a little flash fiction for this brisk Wisconsin evening - enjoy
"May your paths be abundantly filled with lemons, sugar, sunshine, and explanations you can grow from." ~Crystal
How one question explained an entire childhood and helped me realize
what I didn’t want…
I remember spending a lot of time with Dad when I was
growing up. He taught me about things he enjoyed – gardening, reading, cooking,
and he instilled in me a great love of nature and the outdoors. Mom is in my
memories but not in an active role. I can see her sitting on the couch
knitting, but I don’t remember DOING anything with her. There was arguing about
what I would wear to school, and I remember Mom forbidding me to wear lipstick,
hair spray, or perfume…but as much as I try to, I don’t remember shopping
trips, baking cookies, school field trips, or anything with Mom. They’re both
gone now and there are a handful of photographs showing Dad and I (in the
sandbox, at the beach, riding horses) but no action shots of Mom. There’s a few
of Mom and David, as well as the annual church photograph over-posed,
over-edited, with each of us over-dressed…but that’s all I have…even David is
Not much of a story and I could really stop right here. My
name is BobbiJo. My mother hated me, my father was a drunk, my brother David
was a drunk…they’re all dead…so I guess it’s just me against the world. A photo
album, a check from the realtor who sold my childhood home, a ton of debt from
my student loans, and a Ford Tempo in need of a muffler – that’s all there is.
If only it were that simple.
My name is BobbiJo and I’m addicted to food and the approval
of others. Go ahead…look back at the cover of the book…you assume that because
I’m addicted to food that I’m fat, right? I’m not overweight and I never have
been. I’m addicted to food in the same way an accountant is addicted to
numbers. I want to know everything there is to know about it. Why does butter
taste so amazing when you use it in a croissant recipe? Why is cream cheese
frosting so much better on a carrot cake than plain vanilla frosting? Why
choose Mozarella instead of American cheese for a pizza? How can coconut oil be
good for you when it’s practically a solid at room temperature? I love food so
much that I spent the last six years of my life studying it. My passion is
nutrition and health. My psychologist would say that I control my diet and
exercise because I didn’t feel in control of anything growing up…but I’m
getting ahead of myself.
Dad worked in a wood factory in the small town of Two
Rivers, Wisconsin. He worked all day, drank and played cards at night, and
spent weekends playing the part of doting father by day and abusive husband by
night. Mom stayed home raising David and I. We lived in a two-story home on a
corner lot. We had a big garden, a dark dingy basement, and had a lovely
bookshelf in my room for my Nancy Drew story books. David and I were only three
years apart and we lived close to school and would often walk together. We didn’t
have much in common as children. I dreamed of having a horse someday. David
dreamed of owning a gun so he could kill things.
I should clarify Dad. He wasn’t abusive to David or I and he
wasn’t physically abusive to Mom either. He was probably “normal” in comparison
to most middle-aged men in the 50’s. He gave Mom just enough money for
groceries, expected her to cook, clean, raise the children, and he had no
intention of doing more than taking the garbage out every Monday night. He felt
he had done his part by earning a
paycheck. He referred to Mom and her interests as “silly” or “frilly” and I don’t
remember kissing, hugging, or much talking between my parents. Maybe I should
have said he was a neglectful husband instead of abusive…oh, either way…not the
kind of man you’d find this girl going out with.
I want someone kind and gentle, a good communicator, and
someone who holds my hand in public (or maybe even puts an arm around my
shoulder in church on Sundays). Some of the men I met at school were getting
perms and worrying more about their shoes and clothing than their grades. That
wasn’t the type of gentle I was looking for either. I hadn’t dated much, but I
had an idea of what I was looking for and as much as Dad was my best friend
growing up, I didn’t want a husband who resembled him in any way.
Why am I writing this? I suppose I should tell you. It’s
part of my therapy. I am trying to figure out what makes me tick so I can work
through my ‘issues’…the question really should be: “why are you reading this?”?
Maybe you’re as crazy as I am…or maybe you can relate…or
maybe it’s just nice to be crazy WITH someone for a change.
Mom. You want to know about Mom…here’s my earliest memory of
Mom and I having a conversation:
“BobbiJo – you can’t be walking around the house in just a
nightgown anymore. You’re practically ten years old!”
“What am I supposed to wear?”
“Put on a robe. Your brother and Dad shouldn’t be looking at
your breasts and vagina.”
