. I am sure that my grandmother thought I was spending too much time with Mike, but he was all I had.
One day when I was home alone with Granny all day long, she told me about how my mother behaved when I was very young. The things that my grandmother said were not very complimentary to my mother, and tears streamed down my eyes as I had to listen. It pained me to listen to my grandmother relate to me my motherís evil deeds, but I was not incredibly surprised. I had first hand experience of what my mother was really like.
One thing my grandmother said that has always stood out in my mind was the fact that my brother confided to my grandmother that my mother had left him alone in a house for three days unattended. While I was horrified at what my grandmother told me, I do not disbelieve her because I can remember my mother leaving us unsupervised on several occasions. In later years my sister was extremely upset when she found out that my mother had dropped my niece off at the swimming pool all day long so she would not have to look after her. With these factors in mind, I can believe that my mother would do such a thing.
My grandmother also told me that whenever my brother soiled his diapers, my mother would take a water hose and spray him down as punishment. As hateful as such behaviour was, I can believe that she would do something like that because my mother has stated on many occasions that Ďshe had to change our dirty diapersí. I grew up being made to feel guilty because my mother had to change my diapers, but I have never heard any other mother make such complaints about her children because changing diapers simply goes along with the territory. My mother also had a severe aversion to dirt, which caused her to behave in rather extreme ways.
It soon came time for me to register for school, something I was not looking forward to. I would have to go to Sheridan High School with many people who I did not know. In addition, the school was several miles away, which meant that I would have to ride a school bus for about 45 minutes in the morning and the afternoon just to attend school every day. If all of those combined factors were not bad enough, Sheridan High School was not very big and did not have any classes that I liked.
My Aunt Eliza, meaning well, suggested that I taking driving lessons all over again, but this was something that I did not want to do because I had just completed the course at McClellan High School. My Aunt got angry with me for not taking what she considered to be good advice, and yelled, Ďwell, piss on youí as she stormed out the door. Did it seem that everyone in my family resorted to obscenities and accusations in order to get their point across? Why did people in my family become hostile and aggressive at the slightest provocation?
Aunt Eliza had problems of her own and as a result took some pleasure in stepping on my already battered ego at almost every opportunity. Her husband had lost his business and home because of some rather traumatic experiences, and the entire family was forced to move in with my grandmother as well, bringing the total number of people under one roof to eight. Eight people all living together can affect take its toll on even the closest family, so it is amazing that the amount of disputes in the house were minimal.
I can imagine that Aunt Eliza already felt low considering the fact that she was forced to move back in with her mother due to circumstances beyond her control. My grandfather had given them a piece of land to build a new house, and she spent a great deal of time at the house doing odd jobs to get it liveable. In retrospect, I could have offered to help her out, but I was so wrapped up in my own problems that it never even dawned on me to do such a thing. My mother had taught me to be a very selfish person.
Granny was not in much better condition. She rose at about 4.00am each morning to fix a huge breakfast for my grandfather before he went to work at the local lumber mill, and went back to bed the second he walked out the door. Granny would not get up until at least 10.00 each morning, and when she did, she merely put on a dress and made herself comfortable in her favourite reclining chair, where she would knit, read and watch TV all day long.
Needless to say, the house was an absolute mess when I went there to live. One of the major complaints my mother had about Granny was the fact that the house was so dirty. Grannyís reply was always the same, Ďpeople come to see the person and not the houseí. Well, I agree with Granny that people should come to see her and not her house, but the fact that it was such a mess all of the time was no good for anyoneís state of mind. Considering the fact that one of the first signs of depression is the slacking of cleanliness and hygiene, I can only assume that Granny suffered from depression as well.
Although I was not aware of this at the time, depression runs in my family. My Aunt Mae was said to have had a nervous breakdown when she was 5 years old, and she suffered from depression her entire life, even having shock therapy treatment on several occasions. My grandmother must have been at least mildly depressed because she just sat around the house all day long, watching television, reading books, or knitting. She also suffered from diabetes, which is linked with depression as well. My father, although never admitting to depression, must have had some sort of mental disturbance because he lived in a shack that had no heat, no toilet facilities, and had not been cleaned in 12 years. And then there was me.
