Answering The Question- “Why Did I Stay With Him” (Part Four)

I stayed with my grandparents for months and months.  All I wanted to do was go home.  I cried every night when I went to bed.  I slept all curled up in a ball.   I never knew when I might get a drawer of flatware thrown in my face or a belt across my legs.  It didn’t hurt as much to get hit on the back as it did on the legs or arms.  My fingers had been broken and I had a crater on my skull that was deep enough to hold water.  I still slept curled up for years and years as an adult, maybe still trying to protect myself.
I would go out outside and climb trees.  I’d straddle a limb and pretend that it was a white stallion.  I would picture my knight in shining armor coming to rescue me and then whisking me away to a castle.  But reality always came knocking and it was never going to happen.
I was getting ready for high school, which posed a problem.  My grandparents lived too far away for me to walk, they couldn’t take me and certainly didn’t have enough money for me to take a city bus.
I guess my grandpa talked to my daddy.  My daddy came over and said he “reckoned that I could come back home.”  I was so excited….but there was a caveat.
I packed my things and he took me “home.”
We waked in and P****, mama and my little sister, D**** were sitting on the sofa like judges.  They had a stack of papers and handed them to my daddy.
The papers were the “conditions” of my “being allowed to come home.”
I was not allowed to come out of my room unless I asked permission.
I was not allowed, under any circumstances, to go into P****s’ room or anybody elses’.
I wasn’t allowed to even get a glass of water unless I asked.
I would speak only when spoken to.
When dinner was ready, if I wasn’t at the table, I wouldn’t eat.
I was going to be the dishwasher and it was nonnegotiable.
I WOULD go to church every Sunday for the purpose of possibly become a “decent human being.”  That was also nonnegotiable.  Nobody else went or had to go….only me.
I sat there and eagerly agreed to everything like an obedient servant, selling their soul to the devil.
After I agreed, I had to sign the papers.
I was so happy to be there.  I tried my best to obey the rules.  I started high school and discovered that it was a sanctuary.  Nobody hit me or called me names there.
My grandma had given me a silver metal jewelry box with a red velvet lining.  It was heavy and I treasured it.
I came home one day, and it wasn’t in my room.  I broke the rules and went into P****s’ room.  She had taken it.  I took it back.  I didn’t understand why she thought that she could just take something that was mine.  She was walking out with it and I told her to give it back.  She turned around, threw it at me and hit me in the eye.  My eye immediately swelled up.  Then mama and D**** came in.  D**** picked up one of my daddys’ shoes and hit me right in the solar plexus.  It disabled me for a few seconds.
My mama could wield a broom handle with the expertise of a professional baseball player.  She broke it when she hit me right across the small of my back.  It was one of the most painful strikes she ever landed.
After that, I started “spotting.”  It was dark red.  I didn’t know exactly what to do and I was embarrassed.  I didn’t want to put my panties in the laundry hamper so I decided that I would wash them myself.  I was going to wait until the weekend so I could wash them outside.
I hid my panties under my mattress until I could get to them.
I came home from school and mama was sitting on the sofa with her arms crossed.  That was always a bad sign.  She didn’t say anything but followed me with her eyes until I got to my room.
I walked into my room and she had tacked my panties up on the wall.  She had gone and gotten a belt and was right behind me.  She said “I thought I smelled something and I looked all over the house.  I should have known it was your FILTH.”
When my daddy came home that night, mama and P**** wanted him to make me leave but he wouldn’t.  When he went in the kitchen, my little sister came up to me and said “if I ever pass you on the street, I’m going to spit in your face.”
I weathered things as good as I could.  I had started wearing a little make-up.  Mama had used it when I was younger, to cover the bruises and the splotching on my face.  I then became “her royal highness, the street walker.”
My daddy  had the preacher of the church where I was made to attend, come talk to me.  I told him that I wanted to be a doctor and when I got out of school, I was going to get a job, an apartment and save my money for college.
He asked me why I wanted to be a whore.  He said that young girls who were out on their own, became whores.  Then he asked me why I was so insanely jealous of my sister.
When he left, I was talking to my daddy and told him that I wanted to be the first female neurosurgeon at the hospital where I was born.
He laughed at me and said “why P**….you need to stop that kind of talk… need to find a husband and have some younguns.”
P**** had always talked about wanting to be a teacher.  I heard my daddy tell my mama that he would do everything he could to send her to college.  I was worthless and not worth even a serious consideration, much less tuition.
I continued to make mama mad.  I knew the neighbors could hear me screaming.  I knew the teachers at school could see the bruises and marks.  Nobody ever said or did anything.
I asked her one time why she just didn’t go ahead and kill me.  She looked at me with utter contempt and said “because I don’t want to go to jail.”  I guess the threat of jail was the only thing standing between me and murder.
One of the things I wanted to be able to do was stand there and take the beatings without crying.  I wanted her to not be able to smile and say “that’s right….turn on the waterworks” and then hit me until I stopped crying.  I wanted her to not hit me and said “you’re so smart!  You’re so smart!”  If I was so smart, why did she hate me so much?
That day finally came.  Mama grabbed a handful of my hair.  I reached up and grabbed a handful of hers.  She would pull mine  harder with the words “let go.”  I told her that I would let go when she let go.  We were bent over in an almost death grip.  She let go.
I was torn between feeling like I had not let her win and feeling guilty for pulling her hair.  I went to her and told her that I was sorry for pulling her hair.  She told me to get out of her sight.
I made it out of high school and moved to another city.  I never got to go to college.
