My third grade year was a year of many learning experiences. It was in a lot of ways full of unexpected things. Things children are only beginning to understand.
"Promises mean everything when youre little, And the worlds so big, I just dont understand how You can smile with all those tears in your eyes and you Tell me everything is wonderful now Please dont tell me everything is wonderful now I go to school and I run and play I tell the kids that its all okay I laugh aloud so my friends wont know When the bell rings I just dont wanna go home Go to my room and I close my eyes I make believe that I have a new life I dont believe you when you say Everything will be wonderful someday" Everclear's Everything is Wonderful Now
The snake had a name- Clyde. And yes, Mom said yes. I was truly worried about where this was going to go and I knew without hesitation this was going to be bad. For starters, they found a house together- in the same small town as Pink & White's trailer court. It was the nicest place we had ever lived up to that point-materially speaking. A modest 3 bedroom ranch, green siding, A huge tree out front, room in the back for a swingset. Mom could finally prove her worth to us, at least I'm sure that's what she thought at the time. Buffalo Street. I have to actually visit this street occasionally because we currently have 2 Habitat homes built caddy corner from that house (which is now white with blue shudders and garage fills up any hope for a yard). But I have seen a change in that neighborhood. I think maybe the turn of events made that town realize they were not immune to the violence you read about in newspapers....I'll explain what I mean shortly.
This move of course meant a new school for me. New school, new set of rules all the way around. Mom had a new job of sorts. The friends on Peabody avenue had a Mom with Alzheimer's Disease and couldn't afford a real nurse. So Mom became the care giver.Clyde was extremely insecure about himself and overly jealous. Insanely jealous and into strange things, that man had a few screws loose upstairs.
I think Clyde knew I knew he was bad news. Because it was always me he was trying to get approval from, in a way that felt like I was somehow something he had to conquer. Like asking my permission to marry mom. Once, when we were at his parents house, and as we got loaded into his car he came around to my side and said, "You know, since your mom and I are married now- You can call me Dad." I understood that he wasn't politely asking or giving any consolation whatsoever. He was demanding that I be an obedient child and call him Dad, as was the respectful to do. I, having a mind of my own, simply said back, "No, I think I'll call you Clyde."
No one could have slammed that door harder. And I have never met another person so unstable as him. Looking back on it, it reminds me of a clip in the movie "Bless the Child" where the man tells the little girl who he serves and says to her, if you believe in your God- jump from this building and he will save you. Her response after recovering from her fright was "After you."
There was a Jekyl & Hyde quality to Clyde. I was frightened, but angry enough to have developed a sense of defiance, no matter the consequences. We got two dogs from him. Lady and Pepper. Lady was Mom's dog and Pepper was our kids'. I will never forget how terribly frightened this man made me. And he taught me some lessons I will never forget.
Mom began to have an array of bruises on her. At first, he made an effort to keep the violence in thier bedroom. But as he became more unstable, so did his violent nature. I remember mom crying all the time. I remember eating nothing but hot dogs for two straight months- I don't know if that was due to economic reasons or if he was really strangely cruel in that sense. I remember him telling Eddie to touch the metal on the stove and the metal on the freezer (there was an electrical current that resulted from this) and he would laugh maniacally at the jolt that would go through my brother. My brother would cry and then seeing how much it pleased that snake, he'd do it again, because he wanted to be loved. I watched him put a huge choker chain collar on Pepper who was still a pup, and drag her through the house and throw her around because I refused to listen to him. I remember watching him deliberate something over in his head, go straight for a bottle of baby oil and pour it on the floor. Then he went crazy. Demanded which one of kids had done, when he knew full well we had all watched him do it. He got a knife out from the kitchen, the big one meant for vegetables but everyone uses it for something else, and shoved it in Mom's face and in ours. Held it up to her neck even. Then as another thought would come to him, he lined us each up and got out a paddle that was about a foot and half long with holes drilled everywhere in it. He was going to paddle each of us until someone confessed to the crime. My sister, up until this point had been sheltered from the violence in our lives and this behavior just did not register with her. Eddie looked at me with eyes that said "why us, what did we ever do to get this kind of treatment?"
I was resigned to do what I could for my brother and sister you see. I just couldn't think of a way out of this situation- you couldn't reason with a man who cares nothing for reason. There was no logical train of thought. Soon, we could here a car outside. Some of Mom's friends from Peabody Avenue had pulled into the drive. We were safe for the moment. He quickly changed plans and made us each sit on my bunk bed. (I had the top bunk with a board that ran the length of it whose purpose was to keep me from falling out-it never worked. I always managed to fall out of bed nearly every night. I had the strangest dreams then. Amy had the bottom)
Clyde then explained to the Company that we were being punished for a while. Mom never uttered a word as to what was really happening in our house.
