What I write is MY truth. I write it the way I remember it. I do not include every single detail of my childhood because there were long, dull days where I would do nothing but sit in the center of our dead end street and pop the tar bubbles that blistered from the asphalt. There were days when I would, one by one, pick the freckles off my face with a long, sharp, safety-pin. There were days where I would hide - behind the barn or in the bunker that served as our coal bin. There were days I wish I didn't remember.
I will not omit things because they are unpleasant. This is my laundry - some clean, some soiled, some tattered - here, out here in the open air, for all the whole world to see. And if your dirty clothes got mixed in with mine, and you're not happy about that, you can BITE ME.
My friend, Red Shoes, recently wrote,"It's not Christmas until somebody cries." Well, for me, it's not Christmas until somebody pisses me off.
1961 to 1966
I have no memory of my parents being together. When my mother, sister Colleen, and I moved from Greenwich, Connecticut to a small rural town in Pennsylvania, my half-sister, Lenore was also with us. She is 11 or 12 years older than I am. We share the same mother, but have a different father.
From the time I was 2 to 7 years old, we moved several places before settling into the old house, on the dead end street that butted up to Snake Mountain. (see Fifty Year Itch for part one of this story)
I'm told that we first lived in a place Lenore called "The Wonder of the World House" because it had four levels and each was painted a different color. I have no memory of living there. I only remember stories people told me. My mother working in a cigar factory, and Lenore being forced to take care of us kids, are some of the stories.
Next we lived in the shell of a house my mothers brother was building. Here, I remember my sister Colleen climbing onto the kitchen counter and eating an entire stick of softened butter, my mother administering caster oil anytime us kids sneezed, watching Hatchy Milatchy on a black and white TV, a german shepherd puppy named King that we tied to a tree, stealing the neighbors mail and hiding it in Betsy - mom's (now) broken down Studebaker, sneaking on the school bus in my red and white striped clown pajama's so I could attend Colleen's kindergarten Halloween party, and playing some sort of "Pie and Wolf" chasing game in the yard.
My mother was a stickler for good manners. If you didn’t sit up straight during dinner she'd stand behind you and shove her thumb in the center of your back. And if you didn't finish your dinner, she's put it in the refrigerator and serve it to you for breakfast, cold. "We're poor," she'd tell us, "we can't afford to waste food."
Somewhere between working in the cigar factory and making us kids dinner, my mother met a man named Mert and we moved to Mentor, Ohio.
Mert was tall and thin with slicked back, black hair.
His teenage son David, moved in with us. David was about the same age as my sister Lenore. David was tall, and thin with black hair. David had a guitar but I don't remember him playing it.
My mother and Mert had a child together - a boy. They named him Mark.
My memories of life in Ohio are in slow motion and framed in a harsh, crackling light. Sometimes I squint. Sometimes the light forces me to shut my eyes all together.
In Ohio, we lived in a house that had a screened-in front porch. This is where we'd wait for the ice cream man and Charlie, the potato chip man, to come.
Across the street was a large house with lots of kids - girls mostly.
To the right of us was a house full of boys. During bright summer nights, they'd sleep outside in tiny green tents. They'd carry flashlights and tell ghost stories well into the daylight. Between their house and ours is where I'd find an endless supply of fireflies.
Small swirling tornado's formed in and around our backyard. Here, tucked behind the tool shed, was our garden. There were carrots in the garden. When I was hungry, I'd pull one from the ground and eat it, never bothering to wash it.
Beyond the garden was a large parking lot. In the winter, plowed mounds of snow were perfect for making igloo forts.
I walked or rode my bike to school. I had not one, but two boyfriends. Their names were Michael Pope and Jimmy Griffin. I gave them each a key to my bike lock and I'd watch them race each other down the corridor, out the side door, to the rack where my red Schwinn was waiting for them. Whoever got there first unlocked my bike and walked me half way home. I knew not to tell mother about Michael or Jimmy. When my sister Colleen threatened to tell her, I beat her with my hairbrush.
I fell off the monkey bars during recess one day, and got a bloody nose. My mother was angry at me because I ruined my pretty pink dress.
