I hope you enjoy this chapter – there may be some parts that are triggering and there are some swear words. Let me know what you think. My memoir is a healing journey from abuse – and this shows a bit of what my childhood was like. At the time I’m seven, and that is when he started coming into my room. My mom would then, the next day, say, “I heard him in your room last night, tell me what he did.” Curious – would you read more?
Thanks for reading.
Chapter 1 – Boys’ Games
“Run!” I yell to Pam. “They’re right behind you.”
She dodges the boys, races past Mommy’s vegetable garden, and heads toward the maple tree in her backyard. If she touches the trunk, we win, and the boys will finally have to keep their promise to play house with us.
I kneel behind the shrub. My side aches with each deep breath. Using the hem of my shirt, I wipe sweat off my forehead.
Steve sneaks behind Pam and drops the hula-hoop lasso over her head. She kicks and screams as her brother drags her to the cave, the cinderblock barbeque pit in my backyard, and rolls a pretend stone in front of the cave door.
Pam beats on the rock. “I can’t escape. They’re going to eat me.”
Hula-hoop in hand, Steve turns toward my hiding place. “I’m coming to get you.”
“No!” I race toward the tree, but Bobby’s guarding it, hands spread wide to grab me. Maybe I can circle around back.
Looking over my shoulder to see where Steve is, I trip on a root, and fall. A piece of gravel jabs deep into my knee.
“Wait a minute,” I say. “Let me see if I’m bleeding.”
They stop trying to pull me, but don’t remove their lassos. I brush grass stains away and examine my knees. Good, no blood. Even though I struggle, the boys roughly drag me to the cave and shove me in with Pam.
Rubbing my side, I glare at them.
“Can we escape?” Pam asks.
The cavemen laugh. “Never.”
Pam and I pretend to be afraid. We tremble and huddle together.
Steve pinches my arm. “Ugh, good meat.”
“Owww.” I slap his hand away and bite back tears. He didn’t have to pinch so hard.
Bobby rubs two twigs together to light a pretend cooking fire while Steve jumps around in a wild, caveman victory dance.
A bell rings down the block.
Ice cream! We run home to ask for money.
I quietly open the screen door and tiptoe to the living room. If she’s sleeping, I won’t wake her.
Mommy’s sitting in her green armchair, watching As the World Turns. Cigarette in mouth, she takes a curler out of her hair and tosses it into the basket with the others.
“Mommy, can I please have a nickel for an ice cream?”
She shakes her pointer finger at me. “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” Her cigarette moves up and down as she talks and some ashes fall on her lap.
I want to roll my eyes, but don’t. Putting my hands together in a begging position, I say, “Please, Mommy. Everyone else is getting one.”
She sighs. “Hand me my purse.”
I want to tell her to hurry up, but bite the inside of my mouth and quietly wait while she slowly puts her cigarette down, takes a sip of orange juice, and digs through her change to fish out a nickel.
“Thanks.” I barely make it to the curb before the ice cream truck pulls up.
Why such a big deal over a nickel?
The boys race off after they get their treats. Pam and I sit under the maple tree in my backyard. I slowly nibble the chocolate coating off my ice cream bar, trying to make it last as long as possible. A drop of ice cream dribbles on my hand and I suck it off.
Pam pokes a straw into her cherry sno-cone, “I don’t want summer to end.”
“Me neither.” Not true. School’s safer than home.
“In ten days, we’re going to have to get up early and sit in a stupid classroom.”
“You’re lucky. There’s no homework in first grade. In second, I’ll have tons.”
“Yech, homework.” Pam scrunches her nose.
After we finish our ice creams she stands. “Let’s find the boys.”
Throwing our sticks and wrappers in the garbage, we walk toward Pam’s house. Steve and Bobby jump out from behind the woodpile, grab us and shout, “Got ya.”
I get so tired of boy’s games.
A green Plymouth turns onto our street. Pam and the boys race toward my house shouting, “Shirley’s Daddy, Shirley’s Daddy.”
My stomach churns as I head home.
After Daddy pulls into the garage, we go to his car door.
He says, “Hi, kids. Let’s see what I have for you.” He grabs Brach’s peppermints from the glove compartment and gives one to each of us.
