Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day, Part 1

The bangs made everything worse. Not that things weren't already bad. They were. They were horrible even before my biological father married my stepmother. I knew she was bad within a few months of their courtship, and once they got married and we moved to the farmhouse, miles away from town - from anything really - my life just deteriorated. I went from being a happy little girl who lived with her grandparents and played dress up in the basement with her friends and many cousins, to a sad, lonely thing who sat in her room, imagining that every creak in the old house was a ghost, or worse, staring out of windows where the glass was so old that the view was forever distorted and rippled as if I were looking through someone else's glasses. I didn't eat. I slept poorly because I was afraid all of the time. Louise (we'll call her that because she needs a name here) never helped me comb my hair. She didn't wash or iron my clothes and I was only ten so I wasn't great at doing my own laundry. As a result I wore dirty clothes and my hair always looked a mess; full of tangles and hanging unkempt. I probably smelled musty from the dirty clothes and dank, old house we lived in. It was probably true when the kids at school teased me and said I stunk.

I didn't get to play with my friends. Louise grounded me constantly. She said I gave her dirty looks, that I talked back to her, that I didn't do well enough in school. Only A+s were acceptable. I got grounded if I got below that. She made me take piano lessons and she punished me when I didn't practice long enough or well enough to suit her and nothing suited her.

My father, who was a tyrant and a control freak and a fanatic went along with it. When we lived at my grandparents' house I think he knew he couldn't get away with acting like that. His parents would have never allowed him to mistreat me in their house and that caused a power struggle between them. He felt like my grandparents' spoiled me and he was jealous because he was their youngest son and wanted the attention and us living there with Mommom and Pop created a dynamic where we were treated more like brother and sister than father and daughter. It was like we were both my grandparents children and they liked me more than they liked him, which was easy because he was arrogant, condescending and vindictive.

When my father married Louise my grandparents wanted me to stay with them and to this day I've often thought that the reason he wouldn't allow that was to spite them and punish them. To further punish them he didn't let me see them. This was Louise's idea. Of course, I didn't understand any of this at the time.

Looking back from an adult perspective, and having discussed this at length with other family members, I see now that Louise had a very genius and complicated plan and if you are to understand her treatment of me and to believe it, you have to know where she was coming from. Louise imagined herself to be very high class. She wasn't at all, but she thought she was. She went to college and so did one of her brothers. Her father had come from a family that was once very rich although they weren't anymore. She thought she was worldly and sophisticated and knew everything. She was also a middle school teacher and taught at my school which added to the hell I was already living in. I could not get away from this woman.

Since Louise had this high class ideal she had a life planned out for herself that was very prim and proper and would be better than everyone else's life. She would have dinner on china every night and be a virgin when she married and then she'd have five or six children who all had very old Anglo-Saxon sounding names and they'd all play the violin and speak foreign languages from birth and grow up to be Ivy League professors. She would be a revered, upstanding and prominent member of society. I think she pictured herself as the matriarch of some sort of dynasty.

But then she met my father who had this kid and this ex-wife who was a drug dealer and married to a Jew and the kid had been spoiled by his parents and her no good mother and the kid hadn't been properly trained and the kid was really a wrench in her plan. The whole idea of a divorced man with a kid was extremely low class and wouldn't look right at all and it completely messed up her ideal scenario. She wanted a clean slate so her kids could grow up perfect and not exposed to me and my mother and our brand of trash. So Louise had to get rid of me, but she had to do it in such a way that she would look good and retain her holy reputation. She had to execute this plan perfectly or it would be disastrous and she would look bad, like the evil stepmother who was cruel to an innocent child and sent the child away. She couldn't have people saying things like that, so she decided to turn herself into the martyred victim of the situation, the sweet, caring woman who tried everything to make it work, but just couldn't because the child was too far gone. She was such a bad kid.

She had to get me to live with my mother, but this was not an easy task at all because my father hated my mother so much that he would never just let me live with her no matter how much he begged. He was still, a decade later, punishing her for leaving him. I was his property that he could use like currency to punish and manipulate those who wronged him. He wouldn't give that up so easily. Louise had to make it look like living with my mother, who was conveniently in another city, was my idea. She also had to make me look like I was such a horrible child that my father would want to be rid of me and that the wanting to get rid of me would override his wanting to punish my mother and grandparents by not letting them see me.

Then I could go and live in another state, they could never talk to me again and her children would grow up innocent of me and my polluted ways and she'd look like an angel in all of it and people in Millpond wouldn't think poorly of her and call her names behind her back.