It was while we were sitting there that I got the bright idea of fessing up to the crime. I thought it would make things easier for everyone. After all being wacked with a board was nothing new to me, I could take it. .... I never imagined the lesson I would learn. He did use the board on Amy and Eddie- a statement to remind them not to cross him. And he pulled my mother by the hair down the hall to their room, all the while claiming I had made him do it. To watch and have him clearly tell me I was responsible for this, that I had disobeyed him and therefor I would see the result- I hadn't thought of that cunning twist. I felt the full weight of a responsibility I didn't know I had, until then. The far reaching ripples of someone else's actions hit me like nothing else ever had.
This lesson carried on with me to school. I walked everyday from our house to the elementary school. I was sensitive to what others were doing, but I never fit in well. It was too difficult to trust people. One day I was walking home with another girl and across the street there was a taller, much bigger girl picking on a small boy. I could see how this bully was reveling in his discomfort and it made me livid. I was not, and am still not a very big girl, I was often teased as being no bigger than a toothpick. But size never registered with me. I yelled at her to leave him alone. She laughed. That was the wrong thing to do. She being amused, came to my side of the street, got in my face and said, "Whatcha gonna do about huh?"
I honestly don't know how it happened, but after it was all said and done- it was she, the girl 3 to 4 times my size that was on the ground. And all I could do was stare at what I had done. Most kids would be proud of themselves for such a feat- but I felt more shame in that moment than I thought possible. I had become one of them. I had let my anger loose and caused a damage that I couldn't undo. And I ran all the way home, vowing to have better self control than that. I would not let the snake win me over.
Mom was scared to death of the turn of events in our home with him, but she had so much more (materially) than she had ever had in her life. She was torn as to what to do. That summer I gained a reprieve that my brother and sister did not. Grandma Lou had asked Mom if I could spend the summer with her in Kentucky, down on the Mountain. I was thrilled. Mom was not, but what would happen to me if I stayed? She could see the deadly anomousity Clyde was harboring towards my stubborn nature and my ability to see the truth for what it was. So in an effort to at least keep one child safe, the one she thought was in the most danger, she let me go.
It was a summer to remember for me.
Grandma's Brother in Law, Uncle Astor, still to this day calls me his little brown biscuit because every day I was outside. I helped plant tomatoes, I played with the gartner snakes, I helped Uncle Astor put up a new out house, I learned to ride on a four wheeler with cousin Deedee. I hiked, I saw bears, I learned to swim, I did everything I never thought I'd do. Grandma Lou and Granny Hilie (her name was Hila, but I always called her Hilie) showed me more love than I'd ever thought possible. I never felt guilty until the day I came home and I realized how unfair it was to my siblings.
Mom was glad to see me, but I could tell from the look in her eyes that things were very wrong. I don't think mom realized what sending me away would do to Clyde. She had taken away his power over me and he was livid over the fact that I got something I clearly did not deserve. Shortly there after, he produced a large butcher knife, the kind that looked sort of rectangularish with a hole in the end. He shoved Mom around the kitchen, making us watch the whole time. He never cut her, but cutting wasnt the worry, it was killing that was. You could see it in his eyes. He threatened to kill every last one of us and everyone of Mom's family too. He was so close to the edge of insanity. Mom could see it, you could tell that she finally realized it wasn't just me in trouble. It was her all along. He left that night and was gone for a long time. Mom looked agitated and really worried.
That morning he came back and found us getting ready to leave. He pleaded with her to stay, like a child would. I remember her walking us down that road, and me looking back to see that he had fallen and was calling out to her and reaching up an arm. He looked truly helpless. When I said, "Mom he fell." she breathed one sentence to me , "Don't look back. He just pretending. Do not let go of my hand April." He was a good actor. That was the last we seen him, but not the last we heard of him.
In my sixth grade year we got a call from Grandma Lou. Clyde had remarried in between that time to a Lou Anne, somehow this lady was distantly related to my dad's side of the family. She had 3 kids too. He had stabbed her 16 times in the same bedroom Amy & I used to sleep in with her kids locked outside watching through the window at the horror unfolding before thier very eyes. Her oldest son had ran to the neighbors to call 911. Apparently they found him at the local bar bragging about how he just killed his no good for nothing wife.
Mom's friends had helped her move back to Peabody Avenue. This time we were living with the friends. We were jumping from the frying pan to the fire....