You have not lived until you have seen a thirty year old, eight month pregnant lady beat a 23 year old smartass’ mouth. True story. I observed this with a faintly detached fascination and stood back far enough that I wouldn’t get in the way.
I was twelve years old, and this was the beginning of the end.
Now, to hear the stories from the family, the town tramp seduced my 44 year old Uncle/Dad (more on that later) and my aunt, the pregnant lady, found out about it. The “tramp” rolled up in her car while my aunt was outside doing something inane and began to flap her jaws at my aunt. Welp, hormones don’t help the situation, but immediately after infelity is discovered is NOT the time to confront the pregnant wife of the man you want to be with.
The event was over and done with pretty quickly. There were some very foul words screamed, some hair pulling that commenced, but from what I remember, smartmouth got her due, and my auntie delivered this baby a month or so later. She named her Crystal.
The immediate period after Crystal was born is blank for me. I do remember holding her a lot, and treating her like my baby. My auntie was tired, and it took the drudgery out of my day to play with a newborn. It also helped me avoid my lecherous Uncle/Dad, who’d been eyeing me up in the year since I started sprouting breasts. I wasn’t nearly as interesting to annoy if my aunt was post-birth crazy and I was holding a baby.
My Auntie was my favorite auntie ever, but I called her mom. When I was very little, she was my favorite person to visit. She was sunny, had a sparkling personality and was nice to be around. She paid a lot of attention to me, which was nice, because my little sister was a hopeless brat and commanded all my mother’s atttention.
It came to be, that my mom died when I was 7. I shall discuss it later, but when asked who I wanted to live with, I named my Aunt Rachel. She promptly married the guy she was casually dating, Darwin, so that she could adopt me and my little sister. In all the sadness and chaos that followed my mom’s death, my Aunt was my rock. I loved her nearly as much as I loved my mom, and I couldn’t think of anywhere else I wanted to be. Although I had been artfully dodging with sucess the lustful gaze of my Uncle/Dad, I still wanted to be with my aunt. It was the price I had to pay. She was very watchful of him and us, but I think growing up she had seen her fair share of men who preyed on little girls, and though she needed him for the money, it was becoming apparent that something was going to give. I believe she was riding it out until she could take us girls (me, renee and her daughter Nicole) and leave.
But then she became pregnant with Crystal, and was trapped.
There are a lot of theories on what happpened with Rachel. The rumor mill, as always, would become a churning mess of truths and half-truths and a couple decades later, I still haven’t figured it out.
My aunt obviously seemed to have some sort of post-partem depression. That much was obvious. However, between post-delivery and finding out her husband was a man-whore, she began having these debilitating headaches. They seemed to get worse and worse, but much like the women in my family, she steamrolled on, determined to get things done and take care of us kids.
All I know is, a few days before she died, she yelled at me something fierce. I can’t remember why. She sat in the dark a lot. It was September and still hot and the trailor retained heat no matter how much we lowered the thermostat. I thought the heat might be making her sick.
The next day, I woke up for school. She was sitting in the dark, but told me she loved me very much. I knew that the house was going to be bombed for bugs that day, but I knew little else. I had a typical schoolday, but when I came home from school, she wasn’t there. The baby wasn’t there. It was eerie.
Our neighbor saw we were home, and told us to come over to her house. She said there had been an accident, and that our dad would be home shortly. He did show up and we drove to Jackson memorial in silence. Not a word.
I remember walking into a hospital room and seeing my aunt hooked up to a lot of machines and tubes. She was intubated and still. I had a hard time piecing it together, but when I walked into the waiting room and saw my mother’s family, who lived 5 hours from us crowded in that room, I was struck by dread.
Darwin led me and my sister Renee back into the room. As we stood there crying and silently wishing she’d wake up from her coma, he told us that WE had done this to her. It was absolutely one of the most crushing things that had ever been said to me. Renee and I looked at each other with fear….
