When I was in third grade, Arnold, the abusive step-uncle, came to live with my mother and me in Florida. From what I could overhear when my mother talked to my grandmother on the phone, Arnold was having trouble in school and was just too much for grandmother and grandfather to handle. So, the adults thought it would be a good idea for Arnold to live with my mom and me, her eight-year-old daughter, in Florida, in our two-bedroom apartment.
I remember this apartment well. Aside from all of the bad things that happened in it, this was one of my favorite apartments. It had dark red carpet throughout, and the furniture that came with the apartment was cool. There was a black and white sofa and a really comfortable chaise lounge. I think it was golden colored, but I’m not sure. Sometimes, during the summer or if I was homesick, I would spend almost the whole day in that chaise. I would even eat there while watching cartoons.
The only furniture that did not come with the apartment was the small brown bar and bar stools that my mom had purchased. My mom has never been a drinker, so it was an odd purchase for a single mom. She did keep the bar well-stocked, or at least it looked that way when I was eight.
The master bedroom of the apartment was really an efficiency, with its own entrance. It did not have a kitchen, just a bedroom and bathroom. The entrance led to the driveway of the triplex next door. “Aunt” Hanna, her daughter Laurie and Hanna’s dad lived there. That’s another reason that I loved that apartment. I loved being near Hanna. She took care of me when my mom worked and she picked me up from school. Before she took over, Hanna’s mom, Katie used to take care of me. Katie passed away when I was 5. That’s the first time I remember losing someone I loved. Katie’s grave is the only one that I have ever visited because I am just not a visitor of graves. Sometimes, I just need to talk to her.
There was a time when my mom couldn’t afford to rent the apartment as a two-bedroom apartment, so the landlady locked the deadbolt on the master bedroom door and rented the efficiency to someone else. Mom and I would share a bedroom then. The funny thing was there was an air vent that opened from our hallway into the closet of the efficiency. So, we really had no privacy and neither did the other tenant. I could hear everything that went on over there. I always wondered if they heard me home alone or heard me crying. I became a latch key kid at 8, after my mom and Hanna had a fight.
When Arnold came to live with us, we were in possession of both bedrooms. Mom had the master bedroom and Arnold was to share a room with me. Yes. You read that right. A teenage boy, sixteen by this time, was supposed to share a room with a little girl. Even if mom didn’t know what had happened back in Peoria, this still was a bad idea. I have often shaken my head about this one.
So, Arnold slept in a twin bed in my room and I slept in the other twin bed. Previously, Arnold’s bed had been home to my stuffed animals. They were relocated to a garbage bag in the closet, which I wasn’t happy about because I thought they would suffocate.
Arnold was acting normally for a while. Then, I had to come home early from school for vomiting one day. I remember the grown-ups thinking that I vomited because I got overheated on the playground or something like that, and I remember thinking that sounded a bit silly, but I was a kid so I didn’t question them. Mom picked me up and brought me home, and when Arnold got home from high school she went back to work, leaving him to care for me. I got nervous, but I said nothing.
I was lying on the black and white couch when Arnold wanted to “play a game”. I had been eating the potato chips he had given me and watching TV. Yes. He really gave a child who just vomited potato chips. I had eaten quite a few when he started his old tricks. He unzipped his pants and I started to feel sick. He forced my head down to his crotch. I’m sure he must have said something first, trying to persuade me that this was a good idea, but I don’t remember any of that. I just remember vomiting potato chips all over his crotch and a little on the sofa. He smacked me and I started crying, from the vomiting and from being smacked. To this day, I still cry when I puke. Neither one of us mentioned any of this to my mom when she got home.
Later, it could have been days, months or weeks, Arnold molested me for the last time. It was night, a school night, I had had a bad dream and woke Arnold with my sniffling. He told me to come over to his bed. I’m not sure why I complied, but I did. I got into his bed. At first, he held me and comforted me and I started dozing. The next thing I remember, Arnold was on top of me, with his pants off. He was pulling down my pajama pants and telling me, “It’s ok. You’ll make it. It’s ok.” I didn’t think it was ok. I don’t know where I got the energy, but I got out from under him and ran into my mother’s room, where she was sleeping with Raul, her boyfriend.
Raul really needs his own chapter as he spent seven solid years of my childhood with my mother. Raul had many issues. He was an alcoholic who became vicious when he drank. He dislocated my mother’s jaw twice. No; my mother never filed charges, though she did call the cops once. Once, I grabbed a steak knife and threatened to stab him if he wouldn’t stop beating my mother. When I began to go through puberty, he began to kiss me open-mouthed and often visited when he knew my mom wasn’t home. He was a prize winner for sure. He was also married. As you can imagine, we don’t talk about Raul much either.
So, I went running into mom’s bedroom crying and telling my story. Raul got out of bed and went into my room to get Arnold. I’m not sure what happened or where Arnold slept the rest of the night. I heard yelling. The next day, I was sent to school. I never saw a doctor; nor was I taken to any sort of therapist. That was that. Life went on. It was like nothing had happened.
Afterschool, Arnold was sent home on a plane. Before he left, he was sitting at the little bar in our apartment with my brother, Timothy. Arnold and Timothy were close in age and always got along well. They were talking about how horrible it was that Arnold had to leave. Personally, I was relieved and couldn’t wait for him to leave. Timothy was angry at me and blamed me for this. He asked me why I “lied” about this. I was stunned. I really couldn’t believe that my big brother was not taking my side. That’s the day that I decided that I didn’t like my big brother very much. This was when I started considering myself an only child. Timothy didn’t live with us anyway. After the divorce, he lived with our father and I stayed with mom. So, having nothing better to reply with, I gave him the answer that a lot of kids give every day. “I don’t know.”