“I said ‘Go!’ damn it!” Daddy said with a hard shove to Mommy’s back. She stumbled forward a few steps and stood still on the porch. Daddy repeated his words with more expletives. Mommy cried quietly without fighting back and seemed to have no control over her body. She could barely stand, let alone walk. Daddy continued prodding until she was down the front steps and standing next to our car.
My three sisters and I sat on a worn blanket in our front yard that early spring morning crying as we watched them fight.
“Why do you have a suitcase, Daddy?” I asked. “Where’re you going?”
“I’m taking your mother to the airport. Say goodbye.”
“Say goodbye to Mommy? No!” we all cried.
No hugs or kisses. Not even a sad smile. Daddy threw the suitcase in the backseat and shoved Mommy in the front seat of our little white Corvair. They drove away.
Mommy and Daddy had fights all the time but they’d never left us. We stayed on the blanket until Daddy came home three hours later. He was alone. “Girls, your mother has moved to California.” Life went on as if Mommy had never been there. We were four lost little waifs who needed their faces washed and their hair brushed in a little town called Meredosia in Illinois.
No one seemed surprised. No one but us, her children.
Two weeks later, we had school pictures taken. Wearing my favorite dress that had a light green skirt with a cream-colored bodice, I tied a matching green ribbon in my strawberry blonde hair. Green was my favorite color. The photographer teased me about my big smile and it grew even wider. After school, I hurried home to show Daddy how pretty I looked. He wasn’t there, and I was afraid he’d left me too. I cried myself to sleep on the couch that evening.
I awoke crying; my panties were off and Daddy was leaning over me, touching me. “Daddy, it hurts.” I could smell the beer on his breath and the stale cigarette smoke in his clothes. He said nothing, but got up and walked away.
I wet the bed every night after that, and I was so embarrassed I couldn’t tell anyone. Daddy yelled, “You’re just like your mother!” I was eleven and didn’t understand. I found out later that Momma wet the bed also.
In sixth grade, I had physical education and had to change into my gym suit. My flat chest embarrassed me when I saw other girls at later stages of development. I turned toward my open blue locker to change and wished I could just crawl inside. My suit was too short in the straddle and cut into me, but I was so ashamed of what Daddy had done down there that I never told anyone. We were supposed to shower after class but the thought of being naked in front of everyone was terrifying, so I lied every day, “I have my period.” We didn’t have to shower when we had that. No one questioned me; I was ignored.
Winter came and the house was cold. I couldn’t remember being cold when Mommy was there. My sisters and I played in a crawl space under the stairs where we had an Erector Construction Set, Old Maid and Go Fish playing cards, our dolls, and a single white Christmas bulb on a three-foot cord. That tiny light hung from a nail and filled our small refuge with light. It was our safe-haven where we could talk about Mommy and how we missed her and wondered where she was.