Mr. and Mrs. Kelly, an elderly couple, lived two doors away from us. Mrs. Kelly was always kind to me. She freely offered fruit from her trees and fresh-baked peanut butter cookies with a glass of lemonade. Unlike my home, theirs was sunny, clean, and smelled like lavender soap. I was delighted to even set foot in their home, because no other neighbor ever invited me in. Mrs. Kelly even allowed me to sit on their furniture, albeit while it was covered in plastic. Mr. Kelly would show me his coin collection and give me long hugs. I didn’t like the hugging part; somehow it always felt creepy, though I didn’t know why.
Mrs. Kelly came home earlier than expected one day to find her husband touching me. The whole neighborhood could hear her shrill screams through those thin Army barracks walls: “You little bastard, and after all those cookies I baked for you! Get out of my house, you little slut!” I didn’t know what the word “slut” meant, but I knew it must be bad. I knew that I was doing something bad. I really didn’t want Mr. Kelly’s old creepy hands on me, yet I couldn’t resist the banquet of homemade cookies. Relieving my hunger in exchange for touching was a trade-off that I was fast learning. It seemed fair somehow to me—like goods exchanged for services rendered. Running down the street as other children watched, I could tell they knew I had been doing something wrong. I didn’t know which would be harder now—not eating Mrs. Kelly’s cookies when I was so hungry, or eating her words of condemnation.
I had thought that it was the house without paint, the naked feet, the dirty blond hair, and the trash bin smell that clung to my ragged pedal pushers that caused the neighbors to reject me. But now added to my reasons for rejection was the lingering sound of a neighbor’s wife shrieking names at me. “Bastard! Bastard!” What does that mean, I pondered. Where had I heard that word before?
Ragdoll Redeemed: Growing up in the Shadow of Marilyn Monroe at www.Amazon.com