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.”
This is an excerpt from my memoir. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.
So, in the car we went, with as many belongings as the car could hold. Mom and I made the drive up to Peoria and moved in with my grandmother, her second husband, Pat and his son, Arnold. Arnold was about fourteen at this time and seemed nice. I remember that he paid a lot of attention to me, and I loved this, of course. What little kid doesn’t like attention?
I don’t know how long we lived there before the weird shit started. This is when another obstacle was thrown in my way. I already had living in a single parent home and not having a relationship with my father to screw me up; but now, the granddaddy of all issues came into play. Arnold began sexually abusing me.
Yes, I know that being sexually abused by my teenaged step-uncle sounds like something off the Doctor Phil show, and maybe the whole family would benefit from being featured on the show; but, this was real and was a part of my life for most of my childhood. Since Arnold was home and available, he became my caregiver.
My mother got a job at a hospital in Peoria and my grandmother was supposed to watch me. Sometimes, grandma would need, or rather want, to go out so she would have Arnold babysit me. Since I was young, my memories are hazy, but the episodes of abuse really stand out.
The first memory of the abuse is sort of innocent. It was night, and I was home alone with Arnold. We were both lying on our sides on the couch in the front room of grandmother’s house. Arnold was lying behind me on the scratchy plaid couch with his arms around me, spooning me. I remember that it felt good to be hugged even though he seemed to be hugging me too tightly. At this point, I still considered Arnold to be nice and I did what he told me to do. Then, I remember seeing headlights reflecting on the wall, from the front window, and Arnold told me to pretend that I was asleep. I wasn’t sure why he was telling me this, but I did what he said.
The next thing I remember is the first time Arnold forced me to perform oral sex on him. Again, I was two. TWO. I was sitting on his lap in the recliner just outside of grandma’s bedroom. The house was small so my grandmother’s room was directly off the living room. I don’t think anyone was home. It was dark. The big old floor model TV was on, tuned in to some 1970’s show. I don’t remember the show, just the noise of the TV and the flickering lights. At some point, Arnold unzipped his pants and showed me his penis. I remember feeling afraid. I had no clue what the thing was. He told me not to be afraid and told me it was nice. He told me to kiss it and then forced it into my mouth. I felt like I was going to choke and I gagged and cried. Arnold got mad at me and pushed me off the chair. He got up and left the room.
Sometime after that, I was alone in the kitchen with my grandmother. While we were standing in front of the refrigerator, I tried to tell her about what was happening with Arnold. Her eyes turned cold and blank and she told me never to talk like that again. I shut up immediately and never said a word about it to her again.
Later, when I was alone in the kitchen, feeling embarrassed and sad, I opened the refrigerator and stuck my finger in the baking soda box, licking the powder from my fingers. It tasted horrible and I never did eat baking soda again, but I did eat a lot of other things over the years in an attempt to deal with the feelings that I didn’t understand and I wasn’t allowed to talk about. I learned to hold things in that day. I got the message that no one would really help me anyway.
Last week, I had my yearly lady garden inspection. Well, I suppose they inspect they whole structure, not just the garden. Anyway, as per protocol, I was a wee bit nervous when I got there. So, I was relieved when the receptionist smiled and only handed me two forms to review and sign. At least, I didn’t have to write a bunch. Then, she pointed out a third form, that was really an advertisement for CoolSculpting.
For those of you who haven’t Googled it yet, or who are otherwise out of the loop, CoolSculpting is a procedure where they wrap you in some sort of cold torture device freeze your fat cells. I could tell that the receptionist felt a little odd bringing it up since she was basically calling me a fat ass.
Receptionist: The third page is just, uh, well, we will be doing CoolSculpting and you can fill this out if you are interested.
Me: (looking down at the form with pictures of various chubby body parts with checkboxes next to them) Oh! I’m interested. I’d love to check all of the boxes.
Receptionist: (looking excited. They must get a bonus for everyone who signs up or something) Really?!
Me: Yep! I mean, you should probably just put my whole chubby body in an ice chest, but the husband would probably remind me that we have a kid in college so we shouldn’t spend money on stuff like that.
Receptionist: (looking down at her desk, and a bit awkward because there was a really heavy woman and a pregnant woman in the waiting room. Oops!) OK. (nervous laugh) Well, just sign those two forms and hand them back to me.
I stopped cracking fat jokes about myself and reviewed the two forms to be sure all of the information was still current. Then, I took a look at the CoolSculpting flier. Seriously, they had every possible body part that you could get a CoolSculpting contraption around other than the dreaded Fupa. I guess you can’t freeze a Fupa, even at the gyno office.
