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Around We Go: Round One

Arriving home from school, I find my mother sitting at the kitchen table.  She has that pale, staring-ahead-without-seeing look, indicative of a traumatic shock.  Closing the door, I cross the small space separating us and set down my stack of school books, taking a seat for myself.  For a moment, I just sit, looking at her, taking in the red and swollen eyes, noting the pain in them.

My mother is a handsome woman.  By that, I don’t mean “manly”.  It’s as if she were born to be regal.  She matches my Dad’s height at five foot ten, sharing with him the same shade of brown in the eyes.  Her hair is long, past her waist, mostly a shiny and marvelous silver with some streaks of the original black added in for spice, and with it, she is a true artist, sweeping it up into elaborate buns and curls.  Other ladies within her social circle pay her to come and work her magic upon them.  Her fingers are those of an artist, long, slender and dexterous.

My mother eventually notes my presence by indicating her head toward the closed back door, as if pointing there would have taken far too much energy.  Below the glass window, brutal impact scars are carved white into the dark of the wood.

“Your Daddy,” she says in a choked and shaky voice, “got violent in here with me last night.  He was mad and screaming.  He grabbed my coffee cup and smashed it against the door.”  Noting the too-familiar hollowed emptiness in my mother’s tone, my eyes scan the kitchen counter and find the mug tree normally displaying matching cups.  My mother has filled the empty space with an odd mug that’s hanging askew, throwing off the usual symmetry.  I can’t take my eyes off of it and sit frozen, unable to speak.

That mug-tree is now a symbol in my mind that separates the day when I  innocently believed my father to be normal from the day that I realized that something was horribly wrong.

Although it was my first acknowledgement of my father’s temper, the reality has always been with me.  There is a popular story from quite early in my life that demonstrates how his temper came up against my resolve.  I was a child of three or four, and had a fever.  My parents, understandably, wanted me to have some tablets of baby-aspirin.  You know, the good tasting orange ones?  Apparently, I had other ideas.

My parents believed in spanking as a form of discipline, as did most of the people in the world of my origin.  NOT spanking was considered bad parenting.  When I refused to take my medicine, my father was determined to be a good parent – or so the story goes.  He put the pills into my mouth and I spat them out.  He put them back in and I spat them back out.

I’m not sure how long this actually continued, or at what point the spanking began.  The me who is writing  now has no memory of this event, but my mother says that my father began to whip me around and around in circles in the middle of the small kitchen floor in the tiny trailer home where we lived.  He might have been using a belt, a hair brush, a fly swatter, or a hickory switch.  These were all popular tools of corporal punishment in the South.  In this particular scene, I think it was the hickory – which I apparently liked the taste of more than I did the pills that were repeatedly shoved by big fingers into my stubborn-set little mouth.

The tale told sounds like a round of boxing – the aspirin is inserted, I spit it out, then starts the switching ‘round and ‘round until my father tires, he rests a bit; repeat.  Amazingly to me, my resolve eventually outlasts his.  Exhausted, he walks away in defeat, leaving two mostly melted orange pills on the floor beside my sobbing figure.  My mother is watching.  “You waited,” she says with incredulity, “until you knew that your father had given up.  As soon as you were sure he was out of sight, you picked up the aspirin, popped it in your mouth and swallowed it!”

As a child, I’m sure that I had no inkling of an idea that I might one day assign myself the task of “Protector” of others from this father of mine.  How had that come about?  Perhaps I felt more capable than them, more experienced in all manner of things that might set him off.  Maybe it was because I was the eldest child.  Conceivably it was simply the fact that my empathy far out-weighed my good sense – an ongoing problem in my life.  Whatever the reason, going forward from the day of that smash against the door, the violent acts of my father became more prevalent and more vicious.  I was forced to helplessly watch the far-reaching affects of this upon people that I dearly loved.  I began to feel a duty to stand between him and the misfortunate folks on the other end of his passions.

For some inexplicable reason, I also wasn’t afraid of him.  That child part of me who’d been beaten ‘round and ‘round the kitchen, refusing to swallow the aspirin, that was the me facing forward with this man.

This juxtaposition of loving him, yet recognizing him as dangerous invoked in me the same sort of empathy that one feels in the responsibility of putting down a rabid dog who used to be the family pet.  Did I have the same responsibility where my father was concerned?  When one’s parent becomes dangerously mad, what is one‘s societal responsibility?  Just because I COULD take him out, was it my duty TO take him out?  Having a father like mine left me in quite a conundrum – and to this day, I still can’t stand that fake-orange taste of baby-aspirin.

Posted in My Inheritance.

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23 Responses

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  1. Kim says

    Ok, so for Christmas next year should I get you a mug tree and orange baby-aspirin? You know I’m kidding! I do want to say that you are an exceptional writer! I really wasn’t sure what to expect of this blog, but when I read what you write, I feel like I am right there with you in the scene you are describing. I can’t wait to read your next entry, and although I’m sure this is all hard for you to write, for those of us who know you, it’s very interesting. I should have known it would be from the stories you had shared with me about Pony. Keep up the great work!

  2. Janice says

    You tell your story so wonderfully! I can’t wait to read more.

  3. Mike Bernier says

    This writing is as powerful as it is painful. Like Kim said, your words put me right in the room, watching everything unfold in real-time. My impressions are that of great sorrow for your mother and great fear for you, since you were just realizing what your father was capable of and not really knowing what he had done to your mother before that incident. The aspirin story is very telling of your determination to live on your own terms and not your father’s. I realize now that we’re all just beginning to scratch the surface of that person we know as Deneen, and the more I read the more I want to know and understand.

