After we moved into our new house, we splurged and got cable television. We would sometimes watch a movie together late at night after he came finally came home from work. When it was just us, there were good times.
While we were sitting together, Jay would hold my hand and squeeze it. I would squeeze his back. He asked me to promise him that every time he squeezed my hand, I would squeeze his. I promised and then we decided that it would be our secret code, should either one of us ever be in a coma. One would squeeze the other one’s hand and if the other one squeezed back, we would know that they were still there.
With the little insurance money from the accident, we were able to get another Volkswagen after the first one was totaled. Jay had managed to get an old Ford pickup truck from somebody at work.
Jay drove the Volkswagen to work. It had a sunroof that didn’t seal properly and when it rained, it leaked.
I would put on my bathrobe, back the car up the driveway and then fly down and stop real quick so that all the water would pour out on me instead of him. He would stand there and smile while I got drenched and I would laugh and say something like “give us a hug,” knowing he wouldn’t.
That meant that I was left with the old Ford. It was a rattle-trap to say the least. It was a three on the column and Jay had replaced the shifter with a fork. It always hung up in second gear and at red lights, I would have to pop the hood, jiggle the gear and try to get back in the truck before the light changed. It was a hoot but I had to buy groceries, take the children to the doctor and do all the errands, while he “worked.”
We were still having our regular card games, and Rita was always already drunk when they came to the house. She was criticizing something before I even closed the door. The animosity I felt toward her was escalating. The more she drank, the more abusive she became.
She would get drunk and call me to say that she wanted us to come to their house once a week so she could be sure that Jay got at least one decent meal.
Not long after the meal request, came the sex advice. She said “don’t you ever turn Jay down” unless you want to end up like his aunt Fanny. Fanny was divorced, not because she “turned her husband down,” but because her husband had a wandering eye.
Rita called me all the time. It didn’t matter if I was at work or at home. She felt it necessary to tell he how to do everything. She felt it necessary to criticize everything. It was becoming exhausting and I was at my wits end.
I’d get so frustrated, I’d call Jay and tell him. I guess I just wanted a sympathetic ear. I wanted him to care. I wanted him to understand what this woman was doing to me. I wanted him to do something.
When I called he would say “I’m at work. What do you want me to fucking do about it?”
I understood that he was in an almost impossible situation but I guess I wanted him to call her and tell her to stop, even though I knew he never would. I was going to find out in the years to come that he was always going to sacrifice me for her.
One night we were playing cards and during one of her attacks, I remember Jay getting mad and screaming at both of us. “I just want my wife and my mama to get along.” She gave her hyena laugh when he said it, like it was some kind of joke. In her mind, that the statement was clearly directed toward me because, Lord knows, it couldn’t possibly be directed toward her.
It seemed to me that what he really wanted, was to allow her to continue to get drunk and treat me like garbage and have me just capitulate and say and feel nothing. That way, he didn’t have to deal with any tension. Why didn’t he say “I just want my mama to sober up and shut the fuck up? Why didn’t he say that?
Rita’s unwelcome advice continued about everything, including constant inquiries about our sex life and now she felt it necessary to include how to raise the child I had and the child I was expecting.
I had almost worried myself to death over Kasey. She had not been able to tolerate any of the formula that I had tried and I was afraid she was going to starve to death. Then I remembered one of the stories that I had heard a thousand times about how Jay couldn’t tolerate formula.
He had been raised on Pet milk straight out of the carton. I got some Pet evaporated milk in the can, mixed it half and half with water and started feeding it to her. It worked.
Rita couldn’t criticize my choice of milk to feed Kasey, but she criticized everything else. I was changing her diaper once and of course, I wasn’t doing it right. I was putting some powder on her and Rita thought I was putting too much and in the wrong places. She had never had a girl, yet she believed herself to be an expert in all aspects of how to raise one.
That criticism morphed into a comment about how all three of her little boys had “the cutest little things when they were babies.” She closed her eyes and started slowly moving her head from side like she was reliving some sort of sexual fantasy and repeated, “mm, mm, mm. They all had the cutest little things.”
Then she looked at me and said “I’ll bet Jay still does.” I looked at her with as much disgust as I could manage and said nothing. Was she really wanting me to discuss her son’s “pretty little thing” with her?
I told Jay what she said and he said “that’s just mama being mama.” I asked him what he would think if my daddy started talking about what “cute little things” my sisters and I had when we were babies. He said “probably not much.”