P**** found out where I was and called me one day.  She told me she was getting married and said “if you’ll take a bath, you can be my maid of honor.”
I bought my dress and shoes and had to go without eating for quite a while because they were expensive.  I lived off of saltine crackers.
I went to her wedding and did what I was supposed to do.  After the ceremony, we all lined up and not one person spoke to me.  Not one.  I hopped in my car and drove back home.
P**** never became a teacher.  She went to work for the ********* company, married a cheating man, divorced him and then retired.
She knew that I made quilts and she decided that she wanted to learn how.  It started out with a few phone calls, asking for help.  We actually started talking and visiting but there was always this disconnect.  She had the same superior air that she had always had.  P**** was a dichotomy.  She was the most generous person you would ever meet on one day and then the next, she was the most selfish person who ever lived.
P**** called me one day and said “guess what?  Mamas’ dead.”  Mama had fallen, hit her head and died from a brain bleed.
After mama died, I got a phone call from a family member.  They told me why mama hated me.  It made perfect sense and it was like a load had been lifted.
My little brother always carried around a bottle of baby aspirin.  He liked it because it rattled and mama let him because he was only two and a half years old.
I was three and a half years old and I figured out how to get the cap off of the bottle.  He ate them and died.  It was clear why mama always said “you’re so smart. You’re so smart.”
I had killed my little brother.

Answering The Question – “Why Did I Stay With Him?” (Part Three)

I tried to stay in my room or outside as much as I could.  When I walked into a room, it was like a ghostly encounter.  The temperature was ice-cold and it was like mama and P**** were holding up crosses.  If I was getting a glass of water, their eyes followed me like they were wardens and I was a death-row inmate.  When I left the room, I could hear them whispering.
P**** was highly protective of mama and was always on her side.  She had been taught that I was nothing and she believed it.  She used to tell me that “I got exactly what I deserved.”  I believed it then and I believe it now, although the intelligent part of me desperately wants to understand that there wasn’t something wrong with me…..there was something wrong with mama.
I always walked around barefoot.  Always.  Like I said, I only had the one pair of shoes, they had been handed down from P**** and they were for school.
It had gotten cold and mama said “you can tell it’s winter, her highness is walking around barefoot.”  She and P**** would talk about me like I wasn’t there, even when I was in the room.
My room was in the back of the house and was just big enough for a twin sized bed. The window had gaps around it and when it snowed, it would come in. There were no floorboards and there was no door.  I had a curtain and one day I pulled it back to try to let some heat into my room.
P**** and mama started talking about how my room stunk… me.  P**** told me to close it but I didn’t and that was a mistake.
Mama and P**** came into my room.  Each took one of my arms and then they threw me out of the house.  It was snowing and all I had on was a t-shirt and shorts.  Of course, I was barefoot.
I went out to the garage and climbed up into the rafters.  I spent a lot of time up there, thinking and crying and wishing and praying.  I was thinking that when my daddy got home, he was really going to be mad at them.
He finally came home and went into the house.  I climbed down and went to the door.  I knocked and I could see P**** and mama sitting there, acting like they didn’t hear me.  I knocked again and they still ignored me.  I finally said if they didn’t open the door I was going to kick it.
I heard mama call my daddy and I could hear him coming.  He always had a heavy walk….almost like a stomp.
He opened the door, grabbed me by the arm into dragged me into my room.  He took off his belt and beat me with the buckle side.  He rarely beat me and I guess I thought the reason was because I threatened to kick his door.
He slung me onto my bed and sat down beside me.  He said “you’re my youngun and I’d fight anybody who said anything against you…but I’ll kill you before I let you walk all over us.  Pack your bags.”
I knew what that meant.  I was on my way to my grandma and grandpas’ house.  It wasn’t the first time I had been exiled.
My grandparents treated me like I was the most precious thing that had ever been born.  They would tell me that I was beautiful.  That was in such stark contrast to what I heard at home.  P**** would come up to me and ask me why I was so ugly.  Then she would tell me I looked like a baboon with a purple bottom.  She would laugh.  I would cry.
I didn’t have the emotional strength to appreciate my grandparents then.  All I wanted to do was go back home.  I was homesick and didn’t try to hide it.  I was so incredibly sad.
I loved the song that Jiminy Cricket would sing….”when you wish upon a star” and I would sing it to myself when I was alone.
Every night, I would look out my window and recite “star light, star bright, first star I see tonight.  Wish I may, wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.”  I actually believed that wishing worked.
My grandma and grandpa would tell me stories about my daddy and I enjoyed hearing them.  They tried to comfort me as much as they could.  They never said anything against my mama even though they knew how she treated me.  If they had, I would have immediately jumped to her defense.  That was a trait I had.  My inherent loyalty overshadowed reality.  No matter how bad somebody treated me, I would find an excuse for them or a reason for it to be my fault.
Mothers’ day was coming up but I wasn’t thinking about my grandma.  I was thinking about my mama.
Decoupage purses were all the rage.  I borrowed a little money from my grandpa and bought a wooden purse, handles and flowers to put on it.
Mama had started working at Iveys, a department store uptown.  I walked all the way from my grandparents’ house to the store, which had to have been seven or eight miles.  I walked in and mama saw me.  She immediately had this “what the hell are you doing here” look on her face.
I handed her the purse and said “happy Mothers’ Day.”  She handed it back to me and said “give it to your little grandmother.”
I managed to not cry until I got out of the store.  I threw it into a garbage can on the side of the road.  I walked back to my grandparents’ house and when my grandma asked me how S*** liked her purse, I lied and told her she liked it.