This was Louise's plan and it worked. She made my life for the two years I lived with her into endless weeks and months of abject misery. I can not even write on here some of the things that this woman put me through. At first it was when my father wasn't around, but soon she convinced him how bad I was and how much I needed punishing and the two of them decided that I had to be put through a process to "break my will." Can you imagine saying that about a little girl? You'll have to forgive me for not going into detail. For some reason I don't want to right now. One day I will write a memoir and in it I will go into detail, but I just don't feel like it right now and I trust you all to respect that. I will tell you that one book got me through it and I read and reread it. It was "A Little Princess."

So my life was not good and had not been good for a little over a year and the bangs just made it all a lot worse. They had been my idea. The popular girls in school had bangs which they curled under with a curling iron and sprayed with Aquanet and I would have done anything to have been friends with them and to have sat at their lunch table. They called me a scum. Not plain scum, but A scum. I was one of the scums, a group of nerdy, dirty kids, most of whom were rotten teethed, white trash farm kids that even I wouldn't be friends with. None of them had bangs.

I wasn't allowed to cut my hair. I don't know why. To this day I have no idea why I was forbidden to cut my hair and I really needed my hair cut. It was ratty and too long for me to manage. I don't know if it was some crazy, religious shit or what, but I was not allowed to cut my hair, though I desperately wanted to.

I also wasn't allowed to see my mother, however, my father didn't have a lot of say about that and my mother went to court and got a order that said I was allowed to see her two weekends a month and for a month or so (I think about that) in the summers. So for a little while the summer between fifth and sixth grade I was happy with my mother where I could play with her dogs and eat and play and stay up late and do whatever the hell I wanted. We were poor as hell and lived in a rowhouse that summer. We were the only white people on the block, but this wasn't an issue with me at all because my mother managed to scrounge up enough cash to take me to see "The Neverending Story" and then to Dairy Queen afterwards. Honestly, I didn't even need that. I just needed someone to be nice to me and pay attention to me and my mother did. I guess I got carried away because I told my mother I wanted a haircut and since she was my mother, she took her only daughter to get a haircut. With bangs.

When my visit was over and I had to return home, with bangs, all hell freaking broke loose. I will never forget it. I think I knew because I remember pulling into the farmhouse driveway, which was crushed oyster shells and I still can't stand that sound. I remember feeling like I was going to shit myself from the fear and the regret. I remember my mother walking me to the door and my father and Louise opening the door, seeing that I had cut my hair and I remember them, one of them, yanking me inside so hard that my shoulder popped out. I just remember a lot of yelling and my mother trying to reason with them and trying to stop them but by then I was inside and she was outside and we were apart and there was nothing she could do because I was inside and she was outside.

I have often wondered what it must have felt like for her to leave and if she had any idea what happened to me. I don't remember. I would probably have to be hypnotized to remember. Once my therapist said I should be hypnotized and I absolutely refused because I don't want to remember. It's odd to try to explain this. I can't remember what happened. I just remember how it felt. And the way it felt was the way I feel when I watch "Schindler's List." There is one scene really. It is the scene where the women have their heads shaved and then where they go into the showers and they've all heard rumors of the poison gas so they know in a second they are going to die in there all bald and naked together. I hope it doesn't offend anyone for me to say this. I'm not exactly comparing myself to the Holocaust. That's not exactly what I mean. I just mean that I had a feeling and it was the same feeling I felt when I saw that scene.

A year later, when I went to go live with my mother it was like clean water coming out of the shower heads and it was just a shower now and not poison gas and I wasn't going to die. I was just going to take a shower after a very long, crowded, hungry train ride.

But I didn't know that yet.

I knew that home sucked and school sucked and the bangs didn't even look good on me. I knew that I wanted to make things better. I reasoned that if I could be perfect and live up to Louise's standards which were now my father's standards too, that they would have to lay off of me. I probably was a bad kid, I thought and maybe I could practice piano more and mind my manners and make more of an effort in school. At the same time, and I realize this is a little contradictory, I had a rebellious streak that said I could outsmart them and that my will would not really ever be broken. I would just make them think it was. And while I was at it, I'd get the popular girls at school back too. I'd make everyone pay all at once and show them all how great I was. As I write this I'm thinking my logic was irrational. On one hand I hated both Louise and my father as well as the popular girls. I truly hated them. One the other hand I wanted them all to love me and praise me. I wanted the popular girls to make me one of them and I wanted Louise and my father to be proud of me. Yet I hated them. The only explanation I have here is that when you're abused and kicked around enough your mind gets crazy and things just don't make sense to you in the same way that they do to healthy people.