I don’t know how to feel about CoolSculpting at the gyno. I mean, isn’t this one of those places where women already feel vulnerable. You already dread sitting there with a paper blanket over your legs in meat locker level air-conditioning. Then, there is the part when you have to keep scooting down the table to the stirrups, and you hope you don’t fart or have any toilet paper stuck anywhere. And with all that stress already, they want to greet us with, “Hey, fatty! Let’s freeze that shit off!”
I don’t know how to feel about this, or if I need to feel anything about it. What do you think? Should the gynecologist offer CoolSculpting?
And, one more thing, if fat can be frozen, why aren’t Eskimos skinny?
Picture it! It’s a sunny Saturday morning. The husband, Chris, is unloading the dishwasher, and I’m throwing a scrambled egg sandwich in the microwave for the boy, who has to work. Poor boy. Anyway, I decide to make coffee.
Me: Do you want some Starbucks coffee? [I say this like I just offered my husband a treasure chest full of sex or something.]
Husband: Are we going to Starbucks or do we have some here?
Me: [walking to the pantry like I’m about to reveal what is behind door number three] We have some! I bought it on Thursday.
Husband: Good. I didn’t want to go there right now. [Chris is not a morning person.]
Me: You don’t have to. [Pulling out the bag of Starbucks from behind the chips] See! I got genuine 1971 Pike’s Place. Fuck!
Me: I bought decaf! Well, this explains everything! I told you I nearly fell asleep grading essays yesterday. Well, essay grading is boring, but still!
Me: And I wanted to take a nap at 10am. Now I get it! I drank decaf. No wonder it was on sale. I blame Mr. Roll Tide for this.
Husband: Oh, you were chatting up your friend again.
[Mr. Roll Tide is a stockman at our local Kroger. I love talking to him because he is from Alabama and proudly wears his Alabama hat. I’m from Florida and also do not route for the local team, OSU.]
Me: Yes! He was on the coffee aisle, wearing his Roll Tide hat. I told him, “Good for you for wearing that hat!” And he asked me if I was from Alabama. I reminded him I was from Florida. So, he told me to keep rooting for the Gators. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was a Seminole because he was so happy to remind me that Urban Meyer was at UF before he was at OSU. So, I got distracted and picked up decaf. It’s all his fault.
Husband: Of course. Well, just make whatever swag we have.
And that’s what I did. I made cheap Aldi coffee. Are you all crying for me?
Recently, I took a ten-day break from Facebook. It was supposed to be a month long break but I had to keep logging back in to use Goodreads, Uber, and the 97,000 other apps I have linked to Facebook. I needed a break because I was tired of the never-ending bad news in my feed about the government, murdered children, beaten pets, and random fires and floods. I was also tired of rolling my eyes at the vague booking, diary posts, and pictures of meals. So, even though my break did not last a month, I did learn a few things from the experience.
- I’m nosy. One of the reasons I spent so much time on Facebook is because I am nosy. I love looking up old boyfriends and high school acquaintances to see whatever happened to them. Guess what? When I was off of Facebook, I Googled them instead. I love Google stalking. I think I could probably be happy being a detective but my son reminded me that detectives do more than Google people.
- I get a lot of work done when I actually focus. So, when I was not Google stalking, I did get more work done by not having Facebook as a break option. Instead of taking a few minutes between tasks to make sure that one woman was still crazy or that other person was still overly dramatic, I simply moved on to the next task on my list.
- I still procrastinate my writing when I am not on Facebook. Sometimes, I think maybe I just don’t like writing as much as I thought I did. According to a therapist I used to see this is because I have a “fear of failure” so I “self-sabotage.” I tell myself there is no point in writing because it is so hard to get published. I tell myself I’m not that good at writing anyway. I would say that is accurate.
- I read so much more. Rather than scrolling through and seeing what everyone had for dinner, I opened a book, either hardcopy or e-book, and I actually read. I read memoirs in the hopes that this would inspire me to actually work on my own memoir. I’ve got stories to tell, but I keep muting myself. I guess we covered this in number three.
- I rolled my eyes a lot less. The only time I rolled my eyes during my Facebook break was when I watched the news. Facebook and the news remind me of how mean and unempathetic people have become.
- I’m just a more tolerant person when I don’t know about someone’s political views. I enjoyed talking to people in real life without seeing what meme they just posted.
