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
Eyes Wide Open
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 gone now.
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. The End…
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 way.”
“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 do?”
“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.”