I sang, "I Want To Be Free" by the Monkee's as I rocked from the metal railing that bordered the playground. I sang it really, really loud. I sang it all winter, while the other kids skated on slippery snow. I sang it as I clung to the metal railing, even thought my hands were cold, because I was afraid, if I let go, I would slip and fall.
I spent a long, steamy summer digging holes in a dirt road and filling it with gross stuff - rotten food and dog poop - then covered it lightly with leaves and sticks. The road lead to a big, gray house that I was convinced a witch lived in.
My stepfather Mert wore white collared, button down, shirts to work. My mother would wash them, then put them in the freezer, wet, before ironing them. In time, his crisp white shirts where replaced with worn, blue collared, grease stained shirts. My mother did not iron these. One day, Mert no longer went to work, instead he walked the house wearing white, v-necked, t-shirts.
As the story goes, Mert was once a low level executive, but I knew him only as a raging alcoholic who died from cirrhosis of the liver and malnutrition. My mother let us know he passed on by placing a note on the kitchen stove, "Mert died at 1:39 am." I went to school happy that day. I have nothing kind to say about Mert - no pleasant memories.
My sister Colleen was coined, early on, as the pretty one. The one with the golden curls and a sunny disposition. Because she was 15 months older, she was, in her own words,"the boss of me." She got to stay up 30 minutes later than me, she was the first to ride the big yellow school bus, and the one who got everything new. And she got Davy, she always got Davy, and I got Micky. They were the best part of the Monkee’s. The Monkee’s were bigger than Elvis and better than Lassie. And we were just sisters, and I was little and she was big. They were the reason we raced each other down our staircase, around the corner, to our still black and white TV every Monday night.
I was convinced that, if it weren’t for her, I’d have everything I ever wanted. I’d have her side of the room. Davy’s picture would hang right next to my bed. Davey’s face would be the first thing I’d see every morning and the last thing I’d see before mother made us turn out the lights.
If it weren’t for her I’d have those cool, baby blue sheets. I’d have the bigger pillow, the better blanket, and I’d have her “Bummy,” her best friend “Bummy,” her NOT REAL Easter basket, stuffed bunny rabbit, but I wouldn’t have sucked him till he turned gray. She hugged the pretty pink padding out of him, pulled the tickle from his tail.
Everyone knew she loved Bummy more than me.
Why did the yellow brick road - that long, dangling, double-sided sticky tape weighted in misguided flies - have to hang on my side of the room, from my part of the ceiling? I could no longer lie on my bed of mismatched sheets, stretch my legs up high and point my toes or I’d touch it; and I'd never sleep without my blanket pulled way up over my head, because I knew, someday, one of those flies would come unstuck, and land right between my eyes.
Just outside our bedroom door, in the open hallway at the top of the stairs, is where my stepbrother David slept. His bed, and pillow, and blanket were there. He got to stay up late because he was a teenager, but instead David waited for me, under his blanket. It was more like a fort than a bed. He kept a flashlight and a red rubber ball under his blanket. We played games here, in the open hallway, while my mother and Mert were downstairs watching TV. I had to keep quiet or I'd get in trouble. We'd both get in trouble. David would tell me to find the red rubber ball that was hidden inside his tight, white underpants. He hid it next to his "bat and baseballs." He'd flash the light on it. He wanted me to grab it. He wanted me to play with it. But I had to be quiet or I'd get in trouble. We'd both get in trouble.
It took almost thirty years for the fly to come unstuck. I was watching an episode of Oprah. She was talking about the uncle who molested her when she was a child. It was the first time I had ever heard anyone speak openly about child molestation. Images started to form, one crackling bright, slow motion frame after another. Each so sickening that I curled into a fetal position and cried. I cried for a very long time. Then, I called my mother. I needed my mother. I was certain she would comfort me, but I was wrong.
"That's impossible," she said, "It never happened." She rationalized it as all being part of my twisted imagination - a cry for attention.
Later, my sister Colleen called me. She still thought she was "the boss of me" and she told me never to upset our mother like that again. She told me never to speak to anyone about it - only her.
Well, my sister is not the boss of me. I am the boss of me and I will tell my story.
I wish I said it first but, its true, the truth WILL set you free.