When I initially moved in with my grandparents, I got this wild idea that I was going to clean the house. What I did not realise, however, was that a house can only stay clean with the concerted efforts of everyone who resides there. Therefore, if no one else wanted a clean house then it just would not happen.
My first attempt in sorting out the filth was to mop the floor. I was so proud of myself when I swept it and filled the mop bucket with soapy water. As I began mopping, however, the nice sudsy water immediately turned black from the grime that had lain dormant on the linoleum floor for what must have been years. Not to let such filth deter me, I kept up my vigil to get that floor clean once and for all. After I had moped the same floor at least three times in succession I was forced to resign myself to the fact that the dirt must have made its initial appearance on the year I was born. Although I hated to admit defeat, I had to on this occasion because there was absolutely nothing I could do to remove the residual effects of living in the countryside.
The next challenge I decided to undertake was the bathroom. I donít know the last time it had been cleaned, but I am sure that there were bottles in the medicine cabinet that dated back to at least the 1950ís. I kid you not, but the metal wastebasket in the bathroom had rusted through the bottom so it was pointless using it anyway. Not to be deterred, I cleaned the toilet, sink, and bathtub. I then went to work on the bottomless pit called the medicine cabinet and got rid of all of those medications that should have been thrown away years earlier. When I had completed my work I looked in awe at a sparkling bathroom that one could be proud of. All of the hard work I had put in was in vain, however, as the very next day no one would have been able to recognise that it had ever been cleaned at all.
I have never had any qualms whatsoever with washing up, so would endeavour to clean the kitchen whenever I could. Although this seemed like an easy task, it was not. It seemed that while people liked to cook and eat, washing dishes was something that was always forgotten about. Therefore, whenever I washed dishes it seemed like a monumental feat because the dishes had piled up for days. In addition to the massive build-up of eating paraphernalia, the kitchen was so cluttered that it was difficult to allocate a storage place for the dishes after they had been washed.
One thing that I have always found sickening was chewing gum. Although I have never been an avid chewing gum connoisseur, by the age of 12 this was one substance that I did not want anywhere near me. . My motherís favourite flavour is cinnamon and she can be seen shamelessly chomping her favourite brand at any time of the day or night. Perhaps on a psychological level, since I do not like my mother as a person, I associate chewing gum with her and therefore view it so negatively.
I do not have a problem with people who chew gum just so long as they donít offer me any or try to kiss me. What I do find abhorrent is people who have this utterly disgusting habit of taking their old gum out and sticking it to the bottom of tables and chairs when they have no further use for it.
On day that summer I was appalled to discover that someone, I donít know who, had actually taken a piece of chewing gum and put it under a chair in my grandmotherís house. The discovery that I was living with people who I considered to be a bunch of filthy pigs horrified me. I do not consider myself to be an overly fastidious person, but I should not have to live with people who have such little regard for cleanliness and hygiene that they are going to put their old chewing gum on the bottom of chairs and tables!
Why is it that there could never be any happy mediums in my life? My mother was obsessed with cleanliness and hygiene, and insisted that my sister and I keep her house spotless. Although Mama had rather rigid expectations of her children with regard to housekeeping, the fact is I donít find her to be that particularly hygienic herself. She does not bathe every day and does not clean the house herself. My grandmother was the exact opposite, as rubbish could pile up for days or weeks before anyone would take any notice. Can it come as no surprise, therefore, that not long after I went to live with Granny that I developed a mild compulsion to wash my hands?
When the autumn came I was forced to attend a new school. This was not an activity that I enjoyed because I after all I had been through I was hesitant to meet new people. I did make one friend and I was even allowed to stay over at her house one evening. As fate would have it, one morning we got in a disagreement about something trivial and the friendship dissolved. Therefore, I did not have any friends at school as a consequence of this falling out.