My birthday was coming up and my grandparents were dirt poor.  I knew there were going to be no presents but it was okay.
My grandpa called me into the house.  I sat down and he handed me a gallon of milk and a bell pepper.  I ate the pepper like it was an apple and drank the milk straight out of the jug.  They laughed and my grandpa clapped while they sang happy birthday to me.  It was a birthday that I will never forget.
My daddy came to see me and brought me a pair of sandals that P**** didn’t want anymore.  Then……..he asked me how old I was.
Before he left, I asked him if I could come home.  He said “your mother doesn’t want you there, youngun.”
My grandparents lived out in the country and had few amenities.  The outhouse was quite a distance from the house.  Trekking through three-foot tall weeds to get there was always an adventure.  We used a telephone book for toilet paper and we took a bath standing up in a big tin tub behind a curtain.
One day, my daddy came over and he and my grandpa put in a toilet, a sink and a bathtub….inside the house!  My grandma was a little scared at first, I think.  She just stood there looking at them.  I couldn’t wait to get into a real bathtub.
My uncle, A**** lived with my grandparents.  It seems like he always had, although he had been married and had a son.
He was always drunk and I couldn’t stand him.  He would get drunk, fall down and my grandpa and I would have to go pick him up.  I would have to clean up his vomit, while my grandma cleaned him up.
He slapped me hard across the face once and I told my daddy.  He said “what did you do?”  I guess he thought I must have deserved it.
The only time I ever came close to having an argument with my grandma was over him.  I would call him a drunk and she would say that he had gone overseas and “fought for me” in the war.  I said “so did my daddy.”  She said A**** had seen things a person should never have to see.  I said “so did my daddy.”  I wasn’t going to win.
It seemed that every time I was taking a bath, A**** had to find some excuse to come into the bathroom.  Again, there was no door…just a curtain.
He would come barreling into my room with the excuse that “he thought he heard something.”
He would come into my room at night, smelling like alcohol, kiss me while he was trying to crawl in bed with me and tell me that he loved me.  I would tell my grandma that I didn’t like it but she would attribute his actions to exactly that……his loving me.
He had been married to a woman who I thought was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen.  When I was younger and stayed with them, I would wake up in the middle of the night and she would be sitting beside me in a chair.  She was protecting me although I didn’t know it then.
She divorced him and when he got through with her, she looked like the most broken, desperate woman I had ever seen.  He had taken everything from her.
I guess he “loved” her too.


Answering The Question – “Why Did I Stay With Him?” (Part Two)

I had gotten the answer to my question.  I had never done anything to make anybody love me.  At least now I knew.
Mama continued to demonstrate her hatred for me throughout the years and it showed on my body.
P**** and I would fight like sisters do.  One day mama took us to Recreational Park to play on the swings and slide down the sliding board.  P**** and I got into it and mama told us to get in the car.  The fight continued and mama made me get out.  P**** was always right.  Mama drove off and left me.  It was in the mountains and was probably a good five miles from the house.
It took me a while and it was getting dark, but I made it home.  I knocked on the door and when mama opened it, she said “oh, it’s you.”  I think she was disappointed.
When I was ten, we were playing dodge ball at school.  I was still tiny but I was quick.  It was the girls against the boys and the girls won.  I was the last one in the circle and this boy, A**** M***** threw the ball at me in anger and snapped my leg.  It was the same leg I had broken before.  I didn’t want to cry but I did.  I don’t know if I was crying because it hurt or because I knew mama was going to be mad at me.  She had told me the first time I broke my leg that if I broke it again, she was going to whip me.
I saw the same doctor who had set my leg the first time.  The school had taken me to the hospital and mama had to come get me.  She kept her word, but at least she waited a few days.
We were never allowed in my mama and daddys’ bedroom but they had a television in there.  One Saturday, “Creature Feature” was on and I wanted to watch it.  Mama was at Grannys’ house so I made a cup of hot chocolate and sneaked into their bedroom.  I was on the bed but was being careful not to spill my chocolate.  How she got back without me hearing her, I don’t know.
She came in, took the cup of hot chocolate from my hand and threw it  all over my leg.  It burned me pretty bad but I had broken the rules, so I got what I deserved.
Monday, I was in class and I kept fidgeting with my skirt because it was sticking to my leg.  My teacher saw me and came over to my desk.  She gently picked up my skirt and saw my leg.  She took my arm and said “come with me.”
She took me to the nurses’ office and put some salve on it.  She looked at me but never asked me a question and never made a comment.  I still have a scar on my leg from that burn.
Mama was always talking about how I was “filthy.”  I had cradle cap when I was little and P****  used to call me “clabborhead.”  She’d say “why don’t you wash your hair?”  It would make me cry and she would laugh.  My ears stuck out and P**** would call me Dumbo and she and mama would both laugh.
We had PE (physical education) in school and had to wear these little short jumpsuits.  We’d be lined up and I would look at all the other girls’ legs.  I couldn’t understand where all the marks were.  My legs had red stripes all over them.  Where were theirs?  I thought maybe theirs must have already healed.
Mama and P**** loved to make divinity fudge.  They would make it  and then go watch television while they ate it.  They made it one night and I asked if I could have a piece.  P**** looked at me and said “did you pay for any of the ingredients?”  I said no and she said “then you can’t have one.”
When my daddy got home, I asked him if I could have a piece of the fudge.  He said “why sure, youngun.”  I told him that P**** had said I couldn’t have any because I didn’t pay for any of the stuff to make them.  He went into the living room and told mama and P**** that HE “paid for the Goddamn groceries” in that house and if I wanted a piece of fudge, I could have one.  They were both shooting daggers at me.  My mama was absolutely outraged that my daddy had taken up for me.