My friends say, “Thank you, Shirley’s Daddy.”
Daddy hands me his metal lunch box and gets out of the car. His green Continental Can Company uniform smells like motor oil. He leans on me as we slowly walk toward our backdoor. Daddy’s breathing hard, like I breathe after running the mile at school.
My friends go off to play, shouting, “Your dad’s the greatest.”
Mommy opens the screen door for us and we squeeze past her, walking through the laundry room into the kitchen. The laundry room smells like Fels Naphtha soap. I helped her wash clothes today. She even let me send clothes through the wringer and hang towels outside. I had to stand on tiptoe to reach the clothesline.
Daddy sits on his green, wooden chair and lets out a long breath.
I take my place across the table from him and watch; ready to jump and do whatever he might ask.
Mommy kneels, takes off his shoes and socks, rubs his feet, and says, “Poor, poor Leo, your feet look so sore.” She helps him out of his uniform and moves the fan to blow cool air on him.
It’s so hot, my sweaty legs stick to the vinyl of my chair. I wish some of the cold air would blow my way. I wish I could be outside playing with my friends. I wish I could be anywhere but here.
Dressed only in boxer shorts, Daddy wipes sweat from his face with a dishtowel. Mommy gives him a glass of scotch and water. He takes a gulp and sighs. She sits at the table and passes him a lit cigarette.
Through a cloud of smoke, he says, “Little Joe and I fixed three trucks today. Hot as hell in the shop.” With a fork, he digs out a slimy-looking pickled pig’s foot from the jar on the table and nibbles it, smacking his lips as if it’s the best tasting thing in the world. He puts bones in the ashtray and licks his fingers. “Won ten dollars in the shop pool.” Daddy coughs a raspy cigarette cough and takes a drink.
“That’s great, honey.” Mommy sips orange juice.
On the radio, Harry Caray says, “Steee-rike three.”
My mind wanders. Baseball games bore me.
Daddy pounds the table, “Damn.”
I jerk to attention. Not sure what to do or say, I twist my fingers together under the table.
“Cardinals got to get another run or lose their chance for the Series.” Daddy finishes his drink.
Mommy gets him a fresh one and says, “I’ll run your bathwater.”
He eats another pickled pig’s foot and then takes his drink and the Word Jumble puzzle to the bathroom. After a long time, he flushes the toilet and I hear water sloshing in the tub.
Mommy makes another orange juice, quietly getting the vodka bottle she hides behind the pots in the cupboard.
Half an hour later Daddy calls, “Shirley, your turn.”
I slowly undress in my room, carefully folding my clothes and piling them neatly on my bed. Maybe, by the time I’m done, he’ll leave to watch TV.
“Hurry up. Time’s wasting,” he says.
Towel wrapped around me, I walk to the bathroom.
He’s combing his hair over the bald spot.
Wish he had on more than just his boxer shorts. Hanging my towel on the rack, I step into the same dirty water he used. It’s cold, but I don’t complain. When he’s home, I never get to take a bath in clean water. I try to cover myself with suds and hold my right arm to hide as much of my body from him as possible.
Daddy puts his foot on the toilet seat to cut his toenails.
I pretend to carefully examine my legs and scrub them. His thing peeks out from his underpants and I don’t want to look at it.
A clipped toenail lands on the side of the tub. I flick it off. His right big toe is missing because someone at work dropped a wrench on it and he had to have it cut off. After Daddy finishes his nails, he kneels down by the tub to wash my back.
I want to push his hand away and tell him I’m old enough to wash myself, but don’t.
He washes my back and chest and then drops the bar of soap in the water. “Whoops.” He laughs.
Daddy fishes around for the soap. He always finds it between my legs.
I’m so tired of this game. He’s been playing find the soap ever since I can remember. I don’t like him touching me down there.
Finally, he stands, stretches, and leaves. I stay in the tub a few minutes longer to make sure he’s not coming back, wrap myself in a towel, and go to my room to get dressed.
“Mommy, your turn.”
I hear her add a little water to the tub before she steps in.
Sitting on my bed, I open Charlotte’s Web and read until she finishes her bath.
