The Double Life of a Young Woman
Memory Lane...Palomar Way, Playground and Street view
PART ONE - ENTER STEP FATHER # 4
The modest home on Palomar Way still stands today. Tucked safely amid others of similar design and size, the house disappears into unremarkable conformity. Nondescript and secure as it stands under trees which have been growing steadily since those years; the house and environs appear to have survived the many changes other neighborhoods succumbed to. In an idealized image; my childhood stomping grounds seem unchanged. Just as it was when my brother and I dodged emotional bullets which were constantly being jettisoned between my mother and ‘step father # 3,’ gorgeous Mike of Irish lineage. As I walk down the street today, I vividly recall the names of my neighborhood friends and the street games we used to play deep into the dark night, street lights beaming, spreading protective light over dozens of kids at play. Sonda, who lived at the end of the cul de sac, whose home was the nicest, by far, was my very good friend. Sadly, she was rejected by so many of the other kids. I had moved into an ongoing ostracizing of this nice girl, and I never truly understood; I did not know why. I do remember fending off a group on their bicycles one day, in front of Sonda’s home. They had come to taunt and tease. She remained inside, I ran out and yelled back, calling them the worse names I could come up with at the time… “stupid,” “idiot,” I yelled back as I screamed loudly; commands ordering them off her property. I always suspected their rejection of her was out of an inability to understand her upper-class behavior. She spoke quietly and with a beautiful command of the English language. She practiced ballet, piano and singing. Most of the kids in the neighborhood were from working class families who did not participate in such activities. Her demeanor was somewhat aloof, not out of snobbery but because she was shy. She and I would dance around her home to music I was very familiar with; classical and baroque, by musicians and in a style with which I had been raised, as well. Not out of any connection to the upper echelon of society but, strangely, because my Oklahoma born mother had sought to erase her own humble beginnings by familiarizing herself with the classics. So, Sonda and I were friends, much to the chagrin of my other friends, who weren’t quite sure how to handle it. Eventually, everything worked out; it’s like that when we’re young and forgiving.
These memories flooded back as I walked along a street that, now, seems very small compared to the larger than life way I saw it as a younger person. I had just turned eleven; the year things began to change…again!
EVERYTHING IS FINE…SO FINE
Days, weeks and months passed in a predictable fashion after my mother’s divorce from Mike. My brother and I attended the local schools; he starting his second year in Junior High (now called Middle School…ugh!) and I in my last year; 6th grade, at the local school just blocks away. Most of my friends were also my classmates so, attending school was just as much fun as summer vacation. I had grown used to my small little world on Palomar Way; everything I needed was right there or within several blocks walking distance. Life was good. Home life had leveled out. All was well in smallville!
SOMETHING HAD TO GIVE
Just when my brother and I thought that we had finally reached an even keel; just as we felt as if we really belonged somewhere and had spread our roots within the warm and welcoming soil in the community of our little housing tract, something started to stir. Mother’s hours began to vary…greatly. She came home later and later at night after her "dates," and acted as if she were on some kind of love potion # 9! She was moody and giddy. I noticed, too, that she began to pay more attention to her appearance, styling her hair differently, applying more make-up and wearing high heels with nylons instead of comfortable shoes. She began to buy pretty perfumes which she placed on her dressing table along with the recently unpacked and displayed bangles and baubles which had been put away quite a while before. Something was in the air! I sensed that things were about to change.
BE IT EVER SO HUMBLE, THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE HOME
My grandmother shared our home and acted as babysitter, driver, shopper and all around helper as my mother worked full time and at odd hours. We couldn’t afford a full time sitter, so grandmother did what she could to help out. She still owned her own home and, in fact, spent several days a week there just to have a little time to herself, away from the commotion which is always present when kids are around. She took two or three “days off” each week. Ours was a comfortable little family unit; everything went along smoothly with no major problems.
SHE WORKS HARD FOR THE MONEY
Mother worked ‘graveyard’ shift at the local hospital. This had been going on for several years, and she was quickly growing weary of the difficult hours. Her work was hard, too, as she was a Licensed Vocational Nurse which translated into hands on, down and dirty, hard labor. But work she must which meant that, sometimes, brother and I were left alone at night when grandmother was away. She’d lock the house up tight and insist that we never open a door or window to anyone…”do you hear me, Kathryn? Billy? Do NOT open the door!” We were brave. Oh yes, very brave. Until we heard her car drive away and realized that we were alone. No friends were allowed over during these times, either. So, believing in the divine protection of bright light, we’d run from room to room, turning on all the lights, and then cuddle up in front of the television which we'd dialed up real loud as we sat together on the big couch with comforters and pillows to protect us from the scary unknown.
Other times, when grandmother was with us but had to be elsewhere for a while; she’d bundle us up warmly and drive to the hospital where my mother’s car was parked. As we drew nearer, I could feel my heart start to hammer in my chest. It was dark and quiet; so quiet. Grandmother would park beside mother's car, unlock the back door and quickly usher us into the back seat. With lots of blankets and covers, she’d tell us to lie on the floor while she completely hid us from view under piles of bedding. “Be quiet, kids, and DO NOT open the doors for anyone. Your mother will be here soon. Go to sleep and don’t talk. Just be still.”
She’d slam the door tight and, soon, we’d hear the motor of her car start and the wheels crunching over the gravel parking lot. Now, again, we were alone in a strange place…sometimes cold; always fearful. Mercifully, soon we were asleep, tucked 'safely' (we hoped) under tons of fabric.