Later that day, he made the decision to pull the plug on my aunt, effectively severing my only hope of my life ever being happy again.
The details of her funeral I try not to remember. I try to remember her with happiness and love. She was only 31 years old though, and it was another life in my family that ended way too young.
Immediately after Rachel’s death, Darwin told me I was now the woman of the house. I became accutely aware and quickly that by that he also meant I was at his disposal sexually. Under the guise of checking for breast cancer, the would place his hands up my shirt, feeling my young budding breasts. He would massage my legs. Before Rachel died, he had leered, but he had not touched me in any sexual way. Now not only was I going to school, taking care of 3 little kids and grieving, I was now trapped in a house with a man who was determined to control my body, my mind, my spirit. He’d make me run my bathwater and stop at 3 inches, no bubbles, to supervise me taking a bath. I wasn’t allowed to shave my legs, but it was perfectly ok for him to bathe me. I felt soo dirty.
Before Rachel died, Darwin had already begun to establish an omnipresent sense in all of us kids. We were all very scared of him. Discipline involved the belt, switches and hitting. He didn’t have a favorite spot. He liked to sit me and my sister in a sitting position on the wall, without chairs, and we would do that for hours. When our legs gave out, he’d beat us. Later, I’d be known for strong thighs and a strong buttocks..and all I could think of was all night sessions when I had to do that.
There were times the bruises and wounds were so bad from the beatings that I could barely sit down at school without crying. I’d have to pretend I was having a “moment” and crying it out so people would leave me alone. We could tell no one what was happening. Teachers assumed I was probably still grieving my aunts death. He had already drilled into us that no one would believe us, and if anyone did, we’d be placed in girls homes where we would be starved and raped.
With Rachel gone, the beatings increased tenfold in their brutality. Later, the new wife was present, and I’m not really sure what to take away from it. She didn’t really try to stop it. If she was in a good mood, she’d stop it. If she was mad at us for sassing (which was rare), she’d throw us to the wolf.
Wednesday, all the transgressions from the week were tallied up and we’d get “licks” for each one. Darwin and the wife would smile with glee, reminding us at Wednesday dinner that we were going to get it. I remember being so sad, and afraid, because Darwin had a terrible temper, and he could become out of control while whipping us.
I was so afraid of him hurting Renee that I often took the blame for things she did. I tried to spare her as much as possible. Transgressions like, forgetting to dry a dish, missing a shelf when dusting, getting an A- on a test, final grade or assignment (poor Renee), not responding immediately to an adult request, not getting the house clean enough. It went on and on. I once sat next to a boy on a bus and got twenty licks. He was determined I was not going to be a “whore” like my mother. After that, if the only seat available was next to a boy, I’d stand. Then the bus driver would yell at me. I was more afraid of Darwin, but it was forever a contest between making the “outsiders” mad at me, or him.
I remember looking out the front screen door on a rainy day, and wanting to run. I wanted to get away and never come back. I hated him so much. He had told me so often that I was dumb, I was stupid and that no one would ever care to hear my opinion. The sound of his tires in the driveway struck me so scared that I’d be rooted to the spot…but someday, I wouldn’t have to hear it anymore. I knew that much. He is the person who planted the seed of aversion to male authority.
As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, all proof of Rachel’s existence disappeared. Immediately after Rachel’s death, I was able to go into her closet, pull her clothes close and breathe in her scent. It gave me great comfort, but one day, I went to do the same, and all her things were gone. We were no longer allowed to speak of her, and it was impressed upon us to call Pam “Mom”, which we did begrudgingly.
I later found out that many of Rachel’s things, and things that belonged to my own mother, which contained a lot of photograph’s, were locked away in a huge trunk. Darwin, to this day, continues to hold onto the trunk and lords it over us that he has it. I have since come to peace that I will not ever really own anything that belonged to mom or Rachel. His bargaining chip is dust as far as I’m concerned.
