Thursday, February 14, 2013

First Draft of Third Chapter

The only thing between me and my shitty first draft? Perfectionism.  That and my twelve year old dog, who needs to go out, this very instant.

3. Silver Creek Drive, After Evil

I kissed the ground
I coughed it up
my lemon skin
my broken jar
I pushed her down on my way up
I saw the top
of her head
I was tired
so I went to bed
I pushed her down on my way up
now the bones
and leaves are dry
I sleep in the corners
of her eyes
-The Gourds

There was a time of freedom at this house, before I was again entirely confined.  I rode my banana seat bike all around the neighborhood, and in  1981, Silver Creek Drive seemed to be a thoroughfare between developments in different stages of completion.  How many model homes and building sites did I explore with a friend in the late afternoons and weekends?  It seemed countless.  I don’t recall doing damage in the model homes, so much as having found a life-sized way to play house.  It was imperative that we didn’t move things like the luxurious black satin comforters, with no sheets underneath, or the black and red ‘oriental’ place-settings on the shiny lacquer dining room table. A fanned black swan napkin graced each of the four spots.  

The food at home on Silver Creek Drive was only interesting if I stole it, or made it myself. Sugar was another thing banned from my diet and it became a hunger-dare, on weekend mornings, to sneak out my second floor bedroom, peer over the living room from every angle and assess the state of my parent’s bedroom door.  Open meant a stiff and quiet retreat. Closed meant stealth mode downstairs, to the left through Norma’s office and into the kitchen. Only once in this house did I score one of the sweet but tart and flaky cream cheese danishes that my father made.  He didn’t make them all the time, and I had only so much daring. Trying not to get caught meant getting caught once in awhile and having my door yanked open and a handful of danish butter cookies exploding down the wall, or worse.  Good thing I wasn’t picky about the state of the cookies before they melted in my mouth.  

My bedroom, at this third place, and in the third year we lived together, was again catty-corner from Shay’s room.  I had two desks, an old roll-top with a delightful amount of  slots and drawers and the baby blue school desk that matched the toy box, again sitting under the window. Miniature pink rosebuds ensconced in wisps of pale green were evenly splayed across the white background of the cushion Norma made for the lid and seat of my toy box. She even remembered the detail of white cotton eyelet lace, which reminded me of a white eyelet pinafore that Granny made for me years before.  

If I ate dinner, it was at the baby-blue desk.  One of them would bring a plate up and either hand it to me or set it on the desk. I’d peel back the foil and survey the tease.  A grilled burger, slathered in mustard which I hated.  String beans again, which made me gag.  I loved string-less green beans, but these had strings coarse as horse hair that eventually wadded wet-nest-like in my cheek.  I would chew and chew, trying to break it down until the green edible parts were long gone.  Swallowing had failed too many times for me to bother ever again, and so I would spit these out.  Because we had a clean plate club rule, I was not allowed to leave anything on my plate, so  I’d work my way around the things I didn’t like and bundle the uneaten food in the foil, baked potato style. Why it didn’t occur to me that I should flush these things down the toilet bit by bit, I don’t know. Instead I would hide them away in the closet, which eventually developed an odor that I couldn’t quite ignore. There was no starvation, in the literal sense, but there was in the emotional sense.  Eating food made with love and food made with anger nourishes differently. Granny, for example, who is my father’s step-mother, fed me grape-nuts with fresh sliced strawberries, sugar and whole milk.  She made homemade applesauce and peach pie.  If a jar of her jelly didn’t set right, it became the most intensely sweet and thick blackberry syrup you can imagine.

One night, as on many nights, my father opened my bedroom door and stood there, knob gripped in his right hand. My nine year old body froze, even if I wanted it to melt instead, down into my mattress leaving nothing but a steaming puddle of me. Light from the hallway flooded in, outlining his tall frame, blinding me.

In a low, measured tone he said, “My head hurts. You're causing it. If you don't stop it, I'll make you hurt worse. You have fifteen minutes. Make it better, or I'll be back”. He turned around, doorknob still in hand and shut the door behind him. Staring straight up, blind, but in darkness, the hallway light a shining swath under the door, my breathing resumed.

Lying there, body clenched, I prayed. “ Please. Make it go away. I'll do whatever you want, whatever it takes. Just make his headache go away. Don't let him come back. I won't sneak any more books, I won't steal any more food. I won’t do anything bad. Anything. I'll stay right here and pray.”