After that, mama would always call me “your royal highness” or “your royalness.”  I would hear her talking to P****, and she would say things like “we’d better check with her royal highness.”
I have a memory of sitting in the kitchen with my head in my hands, crying of course.  I don’t know what had happened or what I had done or how long mama had been whipping me but all of a sudden, I heard Granny say “sister, if you don’t put that down, I’m going to call the police.”  I turned around and mama was standing behind me with a hammer in her hand.  She had this crazed look on her face.  I think Granny saved my life that day.
I used to wonder how mama could look at her bruised and battered little girl and feel nothing.  I wondered if she ever felt bad.  I wondered if she ever wanted to tell me that she was sorry.  She had never hugged me and of course had never told me she loved me because I hadn’t earned it.
One night I woke up and she was in the bed with me.  I was too terrified to move.  I didn’t know if she had come in there to smother me in my sleep or if she had wanted to put her arm around me because she felt bad.
When I was thirteen, everybody at school was getting their ears pierced.  A friend of mine had just gotten hers done and said she would loan me a pair of earrings if I wanted to pierce my own.  I went home and worked and worked on getting holes in my ears and then finally got the earrings in.  I thought they looked great.
The next day, I heard mama saying to P****, “her highness has put holes in her ears.”  P**** said “I know” in a disgusted, “can you believe it” kind of tone.  Then mama said “I wonder why she doesn’t go ahead and put a bone through her nose.”
Not two weeks later, mama and P**** both had gone and gotten their ears pierced.
Mama didn’t discriminate when it came to when and in front of who she beat me.  P**** had a boyfriend named B**** and he had come over to watch television with her.  Mama was mad at me and was beating the crap out of me, right in front of him.  I went to the kitchen and was sitting at the table with my head in my hands, like I always did.  B**** came in and put his hand on my shoulder.  He scared me at first.  I looked up at him and he had tears in his eyes.  He didn’t say a word.  He just stood there with his hand on my shoulder.  P**** came in the kitchen and with an accusatory voice asked him what he was doing.
I wondered if he was going to go home and tell his mama.  It actually occurred to me that his mama might be mad at me for being bad.
I used to be pretty religious.  I believed in God and I believed in all the rhetoric about Him being a loving God.  I used to pray every single night, asking Him to make mama love me.  I would promise Him that I would try to be a better girl if He would just do that.  I would have given anything for my mama to have loved me.  I actually continued to pray well into adulthood.
I guess He said no.

Answering The Question – “Why Did I Stay With Him?” (Part One)

My earliest memory is from when I was three and a half years old.  I was in this big, dark room and my uncle was holding me in his arms.
My uncle smelled like alcohol (although I didn’t know what it was at the time.)  I just knew that he always smelled that way.
I was looking down at my little brother and I’m not sure I could really grasp what was going on.  His name was R***** and he was in a coffin.  He had on a brown/orange/yellow/green plaid flannel shirt and brown corduroy pants.  He was barefoot and I remember just staring at his feet.  I don’t know if I was consciously wondering why he didn’t have on any shoes….I just stared at his feet.
All of a sudden, two huge double doors opened and I saw a light that you would expect to see when Jesus comes to render the final judgment.
My mama and daddy were walking in.  Mama had on a full-skirted red satin dress, red high-heeled shoes and she had a kleenex in her hand.  Neither one of them looked at me.
The next memory I have is hearing my grandpa telling my daddy, “if we’re going to raise her, we’re going to adopt her.”  Apparently,  I had been staying with them since R***** died.  School was about to start and location would be a consideration so my daddy took me “home.”
I don’t know how long I had been there before I made mama mad.  I remember her slapping me in the face, over and over and over.  I ran downstairs and hid under the stairway.  I remember hearing her coming down the steps and I was absolutely scared to death that she would find me.
I watched her walk by and she had a washcloth in her hand.  I guess she found me.  Maybe she put the washcloth on my eye.
The next day, I went to school with my first black eye.  My teacher came over and asked me what happened.  I told her that my sister had hit me with a baseball.  I was sure that my teacher believed me but you could see the bruises that my mamas’ fingers had made across my face.
My sister, P**** was a girl scout and had brought home some thin mint cookies.  I asked her if I could have one but she said no so I went up the street, to G****s’ house to play.
I knew mama was going to be home soon.  It was Friday and Friday was grocery shopping day.  When mama would come home, she would blow the horn all the way down the driveway which was my signal to come carry the groceries into the house.
I was in a hurry to get home before mama knew I was up the street, so I jumped off the porch.  I knew I had hurt my leg but I needed to go home.  I walked home with my leg “giving out” all the way down the driveway.
I made it and went inside and laid down on my bed.  My leg was really starting to hurt and I was trying so hard not to cry.
I heard the horn but I just couldn’t get up and I knew mama was going to be mad but I just couldn’t move.  Mama finally came in and saw me laying there but didn’t say anything.  I think even P**** knew I was hurt.  She gave me a cookie but it melted in my hand.
I laid there the rest of the day.  My daddy came home from work and he decided to call Dr. C******.  He had been our doctor since the stone age.  He came over and told my daddy to get me to the hospital.  I remember my daddy picking me up and carrying me to the door.  It seemed like mama was mad.
We got to the hospital and my leg was broken.  I had a cast from my foot all the way up to my hip.  It was heavy and probably weighed as much as I did.  They gave me some crutches to use but my daddy probably had to pay for them.  Nobody made a big deal about it.  I still had to climb on top of a sawed off ladder to wash the dishes.