- I didn’t miss much. You could log on to Facebook every five minutes or once a week. You will see the same things. There are cat pictures (yay), memes from both sides of the political aisle, news stories about shootings, bombings, and children being left in cars, and a plethora of awkward selfies.
So, I’m officially back on Facebook, but I am limiting my time. I have taken the app off of my phone and my iPad. I will only look at Facebook on the computer, and that will only be when I have completed my grading, discussion responses, and other tasks for the day.
What about you? Have you ever needed a social media break? How often are you on Facebook?
One of the things that a lot of people, including myself, love to complain about is their imperfect childhoods. We sit on many a couch in many a therapist office talking about it. We seem to blame our parents for a lot, and our mothers usually take the brunt of that. So, to get away from that Freudian way of thinking, I would like to share with you some of the great things my mom taught me.
Mom taught me to dress nicely when going to the hair salon. If you dress like a slob, they will think that is how you want to look. Actually, my mom has always dressed nicely to go anywhere. There were no sweatpants and Crocs on her.
Mom told me it is better to be slightly underdressed than really overdressed.
Mom pushed me to go to college. After high school, the last thing I wanted to do was go to school. I wanted to nap, read, and cuddle kittens. I still just want to do these things, but now I do them with a master’s degree and an online job.
Mom moved to Florida before I was born. My father got a job there, and even though they were not getting along, she decided to make the move with him. I’m glad she did. This enabled me to grow up with people of many cultures and religions.
Mom taught me to tip generously. She tips everyone, even the cashier at Wendy’s.
Mom taught me to make a family out of friends. My mom was never one of those “blood is thicker than water” folks. She taught me that if someone did you wrong, even if they were family, it was ok to get them out of your life.
Finally, Mom taught me to treat myself sometimes. My mom was not a saver. She would rather have the better product than the cheaper one. This is a trait I have inherited. It is why my husband is in charge of our money. : )
I learned a lot of great things from my mom. These are really just a few of them. Let me hear from you in the comments. What are your favorite lessons that you learned from your mom?
The boy, the husband and I are sitting at the table having bagels and coffee on a Sunday morning. The husband is going through Open Table and finding a dinner spot for when we are in DC for our nephew’s wedding.
Husband: Here’s a good one — Tap House. It looks like it has something for everyone.
Me: You mean plain things for boring eaters like me.
Son: Tap House – why do they call it that?
Me and the husband: Beer on tap.
Son: OH! I thought it was like a tap dancing place.
Me: (feeling hyper from the coffee and getting up from the table) HI! Welcome to Tap House. Follow me to your table. (fake tap dancing and walking out of the kitchen)
Son: (laughing) YES!! Oh my God! Let that be real!! There needs to be a place like this.
Me: (Still fake tapping) What can I get you guys to drink?
Son: Yes! See, you’re making it kind of a cheesy, campy place, which is great. I pictured it as a really exclusive place. You know, it would be really classy and there would be a pianist playing on a stage and then a really serious tap dancer.
Husband: You guys are scaring me.
Me: Either way, the shifts would have to be short there. Their feet would hurt. What if someone called in sick and your four-hour shift became eight hours.
Son: That’s why they would have understudies. If someone called in sick, the understudy would work. I can just see him backstage calling his mom. “Mom! It’s finally my time to shine!”
Son: So, what would we call it?
Me: Tap House!
Son: Ok. I was thinking we’d call it I’d Tap That.
The boy and I have a mutual friend that he works with. She is young, funny, smart, pretty, and single. She has not had much luck with the usual dating apps. She wants to date, but she is also introverted and doesn’t get out much. As she says, “I don’t bar hop or climb mountains. I want to find my couch potato in crime.” So, the boy and I were chatting about her in the kitchen, and the husband was on the couch commenting.
Husband: Well, she’s never going to find a boyfriend watching Netflix.
Me: Wait a minute! What if she could? I bet we could design an app for that.
Husband: Tinder already exists. You can date from your couch.
Me and the son (at the same time) – No!! No!! You could match people by shows.
Husband looks a bit scared because sometimes the boy and I share a brain. He also looks confused because he’s really not a big fan of movies or TV unless it’s Shameless (American and UK).
Me: Yes!! People could choose the shows they stream and the movies they like. We could call it Netflix and chill.
Son: Mom, I’m pretty sure Netflix would sue us for that.
Me: What about Hulu and hug?
Son: No, mom. No.
Friends, does such an app exist? Can you find your partner based on your streaming preferences? If not, can one of you invent this? We can go on Shark Tank together.