I said “you would be thinking that my daddy was a pervert and you know it.” He just looked annoyed and didn’t say anything else. After all, I was complaining about his precious mama…..again.
Jay wasn’t the type to come home and immediately go to the baby’s room but he helped with the diaper changing and he would take an occasional turn getting up in the middle of the night to fix a bottle, prop it up on a pillow and come back to bed.
My second pregnancy was going as well as the first one. Jay still didn’t go to any appointments with me but I didn’t mind. Like I said. I thought it was normal.
It was once again, time for a name choice. Once again, if it was a girl and I knew it was, I wanted to name her Nikki. Once again, the whore statement resurfaced and the ridicule began.
I overheard her say “Jay, please don’t let her name that little baby after a whore.”
Of course, I gave in. Jay and I were tossing around names and I blurted out Barclay, which was my daddy’s middle name. He thought it was a great name so we decided that’s what it would be.
I was a little over a month away from my due date and I was ready. When the day finally arrived, Jay called Rita. She met us there and took Kasey. I didn’t like it but I didn’t have a choice. I just hoped that she would stay sober while she had my little girl.
I had decided that it was too hard to have natural childbirth again, so I opted for an epidural.. The intern came in and started putting the needle into my spine. I never flinched. He said “you must have and incredibly high tolerance for pain.” I was thinking “you have no idea.”
There were about four other mothers in the labor room and they were all screaming and calling on God. Jay was kinder to me this time. He didn’t yell or scream at me and I wondered if he ever appreciated or even noticed that I never uttered a sound.
The epidural didn’t work, so I had another natural childbirth.
Apparently the baby wasn’t ready to meet the world. Maybe inside my womb, she had heard the Hell I had been through with Rita and decided she wanted to stay inside. The doctor decided to use forceps to pull her out. He gave a yank and then Jay laughed and said “it’s another girl.” I knew that once again, he was disappointed.
They handed her to me and she had the same little stork bites in the corners of her eyes that her sister had and red half moons on her cheeks from the forceps. Her little hands were clenched tightly around her face. She had almost white hair, ice blue eyes and was fair complected.
I asked Jay what he thought and all he said was “what’s wrong with her mouth?” I didn’t see anything wrong with her mouth or anything else. I thought she was just beautiful.
She was off to the nursery and I was off to my room. Jay left with the promise that he would be back shortly. It was Saturday and he didn’t have to work so I thought he was going to go home, shower and come back.
After I got settled into my room, I had the nurses leave Barclay with me so she would be there when Jay came back. I waited and waited. Finally, at midnight I called the nurses to come get her.
Jay never came back and I was so incredibly sad. I didn’t sleep at all that night.
The next day, he finally came wandering in that afternoon. I asked him what happened to him and he said he had been out “celebrating.” That meant that he had been drinking at a bar all night instead of coming to see his wife and new daughter. I guess the disappointment of having yet another little girl was just too much for him to handle, so he had to try to drink that disappointment away.
Again, there was no party. There had been no baby shower, no gifts, no cards and no congratulatory calls. Why would there be any fanfare? I had produced yet another girl. The accusation of “you keep spitting out these little girls” was endless, followed by the constant push for a boy. “You HAVE to have a little boy and name him Jay.”
I came to hate the idea and I can’t count the number of fights Jay and I had over Rita’s interference, especially when it came to telling me what to have and what to name them…or not name them.
Jay was still working long hours but he would help with the girls when he could. Sometimes he would feed Kasey before he went to work and he would make these funny expressions when he did. He would open his mouth while he held the spoon up to her mouth and then close his mouth when she closed hers. I used to tease him about it even though I knew he was not a man who liked to be teased…about anything.
When Barclay was five months old, Jay came home one night and there was a sort of excitement in his voice. He had heard about some fellowship that was awarded to journalists and he thought he might try to get it. It was a year-long free tuition stint at Harvard. I was all for it, although I didn’t really understand what it was about or what it would involve.
A few months later, the phone rang and I answered it. It was somebody for Jay. He was still in the bed so I woke him up and handed him the phone. It was the foundation, telling him that he had gotten the fellowship. He threw up one of his hands and said “that’s fantastic.”
I remember wondering why that hadn’t been his reaction when I told him we were going to have a baby.
Getting that fellowship meant that we would have to move up north, which meant that we needed to sell our house.
We were lucky and sold it back to the person we had bought it from. We got exactly what we had paid for it, but it happened too quickly. Now it was going to be necessary to put our furniture in storage and move in with his mama and daddy for a month.
I could have never imagined the absolute Hell that awaited me.