One night, I woke up and I was thirsty.  I started calling for mama.  She finally said “what?”  I  told her I was thirsty and she said “well, get up and get some water.”  I got up, hobbled to the kitchen, got on my ladder and lost my balance.  I dropped the glass and broke it.  Mama came tearing into the kitchen, slapped me and through gritted teeth, said “go get back in the bed!”
I didn’t miss a lick.  I was up and on my way to school….broken leg, crutches and schoolwork.  The crutches hurt my arms and I got so tired of walking on one leg.  I used to switch legs….I would hold up the good one and walk on the broken one.  It was winter and the cold air would cut through you like a knife but I still had to walk to school.  I would make it all the way up a snow-covered hill and make one misstep and then slide all the way back down.  We weren’t allowed to wear pants so my legs would be frozen.  It was just so normal to me that I didn’t think anything about it.  Sometimes, it would almost strike me as funny.
We had a swing set in the front yard and I was outside trying to find something to do with a broken leg.  I decided to crawl across the top.  Mama happened to look out the window at that instant and saw me.  She came outside, got a “switch” and whipped me.
I didn’t know what it was about me that made mama so mad all the time.  Mamas’ mama (Granny), used to tell me that I was a thorn in my mamas’ side but she never told me why.
Mama could be sadistic at times.  I had once again made her mad.  She told me to take off everything that I didn’t buy with my own money, which was everything I had on.
I took off all of my clothes and she sent me outside.  I was standing on the porch in front of the door.  People were driving and walking down the street.  Now and then, she would open the front door and say “did you knock?”  I would cower and say “no ma’am.”  This went on for hours.  Finally, she said “if you don’t knock, you can’t come in.”
Mama beat me unmercifully.  She would grab my hair and yank it so hard that it would leave huge knots on my head.  She used belts, broom handles, limbs from trees or anything she could get her hands on.
She would beat me until I cried and then say “that’s right….turn on the waterworks.” Then she would beat me until I stopped.  She spoke with perfect cadence when she would say,,,,”SHUT….YOUR…..MOUTH….. …”SHUT…..YOUR…..MOUTH…..SHUT…..YOUR…..MOUTH” and would land a blow with each word.
Every single time I would swear to myself that I wasn’t going to cry.  Every single time she would win.  There was always this look of satisfaction on her face when she saw the first tear fall.
I was the dishwasher.  My sister, P**** had to sweep the floor after we ate and then she could go watch television.  Sometimes it would take me hours to get the dishes washed….standing on my ladder.  I whined to my daddy once about why P**** never had to wash the dishes.  He made her wash them that night and I paid dearly the next day when he went to work.
As further punishment, I guess, a few days later, mama woke me up by throwing the whole drawer of silverware in my face.  I guess I missed a spot on a fork or something.  When I went into the kitchen, she had gotten every dish, glass, pot, pan and utensil out for me to re-wash.  She sat in a kitchen chair with a switch in her hand, watching me.
My poor daddy was stuck between a rock and a hard place.  He couldn’t choose me but he couldn’t be mean to me either.
The night after I had rewashed every dish in the house, we were at the table eating and mama said something to me.  I didn’t understand what she said.  “I thought she asked me if I liked the beans but I wasn’t sure so I said “these?’
She came over, picked up my bowl of beans and smashed them all over my face.
My daddy stood up and said S****!  Mama backed off and sat back down but as usual, I paid later.
Mama had been somewhere because she was all dressed up.  P**** and I were in the kitchen and I could tell mama was mad about something as soon as she walked in.  She had something in her hands and she couldn’t slap me so she kicked me between the legs.  She had on her usual pointed-toed high-heeled shoes.  Blood started pouring down my legs.  I didn’t know what that meant then but I do now.  P**** laughed at me.
Mama had been on a tirade and I was black and blue all over, it seemed.  I had retreated to my room but came out and walked into the kitchen.  Mama was in there.  My head was down, my shoulders were dropped and I was crying so hard, I stuttered the words when I said “mama, why don’t you love me?”
She looked at me with those cold, ice blue eyes and snarled “what in this round world have you ever done to make anybody love you?”

What Now? The Doors Were All Closed

J*** stayed at the paper for a few more weeks to tie up some loose ends, like naming a managing editor before he left.  He had four candidates who had applied.  He had brought their written “petitions” for why they were the best choice home for me to read.  One of them was D****,  the woman he had brought up from O****** and I think she thought she was a “shoe-in.”  The others were M*****, the woman he had gotten into a screaming match with,  A****, an elegant man, who I wouldn’t have picked for my own personal reasons, and S****, a man who J*** didn’t trust.  I told J*** that I believed he was wrong about S**** and I thought he would be the best fit.
Ultimately, J*** chose S****.  That was his last action as the Executive Editor of the paper.
D**** was so incensed that she went to another paper.  M***** stayed and was demoted and A**** eventually left the paper as well.
After J*** was fired, I immediately went into damage control mode.  I was going to protect him as much as I could.  There was no way I was going to let our children know what had happened so I told them that he had simply “quit.”  I told my family the same thing.
J*** was clearly shaken up and talked to several of his friends about it and they offered as much support as they could.
He immediately started looking for another job.  He was on the computer and the phone all the time.  Slowly, it was becoming clear that his reputation had preceded him.  He had always considered himself to be the best in the business and highly sought after but now, he couldn’t get anybody to return his phone calls.
