SUMMER, 1952. Hot, dry, and windy. Tumbleweeds blew everywhere. I obsessed about them. I hated them. They were the reason my life was ugly. That I was ugly. The tinder-dry conditions of a vacant field filled with tumbleweeds was perfect for my plan. Just one match from the small matchbook hidden inside the back pocket of my scruffy navy blue pedal pushers, coupled with my seven-year-old rage—rage that was large enough for another Hiroshima—was all that was needed to eliminate the tumbleweeds, the source of my pain. I was sure of it.
Tension had eased a bit now that the dad with black eyes was gone from our house, but Mother’s depression was scary. I tried to focus on my brother’s dimples, Grandma’s prayers, sweet peas, trees and Zany. Zany was my brother Ronnie’s dog, but Ronnie shared everything with me—from his beloved dog to the best pieces of bread (he would actually eat the crust and save the soft inside part for me).
How can one possibly describe a child’s love for a dog? I was seven when Zany, a long-haired Collie puppy, became part of our family. He was smart as a whip and fiercely protective of children, and our family loved him. I spent countless hours not only playing with Zany, but crying into his soft fur. One time while I was babysitting four young children, the eighteen-month-old boy ran into the street. Zany ran after him, pulled him down by his diaper, and sat on him, barking wildly, until I could get there. A human mother could not have offered more love and comfort than Zany as he tenderly licked away my tears.
Over the years, I tried to tell my grandmother of my anger, but she always shushed me, fearing that we would be heard beyond our walls and get in trouble. “I’m already in trouble, Grandma,” I wanted to say. If I had known how to take my own life, I would have. I wanted to scream with my whole body. Instead, I picked at myself, gouging and tearing the skin on my arms. Grandma prayed to her God—the God that didn’t stop the abuse.
Memories of the trip to New Mexico with my mother’s boyfriend haunted me. Dodging my stepbrothers on weekends, facing relentless drunken warfare between my stepparents, and the neighborhood men groping, probing, always probing, became too much for me. My stammering and pants-wetting increased. I thought no one would notice if I could just dry my panties with old newspapers from the dumpsters. I either couldn’t smell the lingering, pungent odor, or I was just used to my own smell.