There were little answers to our questions. Renee and I needed to know why our lives changed so rapidly, but it was not discussed. When it was, it was when we were not supposed to hear. Adults would talk in hushed tones, surrounded by smoky air and during card games. Usually, I would sneak up and listen to them, and I would tell Renee what I heard.
I have tried to piece together what supposedly happened to Rachel the day she died:
Rachel walked with her little baby in the carrier over to a neighbor’s house to wait while the house was being bombed. The neighbor was not home, but she was there with permission. Supposedly, Rachel collapsed and fell on the floor. In the process she hit her chin on the end table. Seemed the baby was ok, but Rachel was found in a coma already.
Alternate theories were that she was poisoned because green frothy fluid was supposedly leaking from her mouth, and since Darwin refused to let them autopsy her, we will never know. People in my family believed Darwin may have poisoned her. While his stories changed quite a few times on his whereabouts that day, I can only admit it’s one mystery I will never know the answer to.
Official cause of death: cerebral hemmorrhage. She is buried in Tennessee, in a beautiful grove, surrounded by members of my mother’s family who have also passed. I have only been to her grave once, and it was when Renee died.
Rachel was buried on Labor Day, and a few months later, on October 9th, Darwin married his 24 year old mistress in our living room. However, between Rachel’s death and their marriage, I had a sudden realization that not only was my protection gone, but that life was never going to be the same.
The year Rachel died I started my period and my beloved dog Benji died. I remember wanting to die that year, and my little pink diary had drawings of me stabbing myself in the chest. It was truly the most horrid year up until that point.
After Rachel passed, things got so bad. School was already hell. If it weren’t for the academics, I would have no respite at all. Because Darwin insisted on dressing me like a 70 year old Minnisota retiree, kids were relentless in making fun of me. Since I was never able to choose what I would wear to school, I was subject to his whims. Mismatched, too long pants and crocheted sweaters were the norm. I was not allowed to wear makeup or use hairspray and wore these huge glasses. Maybe the other kids sensed my inner misery, because quite a few pounced on it. I got tripped in the hallway, had items thrown at me, got called “hideous” and “ugly.” It was horrific. I became so angry at everything I started stealing backpacks and purses of popular kids. I would thumb through their wallets with pictures of other popular kids and I’d pretend they were my friends too. I also resorted to kissing up to many of the popular kids, who would return my notes or compliments with a southern lazy “You’re so sweeeeet”. It did buy me some immunity, until one girl caught me with her backpack, which I had so brilliantly used to carry my books the next day. I tried to lie my way through it, but the guidance counseler was onto me, and I got suspended for 3 days.
The social consequences of this were lost imnediately, because one sunny day, most of our school burnt down. I was doing dishes at the sink, cursing Darwin and after a horrendous day at school with this jerk who insisted on tripping me, I wished our school would burn down.
I looked out the window, and we lived close enough to the school to see it. It was one fire. There was extensive damage done to the school. I never found out what caused it. I did find that school was going to be a huge pain in the ass in the future, because we had to now share a space with kids at the high school. They went in the morning, we went in the afternoon. I have little memories of that time, because things got really bad at home. I only remember detesting home economics. We were taught to be wives and mothers. We had to sew pillows. I was going to be a writer, so I didn’t plan to sew shit for any guy.
In an act of extreme benevolence, some months before it all came to a head, my step-mom approached Darwin about giving me a bit of give on my leash. She purchased me a mini-skirt, and bought me some clothes that were cuter and made me look my age. She snuck me a little makeup here and there, and convinced him to let me spend a few nights here and there with my only best friend. I even attended a school dance.
It did get a little better after that, but every step took a lot of arguing. He didn’t want me whoring it up, but he could not ignore that I was becoming a pretty young girl, and people were starting to pay attention to me and my words. He began to knuckle me down with a severity then, but I had a taste of another life, some freedom.
I began to plot my escape. He would never know until I was gone.