I’m sure this was uncharted territory for him.  He would talk to me about who he had contacted and what they had said but no offers came.
At one point, I said “this is the first time since we met, that I have a job and you don’t.”  It was bizarre and we managed to get a laugh out of it.
Since nobody at work knew who he was, there weren’t any questions. My boss knew but never said anything about it.
I tried to keep his morale up as much as I possibly could.  I tried to include him in my work by telling him about my calls.  I wanted to let him know that I was on his side.
I tried to understand how devastating it must have been for him and I was as kind to him as he would allow me to be.  I remember thinking that I was glad he could at least play golf.
Our friend S*** continued to come see us and it was a good distraction for J***.  He loved S*** and S*** loved  him.  They would play golf and when they would get to the eight green, which was behind our house, they would call me and I would walk down and watch them show off.
We’d still have our fights but I decided to not let things bother me too much.  I tried to let some things go, like him being “lit” when I got home.  I almost felt guilty for enjoying my job while he was at home feeling absolutely miserable.
He had started watching birds while he sat on the patio, looking for a job.  He had gotten a book so he could identify them.  That was something that I would have never thought he would be interested in.  It made me wish that I was a bird.
We met his brother and his wife and their two sons at the beach to eat at a seafood restaurant.  J*** brought one of her friends with them.  When the bill came, J*** paid of course.  I have no idea how much it was, but I can imagine that it was well over a couple of hundred dollars.  They all had jobs but somehow, it wasn’t challenged when J*** paid.  Not one of them even offered to chip in.  That’s the way it had always been, so why was I constantly surprised when it kept happening?
J***s’ mama and daddy continued to come to C********* but would stay at J** and J***s’ house.  J*** would go over there to see them.
At one point, my sister, her boyfriend and my mama were coming down to see us.  R*** and J***s’ daddy were also going to be down there.
J** had come over to have a beer with J*** and mentioned that it would be a good time for them to finally meet.  J*** said it would be interesting indeed if S*** (my mama) and R*** met.  I told him it wasn’t going to happen and then told him about the phone call R*** had made to my daddy all those years ago.
J*** wasn’t outraged.  He didn’t say that it was a shame.  He didn’t excuse it due to R***s’ alcoholism.  He just laughed.
I hoped every single day that J*** would find another job.  I think he did, too.  Actually, I know he did.
He would get impatient sometimes and yell at me but I knew it was out of pure frustration.  Sometimes he was brutal.  Sometimes I handled it and sometimes I didn’t.
I had vacation time accrued and I mentioned that we should go to F****** to see the girls.  He didn’t want to so I didn’t bring it up again.  I think the initial desolation he had felt was starting to subside somewhat, although he still couldn’t find a job.
Sometimes J*** went out on his boat but he eventually sold it to the guy who was docking it.
It was my day off and I had plans in my sewing room.  I was working on a quilt and was anxious to get it finished.  J*** was going to play golf and after I stood in the driveway and waved goodbye, I went upstairs and started sewing.
I had hoped he would remember what day it was, but he never had before so there wasn’t much chance.  It was August 17th, 2005, 31 years to the day when we first met.
Then…..the telephone rang.

Oh, How The Mighty Have Fallen

I continued to enjoy working.  We were still going to our restaurant to “have a beer.”  One night, J*** told me that he had gotten into it with a woman named M*****.
He had taken this woman from virtually opening mail to having the office adjacent to his.  He saw something in her, I guess.  What the altercation was about, he didn’t tell me but it ended with him yelling to her that she didn’t know what she was fucking talking about and her telling him that he was insane.  This of course, happened in the middle of the newsroom.
A black-tie event was coming up and I had to work. There was no way that I was going to beg off of work to go.  Work was a  responsibility and not to be put aside for personal pleasures.
I had never missed a day of school nor had I ever missed a day of work.  At the end of the school year, my name was the only one called for perfect attendance.  I always got some good-natured chiding about it but it didn’t really bother me.
I asked J*** not to drive to the event so he got one of his editors to come pick him up.   That made me feel a lot better.
I had gotten home from my shift, cleaned up and was waiting for J*** to come home.  I heard a car pull into the driveway and I went to the back door to wait.
J*** opened the screen door to the patio and just stood there for a few seconds.  He finally took a few steps, wobbled and then stopped again.  I thought he had seen me and was messing around.  He finally made it to the back door and I opened it and let him in.  He smelled like a brewery.  I don’t think I had ever seen him that drunk.  I got him to a chair and sat him down.  He reached out and put both his arms around my legs and kept saying “I’m so sorry.  I’m so sorry.”
I asked him if he was sorry for being so drunk and he said “no.  I’m so sorry for what I did.”  My mind never entered the realm of possibility that he had done something dishonorable at the event.  I patted him on the back and said “lets’ get you to bed.”
I got him upstairs and had to literally undress him.  I can’t believe I got his clothes off without him falling down.  I wasn’t as mad as I usually was because he had been driven home and had just apparently had a good time.  He woke up in the middle of the night and was trying to find the bathroom.  He missed it by a wall and knocked my lamp over and broke it.  I woke up and asked him what he was doing.  I got him to the bathroom and told him he broke my lamp and I was going to go clean it up.  He said “I’ll buy you another one.”
A few weeks later, he called me while I was at work.  That was an extremely rare event.  He asked me if I was going to get off on time and I told him that we were actually on the way back to base, so it looked like it.  I asked him what he had been doing and he said he had been out on the boat.