I suppose that while I was trying to maintain a semblance of normality during this difficult time of transition, I needed someone to be there for me while my life was falling to pieces. I sought solace in my boyfriend, Mike, who took me places and showed an interest in me.
After we had gone out together for about four months I had tired of the games that teenage girls play with young men. On a nice, warm September afternoon Mike had picked me up after school and drove me to a secluded gravel road that had been used by the lumber mill. Because I was so alone and vulnerable in my new environ, I suppose I wanted to do something that would enable me to be close to another person.
On that afternoon I therefore decided that I would like to lose my virginity to Mike. As far as I was concerned, what happened between us was no big deal. Other people, however, would have had different ideas if they had known what we got up to all those evenings in the back seat of his car. Raised in the Bible belt of Arkansas, the religious fanatics who frequented prostitutes and molested their daughters would be outraged to learn that I had premarital sex with a young man who I wasnít related to.
As far as the fundamentalist Christians who ruled my life were concerned, I had just committed a mortal sin and should be punished accordingly. Therefore, instead of being pleased with myself for making my mind up to do something that had been on my mind for quite some time, I felt guilty. I knew that other people would not see my point of view any more than they had the first 16 years of my life. My decision to have sex with Mike simply reinforced my self loathing and sense of unworthiness.
When I passed my driving test I purchased an old, beat-up car for $400. It was truly a piece of junk and broke down within a month of me having it. My grandparents were not happy that I bought the car, but there was nothing they could do after the deed had been done. My grandmother later told me that my grandfather would have helped me to get a nice car if that is what I wanted. Because I had been left to take care of myself for so long, the idea that someone would actually do something for me without a hidden agenda seemed totally alien. I am sure that my grandparents were just as perplexed with me as I was with them.
One day I went with my grandfather to Benton to register that piece of junk called a car. Although my grandfather has never been one to express his opinions because he engrossed himself in his work as a means of coming to terms with the events that life had thrown his way, on this particular morning he seemed to be particularly upset about my uncle.
My grandmother had taken my aunt and her family in after they had financial difficulties just as she took me in after my mother was finally successful in getting me out of her life. It seems, however, that my grandfather had little say in the matter and was expected to make the best of a bad situation. My grandfather, however, was not happy in the least about the fact that my uncle continued to drink a case of beer each day after everything that had transpired. As my grandfather spent the morning complaining about my uncle I was amused to find that he was human after all. In all this time I had never heard my grandfather complain about anything.
My grandfather was what one would call a consummate workaholic. Even at the age of 72 he went to work at the local lumber mill each day. When he arrived home from work he wasted no time walking across the road to do whatever needed to be done on the 80-acre farm we lived on. I suppose that work was therapeutic for him, as he was able to lose himself in whatever it was he was doing and eventually work out any problems that he may have had at the time through the process of manual labour. Even thought my grandfather was well past his three score and ten year age limit, he was in better physical condition than many men half his age.
My grandfather died of a heart attack less than a year after that one day I had spent with him. I suppose that on an esoteric level he had accomplished all that he had set out to, and it was his time to evolve via that transformative stage we call death. If we all lived our lives as simplistically as my grandfather did then the world invariably be a much better place to exist indeed.
After I had purchased my car I proceeded to get a job a Casa Bonita in Little Rock. I had heard that one of the girls who I attended class with had gotten a job there, so I wasted no time in securing one for myself. For a 16 year old I had a great deal of confidence because I walked in to the establishment and asked to see the manager. He interviewed me on the spot and gave me a job. So pleased was I that I had landed a job at Casa Bonita, Mike decided to get a job there as well.
The Casa Bonita experience taught me that I am absolutely no good at waitress roles. I was always being called aside and spoken to about one thing or another because I was not very good at the job. I also never managed to complete all of the training courses that I was supposed to attend in order to work there, which served to further alienate me from the manager.
