Howard also inherited my grandmother. Like a barnacle, Elizabeth was permanently attached to her daughter’s life, embedded in her very existence. Not long after the marriage, what quiet had existed in the house was gone, and it was a condition that lasted for years. Too little to understand the sheer volume that bellowed from our dingy house, I hung my head in shame when the children playing outside gawked at the noise. The neighbors simply closed their doors or turned their heads from the earsplitting arguing.
Sometimes, when the meanness got too loud, my grandmother squeezed her eyes tighter and tighter and muttered the rosary. Her lips moved as she recited silent words of hope and faith. Her trust never seemed to waver. Rocking back and forth on my bed, staring at the huge wooden Jesus crucifix hanging on the wall, I wondered about Jesus’ parents, the Lady of Fatima night-light, and Grandma’s prayer book. No matter how tightly she closed her eyes or held her rosary beads to her heart asking Jesus to intercede, her prayers didn’t seem to quiet the reverberating sounds.
I often exclaimed, “I hate them. I hate them. I HATE them!” and placed my hands over my ears, trying to prevent the loud, ugly sounds in the next room from ringing through my head and shaking my whole body.
My grandmother shushed me, “Dawnie, Dawnie, they will hear you. You must be very quiet.”
Gulping down sobs, I could see the fear in her eyes as she handed me rosary beads from the altar wedged between our twin beds. The rosary beads comforted my grandmother like a pacifier would a small child, while I wanted to smash the beads into a thousand tiny pieces.
When the meanness got really bad and the fighting was louder than usual, and violence seemed surely in the offing, my big brother Ronnie would stuff some bread into my pockets and send me out to the nearbywoods. Once there, I’d climb up into the strong, smooth, round arms of my favorite old eucalyptus tree. Often Ronnie found me there sound asleep, and was puzzled by my ability to balance on my favorite branch. No one could explain why I never fell.
It’s true, the sticky trunk sap was partly to blame for my filthy feet, but still I loved to see it clinging between my toes. Strangely, it reminded me of how warm my heartfelt when I saw lipstick on another child’s cheek at school. No amount of wishing ever got me any lipstick kisses on my face. That’s okay, I thought while sticking my chin out with a bit of smugness. Goodbye kisses made with lipstick weren’t any better than goodbye kisses made of sap—they were just higher up on the body.
That eucalyptus was my friend in other ways, too. I could make a blanket from the flat, long pieces of bark, or little playthings that would entertain me for hours. That was something you couldn’t do with lip- stick kisses left by parents who sent you off to school. I was always care ful to only pull off the bark that was hanging loose and about to come off on its own. I didn’t want to hurt my tree by pulling off any part that was firmly stuck to its body. I was sure the trees in those woods had feelings, just like mine, and I knew that I wouldn’t want someone pulling any skin off of me that wasn’t ready to fall off.
Ragdoll Redeemed: Growing up in the Shadow of Marilyn Monroe at www.Amazon.com