(thinking to myself…couldn’t she call them something else? Anything
but that? Really?)
“Don’t you sass talk me young lady – get over here”
I thought she was going to take me over her knee. That would
have been preferred…she really wanted to ask me if Dad had ever touched my
vagina or my breasts. I remember sitting in awe thinking Dad was a terrible
person if she thought he would do something like that. She explained to me that
there were bad people out there and that bad things happened to little girls
all the time – “little girls who show off their breasts and vaginas in the
company of men and boys”
I had never felt so dirty. I thought Dad was dirty. I
thought David was dirty.
I wore a bath robe from that time forward, but I still felt
dirty underneath it. Vagina and breasts were dirty words in my nine year old
brain, and I must be a dirty girl since I had breasts and a vagina. Ewe…
There were conversations after that. Mom didn’t want me
sitting close to Dad or David on the couch, she didn’t want me wearing skirts,
thin blouses, or anything that might draw attention to my figure. She reminded
me that I was ugly and no amount of hairspray, makeup of perfume was going to
change that. David enjoyed chiming right in about his ugly little sister BobbiJo.
BobbiJo with the good grades, BobbiJo with the pigtails, BobbiJo who didn’t
have any friends other than her imaginary horse Flicka.
I couldn’t wait to get out of the house. Dad died my
freshman year of college and I didn’t go back for the funeral. Had Mom died, I
might have gone back…but with Dad gone, there was no one I cared to talk with.
I was a Christian and I knew he was in a happier place. I rationalized that he
wouldn’t have wanted to me to miss school for something as silly as a funeral
anyway. Mom wouldn’t have wanted to deal with ugly stupid BobbiJo anyhow. I
sent a card.
A few weeks after the funeral Mom sent me a letter
explaining how ungrateful I was and how she was changing her will so David got
everything and I got nothing. She warned me not to come home again as I was not
welcome there. I didn’t hear from David and didn’t care if he knew about her
intentions and the letter or not. I didn’t need either one of them.
A family friend who went to church with Mom sent a letter a
few months before I graduated with my BS, Mom had been confined to a wheelchair
due to her uncontrollable diabetes and David was taking care of her. David was
also in poor health due to his drinking and drug use. Althea wondered if I
would come home to see if I could talk some sense into one or both of them. I
tossed her letter into the recycling bin under my desk and went back to
studying for an exam about artificial sweeteners.
Mom died and I flew home for her funeral, not out of
respect, but because I heard David was a wreck. The Attorney explained that the
house was left to David and I, under the stipulation that we were joint owners
but David could live there as long as he liked. I didn’t think this was so
terrible of an arrangement, until he stopped paying the bills and taxes and I
found out that I would be responsible for them. He was living without heat or
electricity. The house stunk…
This went on for nearly two years. By the time I completed
my Masters degree, I was supporting David and myself. He wasn’t able to work because
he had done so much harm to his body with the drinking and drugs that he was
barely human. He lived like an animal, smelled like and animal, and to make
things worse…he had taken up with this woman and her child…so instead of a
single wild animal living in my childhood home, it was like a pack of wolves.
The woman was crazy, but eventually she couldn’t take his lifestyle and she
moved out (or so I thought).
I week after graduation I got the call. David had died and I
had to return to Two Rivers to clean up his last and final mess. The girlfriend
claimed he had promised to buy her son a laptop and she was sure it was in the
house somewhere. Three phone calls to the Police and a restraining order later,
I had hoped I heard the last of her. I had waitressed all through school and
used every cent of savings to get current with the bills on Mom and Dad’s house.
I buried David, sold the house, settled the estate, and here I am…
I’m looking for a place to live, a job as a dietician, a new
car, and hopefully a man. I’m not even sure where to start, but talking to
Pastor seems like a good place to begin.
“Pastor – I just don’t understand why she treated me that
“BobbiJo – don’t you see it? You couldn’t see it as a child,
but you’re a grown woman now. She was jealous of you.”
“She was putting you down because you were everything she
would never be. You’re independent, smart, and beautiful…she saw you as a
threat to who she was, a threat to her marriage, and she was jealous of you for
all those years.”
“I don’t know what it’s like to be a mother, but I can’t
imagine being jealous of your own child. I don’t want to be like that. What can
“I’m glad you came to see me, but you should probably sign
yourself up for some counseling dear. You’ll be fine, but talking to someone
and praying about it will go a long way in becoming a good wife and eventually
a good mother.”