It started off quiet.
Like a fire that’s kindling in a corner. A small breeze delivers it the life-giving breathe needed to birth a flame.
Small still. Growing.
I sat up in my bed to listen more attentively. Five. I was five years old at the time. My long black hair brushed across my face when I rose and smelled like Bubblegum. It always brought a smile to my face when I smelled it, intermittently dance under my nose. But tonight it didn’t.
I could hear her crying through the music. “And I….have become comfortably numb.”
Anytime mom played Pink Floyd, it meant bad things were about to happen. I’d learned this faster than I’d hoped I’d ever have to, not that any child should ever have to. I thought it was ‘normal.’
The sound was growing now. Growing more.
“It’s just a little pin prick, there’ll be no more aaaahhhh……” the music wouldn’t pause for them. It didn’t work that way.
Screaming. Then I heard screaming.
Her screaming at him.
“….and I have become comfortably numb.”
Him screaming at her.
Him screaming at us.
Him screaming for us.
“Kids get down here!” he called for us.
We had been summoned from our beds to go. So we went, descending from the reality of earth into the deep dark depths of what was our hell. We marched warily down the steep stairwell with unsure steps and hopeful worry. Hope that maybe tonight wouldn’t be so bad and that we wouldn’t have to worry. The moment we stepped onto the flat floor of the first floor every ounce of hope had slipped away and was out of reach as we realized what was happening. It had happened so many times before that you’d think we’d become numb to it, or at least used to it. The truth is, you never get used to it.
“You need to choose and you need to choose now! Do you think she’s going to be there? Like she’s always been?!” He screamed at us, words slurring together. Whiskey tainted breath provided evidence that his judgement was clouded.
I turned to my younger brother, Ricky. A countenance of confusion stared back at me. It was so hard to think through my stinging tears and sobbing. My head felt heavy. My eyes stung. No matter how hard I willed myself to respond to him I found my breath hitching in my throat and stopping whatever response was trying to escape. A large lump had formed in my stomach and was making its way up my Esophagus. I thought I was going to throw up at any moment.
I hated these nights. This cruel game we were forced to play on their bottom-of-the-bottle nights that came and went at a pace faster than we could keep up with.
All of her relationships were like this. Each patterned so much like the last that you’d think they had provided instructions for those thereafter. A detailed list of ‘what to do’s,’ when really it should have been a list of ‘what not to do.’
This was the relationship my mother had run into after the one with her last boyfriend didn’t work out.
When I say didn’t work out, I mean that her last boyfriend ran me over with his truck by ‘accident’ when I was two years old. Somehow I had managed to walk away from that. My mother had chosen to do the same, not surprisingly.
Now it was him. Now it was them.
By ‘them’ I mean him and her. Who knew how long this one would last…
Donnie was her second husband and a rotten apple if there ever was one. I don’t know if mom took an ad out in the paper calling for the biggest asshole ever…but, I often wonder. In Donnie she found just that, the biggest asshole ever.
My mother was pretty. She was petite but voluptuous. A 5’4’’ brunette bombshell. She reminded me of those models you see in shampoo commercials, swinging their hair around while looking straight into the camera, eyes speaking more than any words ever could with a ‘come get me’ seductive stare that paralyzed men where they stood. She was a southern girl. Born in the backwoods of Southern Illinois where the air smells of hickory chips and crop dust. Her silky voice with her southern accent made her that much more appealing, though she had done a good job at almost getting rid of it. It still tinted every sentence she spoke, coming out subtly which only added to her sex appeal. She had a sweet scent about her that was accented with honey suckle and musk. It proved to be too potent a love potion when in the presence of men. They came and never stopped coming.
Men swarmed about her and tempted her with poisoned apples that she found herself consuming so quickly that by the time the poison had coursed through her bloodstream even an anti-toxin couldn’t have worked fast enough to reverse the damage the poison had done. They had her after that. She had tied her hands. Bound her feet. She wore a collar around her neck connected to a short leash. They held it. They choked her with it. She let them.
By ‘they’ I mean the men.
The one-week boyfriends, one night stands that never called back, good guys that tried but ultimately had failed in their attempt to capture her heart. Mom tended to test them the most. She pushed them with a torture treatment of words and sketchy times spent together. She wanted to see how much they would take, if they really loved her would they play the game? With her it always seemed to be a game. Ultimately in the end the bad guys moved forward, passed go and collected their $200. The good guys, realizing they couldn’t tame this wild woman, chose not to play. Donnie was one of those men that chose to stay with this good time woman and he held her under his thumb unyielding and unmerciful in allowing her any freedom of choice. Any thought she strung into words was pushed to the wayside and his took precedence.
They had met while out riding motorcycles one evening while out on a group ride, one of those friend-of-a-friend endeavors. At the time we were stationed at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan, where mom was active duty Air Force.
Memories. That’s what my mother made for us on that island. That was her intent.
Most of the memories I had of Okinawa are much better than that one. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed its people, it’s food, it’s culture. We had fun.
Mom knew how to have fun…with us, and without us. When she wasn’t with us having fun she was with men having fun.
“Did you not hear me?!”
Donnie screamed at us as we stood at one end of what seemed to be the never-ending hallway in our housing complex while mom lay broken and battered on the floor at the other end.
“Do you want to go with me, or stay here with her?” He asked with a rage in his voice that I had experienced before. Too many times before.
End. I just wanted it to end. When would it be over? How could I hurry this terrible moment along? I thought to myself.
Ricky and I, as if reading each other’s minds, naturally ran to our mother and fell on the floor, crying beside her broken body, the smell of alcohol fresh on her breath. We had never gone to sleep, as the early signs of an argument had been brewing in the atmosphere hours before bedtime in the melodies of Pink Floyd, and we tried to brace ourselves for what we knew was going to be a rough night.
“Fine. I’m gone.”
And we never missed him. The next day we came home from a tired day at school and arrived to find mom lying on the couch nursing her foot, which was in a cast and resting on a mound of pillows. Donnie had pushed her down the stairs that night and broke it. Almost every bone in her foot that was needed to support body weight had been crushed. She’s had four surgeries on her foot since then. Seven screws and two plates have been maneuvered and constructed in such a way so as to produce some type of arch support. Donnie left not only scars on her heart but also scars that will forever be evidence of our rough nights and broken home to which he is due credit in what very well could have been a love that mom would’ve died for.