Then he asked me how many calls I had run.  I told him I had run five.  He asked me if they were any good and I told him not really.  Then he asked me where I was.  I hesitated and said “on the way back to base.”  The next question was “how many calls did you run?”  I said “five.”  Then it was “were they any good?”
I looked at B****** and she looked at me and said “P****, he’s drunk!”  I was a little embarrassed but it was obviously true.
I got home and he was standing in the kitchen, weaving back and forth, holding onto the counter.  I was livid.  He had driven home while he was so wasted that he could barely stand up.  Again, he didn’t understand why I was mad.  Again, he got mad at me for being mad at him.  I just went upstairs and got ready for bed.
A new guy had come to work for us and everybody knew, including me, that he had a crush on me.  I was steadfast in letting him know that I was not available.  He never passed up a chance to talk to me and was always asking me to go to dinner with him.  I reacted with humor as much as I could and reminded him repeatedly that I was married.
B****** and I were getting into the ambulance one day and he came running over and once again asked me to have dinner with him.  He said he had heard that my husband was out of town.
I told him that J*** was in Denmark, paying golf.  He laughed and said “you just think he’s playing golf.”
I immediately jumped into J*** defense mode and said “listen.  I would bet my childrens’ lives that he has never been unfaithful to me.”  I remember having just a micro twinge of “what did I just say”, but I dismissed it.  My faith in his fidelity was unbreakable.
I think it was becoming more and more apparent that the vice president of the paper was after J***.  He didn’t say much but the indication was there when he did talk to me about things.
The fractures in our relationship were again starting to show, maybe from the stress at the paper.  I wouldn’t want to go to a particular function because I was just tired of being ignored.  He still didn’t understand and was now making that reluctance my fault.
He screamed “you’re supposed to be the fucking Queen and you don’t like anybody.”  He was right.  I didn’t like many of them but mostly, I didn’t like him.  I didn’t like the way he acted when he was drunk.  I didn’t like the superior attitude he had.  I didn’t like the way he ignored me.  I didn’t like the way he refused to defend me to anybody.
I didn’t like the way that he never bothered to try to include me in any conversations.
L*** T***** C******, the woman who gave him the bumper sticker that read “I’ll try to be nicer if you’ll try to be smarter”, was going to take a job as the publisher of another newspaper.  There was a big “going away/congratulations” party and we went of course.
When we got to her house, J*** immediately started drinking.  I immediately retreated to my corner and just watched people.  At one point, I was going to go tell J*** to slow down on the drinking.  After several hours of drinking, he tended to get uninhibited, boisterous and say things like “I’m God.”  I was walking over to him and A***, the vice president, stopped me and shook my hand.  Then he went over to J*** and shook his hand.  What happened next is so unbelievable that it left me wondering “who is this guy?”
As soon as A*** turned around, J*** was crouched down, walking behind him in Groucho Marx fashion, giving him the finger and acting like he was trying to stick it up A***s’ butt.  His tongue was sticking out and the scowl on his face was the ugliest thing I had ever seen.  He followed him for about ten feet and obviously didn’t care who saw him.
Did he not think somebody was going to tell A*** what he had done or did he think because he was the great J*** H*** nobody would dare say anything?”  He struck fear in everybody and most likely used that as leverage.  He enjoyed having that power over people, I think.
I was embarrassed and I wanted to leave.  It did briefly cross my mind to wonder at that particular moment, if people thought I was like him.  I reasoned that they probably didn’t.  They just thought I must be unbalanced because I was still consistently getting the “how can you stand being married to him” questions.
Not long after that incident, on my day off, I was sweeping the front porch.  Since we lived on a cul-de-sac, I could see cars coming up the street.  I looked up and saw J***.  It was 11 o’clock in the morning.  I wondered why he was coming home now, because he had just gone to work an hour or so earlier.
I went back in the house and J*** came in, went straight to the refrigerator and got a beer.  He said “come sit down.  I need to talk to you.”
We sat down and he said “well, babe.  You’re looking at the soon to be former Executive Editor of the C********* P*** & C******.
I asked him what happened and he said “I got to the office and the phone rang.  I picked it up and L**** asked me if I had a minute.  I told him yeah and he said ‘come on down.’  I went down to his office and the HR person was sitting there, so I knew something was up.”
Then he said that L**** said “J***, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life but we’ve decided to make some changes in upper management.  We’ll give you a years’ salary and let you keep the car.”
I was strangely calm and I’m not sure why.  Maybe it was such a surprise that I was temporarily in shock or maybe it was more that I wasn’t really surprised at all.  I knew his volatile nature and I also knew that someday, despite his brilliance, his treatment of people was no longer going to be tolerated.
Editors had been threatening to fire him for years.  Now, it had finally happened.

Becoming The A Team

I continued to work and on my weekends off, I would go to A******** and work on the house.  We hired somebody to put on a new roof and I chose red tin.  It looked great.  It was a craftsman-style house…..the kind of house that everybody loves now but would have been embarrassed about in high school.
I never lived in it but I have memories of my mama and daddy being there.  My daddy tried hard to “modernize” it but fell short because he didn’t really have the money.  He was enterprising though and did the best he could with such limited resources.
I started taking down the eighties paneling to expose the original plaster walls.  I put the original light fixtures back up and re-hung the french doors, with the help of J***.
My sister told me that mama constantly complained about how I was destroying everything my “little daddy” had done.  P**** said that she told mama that what my daddy did was what was falling apart.  It didn’t matter.  My mama had made up her mind that I was ruining the house and she moved into the apartment building uptown.