I fell asleep that way. Fervent, sweaty, desperate. The next day, he said, “It took half an hour for my headache to even start going away. I almost went back for a visit, to motivate you, but God stopped me. He told me of your dedication, your promises, and his belief in you. Don't let him down, Leigh, and don't let me down.”  The father I remember, before the guru father, wanted me fearless.  He wanted me fearless until he wanted me filled with fear.  

In the fourth grade at Webb Elementary my anger defined me.  Imagine me kicking a boy in the crotch, throwing chairs and screaming at my fourth grade teacher “I hate my father!  I hate my father!” My aloneness defined me. Think of me in my smelly Silver Creek Drive closet, praying, begging, praying, begging god to help me be good. Eventually my love of books both defined and saved me.  A trip to the school library was part of my daily routine, I dropped off a few, picked up a few and did my best to stock up for long weekends. Aside from the library, art class was my favorite place to be. Think of my art teacher sending supplies home with me, until my parents accuse me of stealing.  Just simple things like paper, glue and glitter.  All things I could hide away in my desks.  

On the 15th of January 1982, with help from my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Hildebrand, I wrote and mailed a letter to my grandmother, also a teacher.

Dear Granny,

I feel I should write this letter. I've been having this problem about two or three years. I've been warned before never to tell you. But I think it's a good thing to do because... my parents... pull my hair, spank me with a belt (that leaves me black and blue), make me stay in my room and I can't go outside. I'm really tired of it and I'm asking your help. Please!

Love, Leigh.

If you want to ask my teacher about this, here is her name and home phone number, Mrs. Hildebrand's home phone number is 451-4008. School number 452-4708.

Don't tell or call my parents or they will get real mad! Please!.

My parents open my letters that I get. So if you need to write to me or call me, here is the school address and phone number. 452-4708. Webb Elementary School, 601 East St. Johns Austin, Texas 78752.

January 17, 1982

Dearest Leigh,

I was very surprised to get your letter.  I was also very distressed.  You know that I love you very, very much, and I am sure that your parents love you very much, too.  After all, you are an exceedingly lovable kid!

Sometimes parents (& grannies, too) get extra uptight when things don’t go well.  Kids get uptight, too.  Right? I don’t know what has happened to cause all this unhappiness, but I am very sure that if we (we being you, your parents, me, and maybe Shay and Chad), if we could all talk about it together, really talk, saying all the good things as well as the bad things, that we could work it out.;  It would take time. It took time to get all the misunderstandings. So it would take time, a long time, to get the understandings too.  You also have a very fine teacher, a counselor, and a social worker that could help us.  

I won’t say anything to your parents until you want me to, but I don’t see how I can help if I don’t talk to them.  Will you think about this, please? Let me know what you think.  

I’ll probably see you this weekend.  XX is having a birthday party and I know xx was going to call your parents to see if you could go.  It will be at (Yuk!) McDonalds because that’s what XX wanted.  Remember how much you and XX liked McDonalds when you were five years old? Also XX and XX wanted to spend the night with me after the party and I hope you can, too.  I told XX to tell your parents, when she called to invite you, that I would be glad to go get you and take you to the party in Georgetown if they wanted me to.  She was also going to tell them that XX and XX were going to say with me Saturday night and ask if you could stay too.  I’ll call Tues. or Wed. for an answer.  

Leigh, be as cooperative as possible at home.  Try to stay happy, because that helps others be happy too.  

I love you very much and I know that with four intelligent and loving people (that’s you, your dad, your mother and your granny), we can figure out what things have caused this trouble and how to cure it.  

So hang loose, sweetie!  You are always in my prayers,
Much love,

Granny saved these letters, the letters that brought a social worker to my school with a camera. The letter that irrevocably changed my life. In pencil and precise cursive on a sheet of lined, loose-leaf paper I wrote that letter, never expecting that I would spend nine years ‘growing up’ in foster care.  

It was a vaguely familiar adult that interrupted our fourth grade class to whisper in Mrs. Basey's ear; someone from the office. Mrs. Basey looked over at me, nodded and motioned me to the door. Not during reading, I thought while closing Serendipity, our text. I pushed my chair back from the desk.

Eyes were split between me and Mrs. Basey, who said “Gather your things, you have a visitor in the office.” I gathered and followed. The woman led me on the familiar walk, past the library doors and glass display cases. My eyes trailed along the walls, noting the painted-over cinder-block construction, the green and blue bathroom doors, and the white ceramic fountain- shiny but unused because it dispensed nothing  but tepid water. If it was Norma or Daddy, they would just tell me, right?

I didn't know the woman waiting for me in the office. Relief. She was petite, with dark wavy hair, bangs and a tightness around her eyes.

“Latricia Keys” she said, holding out her hand for a shake. “You must be Leigh. I'm from the Texas Department of Human Resources and I'm here to talk with you.”  