The driver’s door was opening! It was light outside and the loud, blaring siren which indicated change of shift was wailing. Even though my mother stood just outside the car door, this was the most frightening time of all…I don’t know why; it caused my heart to pound and stirred my senses on alert, waiting to hear my mother’s voice to be sure we were okay. ( I often recall these mornings; and try to understand why, at the point of safety, I felt the most terrified. Perhaps it is because at that very moment, even though relieved; was when that sense of relief translated into the "what if's" of the potentially disastrous outcome, leaving the rush of fear mixed with the 'exhale' of having escaped, yet another, risk filled situation).
She slipped into the drivers’ seat and started the engine, as she whispered to us that we would be home soon.
And, once again, all was well in smallville.
Back to reality. Mother was beginning to look and act as I’d seen her before, in her predatory days, looking for another husband.
ENTER STEP FATHER #4: THE PERVERT
Without warning, grandmother, brother and I were being introduced to my mother’s new love interest, Leonard. He had a stocky build, square jaw and a leering gaze. This one seemed particularly rigid; “uptight” seems to fit the way he handled himself. He stood with straight back as if 'at attention.' Leonard was overly obsessed with his appearance and that of my mother. His gaze seemed to be assessing and evaluating everything around him; particularly my mother... and me.
Theirs was a short 'dating' phrase. In no time, my mother sat grandmother, brother and me down for a 'serious' talk. We already knew what was coming, and we were not happy about it. His demeanor was stiff; his gaze felt like he was undressing us; he was unfriendly and far too 'observent,' as well as being very self conscious.
Along with the news of another impending wedding for my desperate mother, came the news that Leonard did not want to live in my mother's house...oh NO! So, plans were made to place the home on the market as they searched for Home # 6!!! I remember standing on the driveway, looking out over the street I loved and crying my eyes out.
In no time, even before our family uprooted and moved on, he was becoming very judgmental. He’d constantly berate my mother if he perceived her to be the slightest bit imperfect. He would insult her with the goal that she do whatever necessary to achieve his idea of physical beauty.
One day, he showed up with the latest invention designed to slenderize and shape the female figure. Called “The Relaxasizer,” this contraption was touted to be the latest and greatest device to achieve rapid results, melt away unwanted fat and sculpt a body even Venus would envy. It sent electrical pulses to the targeted areas where little electrodes were attached using moisturized pads which adhered to flesh. One could choose whether the “shocks” would be minimal or maximum. The idea was that inches and pounds would melt away as if the subject were exercising long and hard while laying still, body jumping with each jolt. Mother religiously applied the pads to her naked, "flawed" places everyday without fail; hoping to please him.
Of course, nothing was going to please him. He was the original misogynist. Nothing she did was right; everything had fault and error in his eyes. And though she was still beautiful; slender and proud, he saw only what he thought were imperfections. She would never achieve acceptance.
Soon after they were married, my mother became pregnant with my younger brother. During this time, Leonard became deathly ill with Hepatitis. His health rapidly deteriorated, rendering him unable to work or even leave the house. This continued for about 9 months. My mother took on a second job to carry our family through the crisis.
I became the “chief, cook and bottle washer,” taking over all the duties typical of the woman of the house during that era. Ironing, preparing many meals ahead of time and then freezing them in the huge Frigidaire freezer for future use, cleaning and caring for my stepfather became my daily existence. It was summer and school was out. I was chained to the house, overwhelmed with so much responsibility. During this time, my brother, Bill, was no longer living at home and rarely visited.. He and Leonard did NOT get along. Once, this resulted in a broken arm and bloody face and brother being sent to live at my father’s home with our new step mother. Beaten and evicted, essentially, he was gone and I was there….alone.
Sick as he was, Leonard could not help but make comments and gestures in his desire to gain my attentions…oggling, staring and inappropriate attempts at touch were becoming constant threats…and I learned, quickly, how to dodge his advances.
Mother was very pregnant now, and soon to deliver. He was not happy about the pregnancy and had no qualms about reminding my mother of it over and over while complaining about what the pregnancy had done to her looks. What a jerk!!!!
Leonard loved porn. I’d find it everywhere when I was cleaning the house. I wasn’t supposed to have found it; hidden away so carefully as it was. I’d tell my brother, who just had to share in the secret! Boys will be boys! But Leonard’s obsession was a little over the top, to be sure. And he expected my mother to live up to the images he flaunted before her in an effort to control the situation.
Still an undeveloped child, I was not fully cognizant of the level to which his improper interest was directed at me. I did not have the depth of understanding. But, it wasn’t long before my young body began to blossom into adolescence….and Leonard noticed, and reacted more aggressively. It wasn't long before I began to 'get the picture.'
In the beginning, as a younger girl, he would speak to me using endearing terms and pet names. Pumpkin and Tiger were his favorites. He loved lavishing attention on me as he beckoned me using these names…..and I wanted to be recognized; to be favored. The pet name gestures were like a warm, welcoming acceptance. I had no idea.
As I grew into a teenager, the pet names ceased. Leonard became hostile and accusatory. He called me names about which I had no idea of their meaning. He believed my behavior outside the home was less than sterling. I was completely unaware of what he meant and which of my activities he seemed to have an awareness of, and were so bad. He wasn’t there; how could he say these things?
The rejection I felt was enormous. And undeserved. My mother told me that he could not handle the physical changes which were happening to me. Of course, I didn’t understand…not at all. The only way I could relate to the overt disapproval was to believe that I had done something terribly wrong. Guilt! Shame! For what; I did not know.
As time passed, the tension, the turmoil and discord grew exponentially.
Our ‘happy little family’ environment grew more tense and more peculiar….
more to come in the next of this series.