My original work partner had moved on to another job at the plasma center.  A young girl, B******, fresh out of paramedic school, came to work for us and became my new partner.  We got along like we were sisters although I was old enough to be her mother.  Neither one of us were ever late, missed a day of work or took any vacation days.  We were dubbed “the A team.”
That saved us once.  We were always supposed to have “backers.”  It’s difficult to back up an ambulance with the restricted windows in the back and none on the sides.  One day, we actually thought we had enough time to pull into Panera Bread and have lunch.  Since I was such a good driver, I decided to just back into the parking space.  I backed it in perfectly.  We looked up and all of a sudden, we saw J** in his car and he had pulled right in front of us sideways.  We knew he had been watching us.
I looked at B****** and said “quick, duck down!” What I was thinking, I don’t know.   We were both small and we crawled into the floorboard.  After a few seconds, I peeped over the steering wheel and J** was motioning for me to come there.  I got out and walked over to his car and he said “if it was anybody else, I would have written them up and suspended them.  Don’t let me catch you doing that again.”  Then he drove off.  That was a huge “whew” moment.
It wasn’t over.  A few days later, the big boss was walking toward us and I thought, “oh, she found out what I did and knows J** didn’t write me up and now we’re all going to get fired.”
She came up and said to me “are you half of the A team?”  I looked at B****** and said “what do you think….are we?”  Our boss started laughing so hard I thought she was going to bust a gut.  She had heard about the backing incident, but she also knew what good workers we were.  She was just going to tell me that she wished every crew she had was as good as we were.
It was my year anniversary and I was given a raise.  I told J** that I appreciated it.  I was just a housewife, with no education and not much experience but I had gotten a raise.  Not everybody did.
Then, the day came when J** called me over the Nextel and told me to come back to base.  I didn’t know what, if anything, was wrong.  B****** and I went back and J** called me into his office.  He told me to come in, shut the door and sit down.  I admit at that point, I was a little worried.  I thought I had done something really wrong.
He held up the newspaper and pointed.  Then he said “is this your husband?”
I told him yes and then asked him if he wanted me to finish my shift or pack up my stuff and leave right then.  He said “no darlin’.  You’re the best worker I’ve ever had but I had better not see any of your calls in the paper.”  I asked him to keep it private about J*** being my husband and he promised he would.
I loved going to work every shift.  B****** and I got along so well and sometimes our sides would be aching from laughter.
There were also horrific calls that resulted in death.  There were patients who hit us and spit at us.  I had a long ponytail almost to my waist and sometimes they would grab my hair and it would take several nurses and interns to get me free.  There were family members who would grab our equipment and yell “shock ’em.”  They had seen too many television shows and thought the defibrillator was a miraculous life-giver.   Never once did any of the patients or family members thank us.
The only time we were ever thanked was by some random man who was walking by and stopped us and said he wanted us to know that he appreciated what we did.
I will never forget one of my “frequent flyers” who was a Vietnam veteran dying from agent orange.  He died in my ambulance with my hand on his carotid artery the last time his heart beat.  He had a DNR so I could only sit there and watch him die.
We had another patient who, as a result of a botched surgery had been rendered a quadriplegic.  He was difficult and had been transported by every crew except us.  He would always call and complain and tell J** not to ever send that crew again.  He needed to go to the hospital again so J** sent his “A team.”
B****** and I got there and he was laying in this huge king size bed.  We had to slide him onto the stretcher so I looked at him and said “I’m going to have to get in the bed with you.”  I started crawling across the bed and he was just looking at me.  I don’t think he knew what to say so I said “hey.  It doesn’t mean we’re engaged.”  He called J** and told him how pleased he was and said nobody was ever allowed to transport him but us.
The bad calls were eased somewhat by the fact that B****** and I were sometimes dumber than a bag of hammers.  We’d get lost more often than not.  We’d forget what day it was and would have to correct all of the dates on our paperwork before we turned it in.  Every now and then we would even take the paperwork home with us, which was a real no-no.  Maybe we were subconsciously looking for a release.  We’d start giggling and it overshadowed the helplessness for a while.   We couldn’t cry or fall apart so we laughed at any and everything we could.
There’s a saying in EMS.  “Paramedics save lives and EMTS’ save paramedics.  B****** couldn’t “get a line” to save her life.  I could do it and even though I wasn’t supposed to, I would.  She couldn’t run the release on the stretchers so I always had to do that.  She couldn’t drive and run the lights and sirens at the same time, so I always did the emergent driving.
Once we were sitting at a railroad crossing, far enough away to be safe and all of a sudden, she put the ambulance in reverse and backed right into a car.  I’m not talking about a love tap.  It tore the front bumper off of the car and really messed up the bumper on the ambulance.  I asked her what she was thinking and she said “I don’t know.  I think I was asleep.”  She told me to call base and I told her to wait and see what the damage was.  The guy in the car didn’t care and seemed to be in a hurry to leave.
I told her I was driving now.  We went to one of the hospitals and I borrowed a crow bar and fixed the bumper as good as I could.  I told her I wouldn’t say anything but if J** noticed, I wouldn’t lie.  If he ever noticed, he never said anything.
I didn’t share much with J*** when I got home.  He would ask me about calls now and then but never asked for any great detail.  He had never been a “blood and guts” person.  I wanted to tell him about my calls.  I wanted to tell him how hard I had tried to keep somebody alive.  I wanted to tell him that I had broken every rib in somebodys’ chest, trying to get their heart to keep pumping blood.  I wanted to tell him how three paramedics had failed to intubate a woman and I tubed her the first time I tried.
I wanted him to be proud of me.  I wanted him to think what I was doing was valuable.