  4. charlene says

    i want to hug the brave little girl that fought the baby aspirin. she may have won the battle, but she paid a heavy price. i think she is still feeling the sting of the hickory switch. and like the rest, i do feel as well that i was right in the room with her. *hugs*

  5. Julie Carriker says

    Bravo to your bravery, Deneen, in sharing this with all of us. Remember that we are here for you to lean on when/if the burden becomes too heavy.

    As the others have said, this is powerful writing. I hope you are finding peace through it.

  6. Deneen Ansley says

    Kim – I love that you always bring your sense of humor along to the most serious of subjects! That’s why you’re one of my favorite people! I’m glad that my writing hasn’t disappointed you. Wait until we get to the parts where “everybody wants me.” Oh, and never fear! My Uncle will eventually make his appearance in the story. Thanks for reading!

  7. Deneen Ansley says

    Janice – It was wonderful chatting with you today, and I’m really glad that you are following my journey and enjoying it. Thanks for your support, Dear!

  8. Deneen Ansley says

    Mike – As it turns out, my father had already done some terrible things to my mother, and to many other women. My mother and father tried to keep any arguing from us kids, and that caused us to be confused when things fell apart in a way that seemed to us, sudden. The journey is not so painful now. It all happened long ago and the events that I’m unfolding for my audience are the ones that have made me who I am today. And, I kinda like me!

  9. Deneen Ansley says

    Charlene – Thanks for the virtual hugs. While I was writing this story down, I also realized that the child me was aware of the fact that she NEEDED the baby aspirin. She just wanted to take them on her own terms. I can imagine me saying to myself: “Self, you are sick and you have a fever. The man’s gone now. Take the damn pills already!”

  10. Deneen Ansley says

    Julie – I appreciate the shoulder. It all seems okay right now. Believe it or not, I’m not even addressing any of the stuff that causes me trouble in present days – – yet! Stay tuned!

  11. gwen says

    Thanks for being so vulnerable, emotionally honest, and sharing your story. Looking forward to reading more – Gwen

  12. Charlene Collins says

    OMG! Your story brings back painful memories of my similar abuse as a child. Healed long ago, but never forgotten. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Yvonne says

    I always knew you were a gifted writer. So, what took you so long to start sharing that gift with the world? Even tho you have shared some of your story with me over the years, I am finding your retelling to be fresh, interesting and captivating. Keep on keeping on. I look forward to your next entry.

  14. Deneen Ansley says

    Gwen – You’re welcome! It’s the only way I know to be. I’m happy to have you to share my story with! Thanks for joining in.

  15. Deneen Ansley says

    Charlene – Perhaps we will now feel more connected when all is said and done. I’m sure that my parents didn’t consider what my father did as abuse. It was socially expected. My father was probably disciplined the same way – and your parents were, too, perhaps?

  16. Deneen Ansley says

    Yvonne – I’m not sure what all of the things were that were holding me back, but I know that your encouragement is one of the things that has helped me move forward. I’m happy that I’ve not disappointed!

  17. Charlene Collins says

    My abuse had nothing to do with discipline (perfect child that I was, ha ha). My kind father was a hopeless alcoholic. I experienced and witnessed bouts of violence while he was in none of his stupors.

  18. Charlene Collins says

    That last sentence should have read … “while he was in ONE of his stupors”. My mother told me that he had swung me about by the hair of my head when I was very young. I have no recollection of that. As an older child, I learned to say the right things and to sidestep his intoxicated stages so as to not upset him. But he was still violent with my mother. I cried myself to sleep many a night in fear, hearing the violent rantings outside my door.. Once I came in the house to find him choking my mother on the floor. I intervened with a coke bottle thrown across the room, striking him in the head. He stopped. I thought he would turn on me, but he only silently walked past me.
    … I didn’t live with my parents all the time …

  19. Stevie says

    Deneen, this is some powerful stuff. Thank you for allowing us to visit your life this way. It’s hard…to write down in words what we try so hard to understand yet run away from. I know. I have tried to do this very same exercise with very little success. Sure, some short stories came from it, and some healing, but no real breakthrough. However, seeing you tackle this and realizing how important it is to just try, I will rethink my qualms about sharing some of this ‘junk’ in my life.

    Thank you for sharing, Deneen. Your journey is a rough one to ‘witness’, but I am captivated, my dear! Bravo!

  20. Deneen Ansley says

    Charlene – WOW! When I hear a story like yours, I sometimes feel like someone who’s just whining. I am so appreciative of your sharing here some of what you went through. Thank God you walked in when you did in order to rescue your mother – and Thank God for Coke bottles! Perhaps you brought your father back to his senses for a moment.

    I know well that moment of fear when you’re not sure what your father is going to do. Whether he’ll turn on you, or just go for another target. It’s a scary place in which to stand.

    I’m glad that you didn’t live with your parents all of the time, and I want to reach through this screen and give you a big Deneen (((((HUG)))))!

    I love you and your little brave, bad-ass self!

  21. Deneen Ansley says

    Stevie – You are a BRILLIANT writer – and the world will be a less-good place without your author’s voice in it. If I can inspire you to tell your story with your wonderful gift, then all of my time and effort here has been repaid in one swift blessing!

    Thanks for being my witness.

  22. Lelisia says

    Powerful stories, Deneen, and well-written. I can feel the pain, the empathy, the confusion. Keep up the great work. I’m glad it is proving to be helpful to you, and to other people as well.

  23. Deneen Ansley says

    Lelisia – It means a lot that you are sharing this with me. I appreciate your dropping by.

    My reason for writing this was to extend my hand to others – and to purge some of my demons along the way. I learn more about myself daily as I write here and chronicle it all for those others of you who are watching and reading.

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