But because my will was not truly broken, nor would it ever be, back then that little girl in the red sweater in sixth grade, who had a lot of hope in her 56 pound body, decided it was time for a change.

For years, forever probably, the Student Council at Millpond Middle School had been run by a legacy of rich white kids. Every year the same rich white kids from the same few families got elected into the position of Treasurer, Secretary, Vice President and President. It had been this way since my grandparents were in school and it just kept happening year after year. I'm not sure why this is, because the popular people weren't aptly named. They weren't geuinely popular. In fact, most people hated them. Rich white people are a minority in Millpond which is mostly poor white people and poor black people with some equally poor Hispanic farm workers thrown in.

Scums, niggers and spics the popular kids called us. Scums, niggers and spics couldn't run for Student Council and actually win, the popular kids said. So every fall when we held our Student Council elections no one else would dare even run. Once in a while some nerd might try to run but they'd quickly become a laughing stock and lose quickly. And I think we were all just so beat down, us scums, niggers and spics, that we quit trying. Or maybe we were all brainwashed into thinking we really wanted to be like the popular, rich white kids, even though we all secretly hated them, so we voted for them anyway because it felt like by voting with them for a second we were with them, allied with them in a way. Maybe we just didn't have a choice.

I remember getting the idea to run during lunch. Sixth graders ran for the position of Secretary. The positions went by year, so seventh graders were VPs and eight graders could be president. I sat near the popular kids' table and listened to them. Dawn Biggs, who was by far the most popular girl in my grade, announced her candidacy for Secretary by standing on her metal, folding chair. She was still chewing on a fruit roll up when she did it, her auburn bangs sprayed solid as she told the hushed cafeteria that she was running for Secretary, after a successful run as treasuer the year before in fifth grade. She was seeking a second term and wanted all our help electing her again.

Something came over me. Maybe it was because I hated this bitch with her freckled face and father who owned the fancy car dealership. Louise and my father would have said it was Satan himself who made me do this, but I decided I could not let this girl win and that I would do everything I could to make her lose.

I clamored up on my own metal chair. Lunch monitors rushed to get me down, but before they could, I made my announcement too.

"And I am running against her," I said.

The entire cafeteria erupted in hysterics. Strawberry Quik was coming out of peoples' noses. Even the teachers were laughing. But I didn't care that much because I had endured worse than being laughed at. Being laughed at wouldn't kill you. I just looked down at them all and said it again.

"I am running against her."

To be continued....

If you want another story about Louise for more perspective read this. Louise died last year around Christmas.


Aleta said...

Have you considered writing a book about your life? It would sell..

Wide Lawns said...

Yes yes, of course. That's my goal ultimately. It would be several books and books about my parents' lives too. I am full of books. I wish I could be one of those bloggers who is discovered and contacted by an agent and then gets a fat ass book deal. It's happened to the Boobs, Dr. Pepper lady. It could happen to me.

Ok, you know what. People have been asking me what I want for my birthday. My birthday is Monday. For my birthday I want to be discovered by an agent who can score me a big ass book deal. Like a Stephanie Klein kind of big ass book deal. Six Figures. Ok, shit, I'd settle for five, but why not ask big, right?

Universe? You have been notified. Please produce. Thank you.

Joy said...

I believe you will get your book deal. These kinds of things just happen to you.

This was a very moving story. Thank you for sharing it.

Wide Lawns said...

Thanks Joy and you're right, these things DO just happen to me. Wait til you read the rest of this story.

kerry said...

I'm so glad you survived all that! I disagree that it was the devil that made you decide to run for the school election- I think it's awesome!

Good for you!

I've thought it might be fun to be "high class" but at the same time, it sounds like a set of rules as much as it might be fun, plus ya gotta worry about "what people might think".

I don't care what people think. It's better that way. So maybe it's better that I'm solidly middle class. I may not be the "popular girl" but I know I have good friends.

Pat said...

What a brave act for a scared little girl with so many odds against her. Even when life was so bleak, you held out for that glimmer of hope.

I have a knot in my stomach for what comes next.

mattbg said...

I don't think your thinking was irrational about the hating while wanting to live up their standards.

