HOWARD, MY ADOPTIVE father, frequently locked me in my brothers’ small bedroom with its colorful floors. One small window became my salvation: I would imagine myself flying out of it to perch upon the fluttering leaves I could see from my assigned square on the floor. It was hard for my four-year-old arms and legs to remain still for so many hours. When he was angry, Howard would frequently grab me by one arm and yank me high up in the air. On one occasion he dislocated my arm from my shoulder before slamming me down on the orange and blue linoleum. For years I had recurring nightmares in which I was frantically running from pieces of orange and blue squares.
Teaching the skills Howard thought I should know began like this: “Now you listen to me, young lady, you are not coming out of this room until you learn to tie those goddamn shoelaces. If I come in here and see that you have moved from that space,” (meaning one small portion of the orange and blue squares), “you will be sorry. Do you understand me?”
Sobbing, nodding my head up and down, I tried over and over to master the new task. I so wanted to tie my shoes, but couldn’t make the laces stay where I put them. I thought that if I could just be “gooder,” then I could make his “mad” go away. Even more than his mad, I wanted to stop his fearsome, coal-black eyes from glaring at me and raising goose bumps on my arms and legs. Pictures of Frosty the Snowman can still make me shudder because his eyes are flat and without pupils, and they give the appearance of death watching through the eyes. That’s how I felt; that Howard looked through me without looking at me. It reminded me of how I felt when looking at the eyes of a dead animal, like death was watching back at me.
After a short time the bedroom door would fly open and Howard would stare at me with that look. Holding my breath, I’d try to become invisible to avoid the piercing fierceness of those eyes. I trembled as he grabbed my neck and picked me up as if I were a toothpick. No words came out of his mouth as he twisted my head one way and my body the other. As suddenly as it started, he dropped me back onto the linoleum and walked out of the room, quietly closing the door behind him. Like an exploding grenade, his act of violence seemed to release the pressure of the anger festering inside of him.
I soon learned that one way to endure his outbursts was to back way up inside of myself as close as I could get to my backbone. If the inside was tucked far away it didn’t hurt so much when the outside of me was being twisted around like a broken ragdoll. Going limp also made things hurt less. Every time Howard smeared dog poop in my face, I would practice making my insides really small, like a tiny little ball. Eventually, I learned to get small and limp at the same time. I even learned how to breathe without allowing my chest to move. No movement, no sound. Nothing for anyone to notice or hurt—like an animal playing possum.
I suppose poverty was the deciding factor that ultimately forced Mom to choose between sending me to a safe place and getting rid of Howard. She faced what for her must have been a hard choice, since Howard was her income source. She finally sent me eight hundred miles away to San Francisco to live with a childless couple she knew from New York. They had known my biological father, Roland, when he had served in the military. The memory of the day I was sent away has remained extremely vivid. Sometimes the painful feelings return as if it were yesterday. To be continued……..
Ragdoll Redeemed: Growing up in the Shadow of Marilyn Monroe at www.Amazon.com