I had not seen Mike for several days, so one evening when we were both scheduled to work we went into one of the toilets for a session of passionate kissing. Other people, however, were not too amused, and they banged on the door for us to open it. I was so embarrassed that I simply did not know what to do, and just froze. Eventually everyone went away and I was allowed to leave the toilet in peace. What a coincidence that not long after that incident the manager gave me a final warning for not having my hair pinned up when I went to look at the work schedule. I was so upset that I never went back to work there after the manager gave me my final warning.
I did not like Sheridan High School at all and did not want to stay there any more than I absolutely had to. Because I had taken so many classes in the 9th and 10th grades. I had accrued enough credits so that my 11th grade could be my final year. I thought it was a fabulous idea and made an appointment to see the school counsellor.
As I sat across the desk from this woman who was employed by the school to look after my best interests, I broke down into tears as she refused my request. I was told that it may be true that I had enough credits to finish school in the 11th grade, she made it a policy not to allow students to graduate earlier than the 12th grade because she felt they were not mature enough. Somehow, we got onto the subject of my pathetic home life and although she was sympathetic and had a box of tissues that I was free to use, she was adamant that she would not allow me to finish school early. I am surprised that this woman did not inform Social Services of my plight because it should have been clear to her and everybody else that I was a battered child.
Mike came from a family that was almost as dysfunctional as my own and I suppose that is why we were drawn to each other because we could empathise with each otherís experiences. Mikeís father was very volatile and generally got what he wanted in life by being a bully. Mikeís mother had an eating disorder and as a result, was very overweight. His father was not very sympathetic to her problems, and on occasion even stayed home all day long so that she could not eat anything, no doubt causing a great deal of resentment on her part.
I guess because I had to listen to my mother and father harp on about being overweight all the time, I picked up on this obsession with weight. Although I was overweight myself, on one occasion I parroted the words of my parents and actually said that I did not like fat people. I honestly donít know what possessed me to say such a thing because I was overweight myself and in essence was saying that I did not like myself, which was very true. I can only attribute such callousness to the environment that I had been raised in because it was an extremely insensitive comment for me to make. Nonetheless, I did nothing to endear myself to Mikeís mother and she obviously took offence to my words.
Christmas was soon approaching and I wanted to stay with my boyfriend during that time. His family was going to Illinois for the holiday season and Mike would be allowed to stay in Arkansas with me. I was very happy that we were going to have our first Christmas together. Since he was my first proper boyfriend, I never in my wildest dreams imagined that we would do anything other than get married and live happily ever after. That was the fairy tale ending that I had always dreamed of.
Christmas came and went, and we were allowed to spend Christmas with each other. It was, however, dampened by the fact that Mike had agreed to take over the paper route for his younger brother. Because it had snowed there were problems getting the papers to the people, and Mikeís father handled the situation in his usual fashion Ė by yelling at the top of his lungs at his son.
During that brief time that Mike and I had all to ourselves, Mike decided that he wanted to break into a cabinet that his father had locked up in the bedroom. I did not want to have any part of this and expressed my reservations, but Mike determined that he wanted to see what was in the closet.
Mike broke into the cabinet to find a whole assortment of sexual aids that his father must have used on his mother. Although I had no idea what most of the items in his array of pornography were used for, I was very embarrassed to be invading his privacy in such a way. After Mike had seen exactly what it was that his father was hiding, he lost interest because we have never had the sort of relationship where we needed sexual toys to provide excitement to our lives.
When Mikeís father came home he never said a word about what had been done, but wasted no time in having a lock put on his door. I was very ashamed about what had happened because I felt it was an invasion of privacy but was powerless to stop Mike from doing what he did.
After Christmas I went back to my grandmotherís house because I had nowhere else to go. I had already made the conscious decision that I did not want to go back to Sheridan High School because I was not happy there. Upon seeing me for the first time after having run away from home my grandfather told me exactly what he thought about me by telling me that I was going to be just like my mother, sneaking out in the middle of the night. His comments hurt me deeply because I was nothing like my mother and was offended that he should think so. My mother was a very disturbed individual who abused those persons who were not in a position to fight back. I did not want to be anything like my mother at all.