I get plates and silverware from the cupboard while Mommy finishes cooking my favorite dinner, spaghetti.
“Ice water,” Daddy calls from the living room.
“Get it,” Mommy says. “I have to drain the noodles.”
I fill a glass and take it to him.
Daddy sits on his sagging green sofa like it’s his throne. I put the glass on the coffee table that holds his stuff: a holder for cigars, cigarettes, lighter, ashtray, bowl of candy, and the TV Guide.
Before he can grab my wrist and pull me closer for a kiss, I back away. “Want anything else?”
He shakes his head.
“Okay, I’ll go help Mommy.”
She fixes a plate and sets it by my place at the kitchen table. I’m glad I don’t have to eat in the living room with them. I twirl a few strands of spaghetti around my fork and take a bite. “Yum.”
She smiles, fills a plate, and takes it to Daddy.
I twirl another bite.
Daddy screams and stomps into the kitchen with Mommy following him.
I quickly look down at my plate.
He slams his dish on the table. My plate jumps and his spaghetti splatters everywhere.
A drop of burning hot spaghetti sauce lands on my arm. I lick it off. Keep eating. Don’t look afraid. My hand shakes so much the noodles dangling from my fork swing and drip sauce on my shirt. If only I could disappear.
“You no good, hooked-nosed son of a bitch,” he yells at Mommy. “Spilling this shit on me!”
With a dishtowel, he wipes a few drops of spaghetti sauce off his stomach, balls the towel up, and throws it at her. Walking past Mommy toward the living room, Daddy punches her right arm.
She winces, rubs her arm, and follows him.
“I’m leaving,” he screams. “Find a place that doesn’t dump food on me.”
“You’ve been out every night this week,” she says.
“Get my clothes, you damn whore. I’ll go out any damn night I want!”
“I work hard all day. Cook for you. Clean for you. All you do is go out and drink with the guys. Can’t you stay home one night?”
Shut up, Mommy. You’ll get hit again. It’s better when he’s gone. I’m not hungry anymore.
When Mommy gets his clothes, she motions for me to sneak to my room.
I huddle on my bed and hug my doll.
He punches the hallway wall and stomps toward the kitchen. “I’m leaving this hellhole!” The back door slams.
After I hear the gravel crunch on our driveway as he drives away, I feel safer. When I’m sure he’s not coming back, I follow the sound of Mommy’s sobs and find her sitting at the table holding a dishcloth full of ice on her arm.
After a while, she gets up and starts slamming dishes into the sink. “Lousy, no good, son of a bitchen bastard!” Mommy wipes the table.
I sit in my chair and listen.
She cries as she cleans spots of spaghetti sauce off the wall behind the table. “No-good piece of shit.” Her hand is shaking.
When she washes dishes, I help dry them.
“Gotta get a drink. Calm my nerves.” Mommy pours vodka into her plastic glass, adds orange juice, and hides the bottle. She takes a huge sip and says, “Put on your pj’s. We’ll watch TV.”
Like always, Mommy sits on the corner of her green armchair, closest to the living room window and I sit on Daddy’s sofa. She fixes the venetian blinds so she can spot his headlights when the car turns onto our street. If it’s before my bedtime, she’ll say, “Quick, Shirley, get to bed.” I’ll fall to the floor, crawl to bed, and pretend to be asleep. I have to crawl so his headlights don’t catch me running to the bedroom.
After Wagon Train, Mommy calls the bar. “He’s not there. Dirty, no-good bastard.” During The Price Is Right, Mommy calls again and he’s still not there. “Bet he’s with his new girlfriend, Hazel.” She makes the name Hazel sound like a dirty word. “Got her name and number from a matchbook in the bastard’s pocket. Be very quiet, I’m going to call the slut’s number.” Turning down the TV, she dials and disguises her voice. “Is that you, Hazel?” She hangs up. “I think I heard his voice in the background and a little boy’s voice too. It’s late. Time for you to go to bed.”
I kiss her goodnight. I know she’ll sit there looking out the venetian blinds, waiting until he gets home.
Before I fall asleep, I wonder; does Daddy love that little boy more than me?