Latricia led me into a room with a rectangular meeting table and some wooden chairs. We sat down. On the table, Patricia had a folder, pad of paper, pen and camera; a low-budget Polaroid camera . She picked up the camera, set it back down and asked
“Do you understand why I want to talk to you?”
“No.” I said.
“Do you remember writing a letter to your Grandmother?”
I must have turned some waxy shade of green.
“Leigh, there are people who are very worried about you, including me and your grandmother. If it's not safe for you at home, you need to be somewhere else.”
“Where?” I asked.
“First we have to talk about why you wrote that letter, what's happening at home. Can you do that with me today?”
Mouth dry, I nodded yes.
“Why were you absent last week, Leigh?”
“The bathroom.”
“The bathroom.”
“You were in the bathroom for a week?”
“My bedroom too.”
“Why were you in the bathroom?”
“I had to stay in the bathtub, a lot. To make the marks go away.”
“The bruises?”
“Yes. Norma would come in to check on me and put more hot water in the tub”
“Who is Norma?”
“My step-mom.”
“Did she give you the bruises?”
“No, it was Daddy. He called me from upstairs because I was angry.
“How can your parents tell you’re angry?”
“They meditate and God tells them I’m angry.”
“So, tell me how you got those bruises.”
Tell how he stares at me while unbuckling his belt, daring me to look away as he inches it off his waist and snaps it? How his left hand holds my left arm, demanding stillness? How he hits me, and my body reacts with a scream and a leap, almost levitating, then dropping back down. Tell how we move in a noisy, uneven circle around the room, like I’m to be broken with a lead and whip, round and round?
“Leigh, how did you get the bruises?”
“He hits me with a doubled-over belt”
“How often does he hit you?”
“Whenever I get mad.”
“Do you get mad a lot?”
“It just depends.”
“Do you still have bruises on your body right now?”
“May I see them?
“You mean, take off my clothes?”
“Leigh, I need to take some pictures of your bruises. I'm sorry, but I need them so I can protect you, help make you safe.”

Latricia used the camera, the pad of paper and the pen to document my bruises, as gently as bruises can be documented in the unyielding, fluorescent glare. I felt so naked. Wait, I was naked. And cold. And sick to my stomach. Why did I write that letter to Granny?

The flash and clack of a Polaroid camera captured images of my nine year old self, stripped of clothes, in an empty meeting room.  I submitted to the documentation, my posture a mix of pride and shame.  Each flash of the camera, each picture laid out was a step in the direction of Granny.   I knew it wouldn't be as easy as the Boxcar Children made it look.  They had a boxcar, and a town dump, and each other.  There were days I’d beg my father to let me live under a bridge, though it was really a highway underpass.  I would bargain that dropping off supplies for PB&Js every few weeks would be cheaper and less painful, for us all.  That was my plan.  To live under a bridge.  After all, my mother had lived in a tree.  And when you live in trees, or under bridges you don't have to do things like take baths or stop reading.  But I wasn’t living in a mosquito net under a bridge, I was waiting as the noise and bustle of Webb Elementary’s after school rush died down. Latricia made me stay with her even as the last buses pulled away from the curb.
“Don't worry, she said, I'll give you a ride home”.
“If I'm late, I'll be in trouble,” I said.
“Leigh, your Dad can't hurt you anymore”.
Yeah right.  He'll meditate if I'm late.

Next I’m standing on the front porch of the  house on Silver Creek Drive. The social worker, Ms. Keys,  is knocking on the front door. For me there is no sound, so I saw the knocking, but couldn’t hear it. Thankfully only Daddy was home.  His mouth moved, as he responded to the social worker. Then his eyes shift and lock onto mine, and I don’t need to hear. After collecting a blur of things we come back out.  Still no sound.  And by now, there is no color. The bags are placed in the trunk of Latricia’s white car.  I’m loaded into the front seat.  I feel the vibration and force of the door slamming, the pressure of the seat belt.  

I turned and looked back as we drove away, my father standing on the front lawn.  He knew and I knew that this leave-taking was my own fault.  But what else can evil do? He became smaller and smaller, like the figures I used to watch all tiny and distorted through his glasses on Riverside Drive. A searing heat built in my stomach and chest.  I sobbed to the sound of the social worker telling me that "Crying is good.  If you weren't crying, I would really be worried.  If you weren't crying, something would really be wrong."  And so, I cried,  but still, things were really wrong.   

1 comment:

  1. Some kids need hugs,some need a swift kick in the ass.Your plan to put your dad in his place backfired...good shit.


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