I think it's a sign of good character, actually, because if you hate someone because you can't live up to their standards then that might be worse than having a tendency to live up to someone's standards first in order to have a more authentic hatred for the person -- for your own reasons and not just because you can't compete. After all, you wouldn't want anyone to think that you hated them just because you were inferior :) I can relate to that part...

Anonymous said...

I loved that Eulogy post when you first wrote it. I still love it.


just a kat said...

Good for you. That's all I can type with the lump in my throat that is travelling to my fingers....
Off to read about Louise.

Miss Kitty said...

I [heart] you, WL. And I really, really hope you'll write your book. [big hugs]

Anonymous said...

I have no doubt something will happen. You're a natural. Luck is important but more than that, you read like a compelled writer; you'll do it anyway.

Jess said...

I applaud the courage you have to tell the world your story. Many families have skeletons that are kept in closets forever. Like you, I have tons to tell but, unlike you haven't mustered up the courage to start writing about it.

I hope you get that book deal!

SoozieQ said...

I too longed for bangs. The problem was my parents couldn't afford to take me to get a haircut. My mom ended up cutting them herself and they were VERY crooked. It backfired because then everyone laughed because I was too poor for a real haircut.

It is amazing how when you are picked on you can be so certain a hairstyle or a piece of clothing could make those little jerks be nice to you.

BTW I think you looked beautiful with bangs!

NeekoalinAZ said...

You were beautiful then and your beautiful now. But now you know it...THAT is the difference.

Autumn Quiles said...

Your bravery, in making your private hurts public, is astounding. Thank you for sharing... and making everyone else who has the same hurts feel normal.

Amblus said...

My ten year old self sympathizes with your ten year old self because I was similarly teased and tortured by my classmates. And, while I was never in a horrifying situation of neglect, I did live through my own weird mistreatment by family members. Anyway, I feel you and I'll totally buy your book when it's published.

Sauntering Soul said...

I want to give you a giant hug! I remember sitting in the cafeteria one day by myself. A football player (royalty at my school) and his cheerleader girlfriend (also royalty) came and sat across from me. He started throwing spaghetti noodles in my hair. And I was too frightened to stand up for myself against the "cool kids". I admire you so much.

Chris (dippy chick) said...

Wow, this brings back memories of what it was like for me growing up, except it was my own mother that was the tyrant. I haven't spoken to her for a couple of years. An old friend recently confided in me that my mom admitted that she resented me because she felt that my dad loved me more than her. She said this when I was about 5 years old. (My dad probably did, but he never dared to cross her path, so he avoided r most of my life.)
I finally realized that I would never be good enough, and I found the sense to stop trying. I am finally at peace.
I can't wait to hear more, but it hurts at the same time. I know how you feel. It sticks with you. I endured a lot, but I also learned a lot about how not to treat people. It made me a better person (and a great mom to my kids), and I am okay with sacrificing part of myself for that cause.
You rock!

x said...

I agree you should totally write a book!

If you don't get an agent for your birthday, ask someone to buy you a gorgeous diamond neckalce from www.idonowidont.com which is what my hubby did for my bday last week.

You would end up writing a whole chapter on your new bling!

Erin said...

I can not fathom how someone could be so horrible to a child. I'm sure you've heard this before, but you have taken everything horrible that was thrown at you and truly turned it into something amazing! I am so glad that that awful woman wasn't able to break you.
(I would for sure buy the book!)

Anonymous said...

I can relate to everything you've written! I was the fat kid in class back in the 1960's when there just weren't any fat kids. It was horrible. I got teased constantly. My desperate parents made me take diet pills that kept me awake day and night. I was forced to diet and given a meager lunch. I wasn't allowed to take ballet classes because my mom said I was too fat. I could go on, but this is YOUR blog!

I would buy your book(s).

TK said...

Wow, I can really empathize, I had a stepmother like that, a conniving resentful lying bitch who made me the scapegoat for everything for years, and a father who believed her because she was a terror, and it was easier than standing up for me because he was a coward. It was a blessing to get kicked out of their family, she had her two boys after I went to live with them, and didn't want to raise another woman's child.

People should have to be licensed to raise kids.

You grew up lovely and grounded and wise in spite of the abuse. Congratulations and pat yourself on the back, you done good!

Happy Birthday!!!!

Paige said...

I think it makes sense that you hated them even though you wanted them to love you---hate comes from hurt.

I feel like that about my dad.

Your book deal will come, I am sure of it--your writing is choking me up and I am a tough ol broad

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