Monday, September 17, 2012

A Dog Named Fear

                                                         A Dog Named Fear

  I had a conversation today, with my cousin. Now she has always held a special place in my heart. Even though I never knew her well. Let me explain. My grandfather Mel and his brother Cal met and married two sisters. This would be my grandma Eli (who I have mentioned before) and her older sister Evelyn. When my father was stationed in Germany, almost by divine intervention, my great aunt Evelyn and my my great uncle Cal were also stationed there. We would visit them often. They were everything I had wished my own grandparent's to be. They treated us with love and acceptance and spoiled us rotten at every opportunity. The only reprieve from my home life was when we were allowed to stay with them. I remember spending hours playing with my great aunt's jewelry. She had all these lotions, perfume and nail polish, and she let me play with it all. My great uncle was one of the kindest, nicest and indeed most intelligent people I have ever known. He and I would sit together on the couch in their living room as Camelot or My Fair Lady played on the record player. Every Sunday that we stayed with them we would wake up to the smells of bacon and pancakes. And as we drifted blurry eyed downstairs, my great uncle would put on John Cash and we would sing "Sunday Morning Coming Down".

  I don't think I would have made it through without them. As I passed messages back and forth with their daughter, she had recently discovered my blog and the ugly truths revealed there. She said she was not surprised. And we went back and forth about my parents and the like and she asked if her parents had known. No, they had no idea. She stated the truth, the obvious thing I had never believed as a child. That her parent's would have taken us in. I looked at her words sitting on my computer screen and the child that still lives in me gave a jolt. Of course they would have. The adult me had no doubts. But that child that I had been, would never have told. I felt so lucky that they liked me, loved me and I was not going to ruin that for anything. I had been afraid if they knew the truth, if they knew how it was all my fault and how bad I was, well they would reject me. Cast me out or isolate me as my parents had the first time I told. It hurt me to think of that today. Not for the life I did not have, but that I lived in so much fear. It reminded me of two stories I will share with you now. Out of order, but still worth sharing.

  Both of these stories take place in that first year after my siblings had left me. My father had decided to build a fence. It was to cut across the yard between us and a neighbor whom my parents did not like. It was a wooden fence and he had decided to stain it in a color called redwood. My father placed a paint brush in my small hand and told me to paint all the bottom boards. We worked all day, but I did not finish and so the next day, while both our parents were at work, my brother and I decided to complete the task. No, there was never a babysitter. Or more accurately, I at the age of five was in charge. We painted the fence as best we could, but really we got more paint on ourselves then anything else. I knew we would be in trouble. We weren't allowed to make messes. I knew what to do though, my father had taught me. It had been my job to clean the brushes and so I took the can of turpentine and started to pour it on our bodies. We stood in the tub and tried to get all the stain off and then we used shampoo to clean the tub and ourselves. The memory is so vivid. The smell of the chemicals. The tingle on my skin. It gave us both headaches. We were feeling very bad by the time we were done. My head throbbed, I was nauseas and my skin burned. We lay beside each other on the couch. I remember throwing up and trying to clean that as well. We held hands on the couch, too weak and sick to move. My mother came home. She sat in her chair as she did every night and read her paper. Then came her news programs and then she sent us to bed. She never noticed. We lay on the couch for hours, saying nothing, clearly not well and she had no idea.

   The other story, just as vivid was about the same time. My father being military, sometimes stood duty. This meant staying up for twenty four hours at work. My mother would go to work before dawn and when my father had duty, we were alone for long periods. It must have been summer of my fifth year and  we woke up and went downstairs. My father was sleeping. He had come in sometime after standing duty and he was dead to the world. He was sleeping on the fold out couch in the living room. For reasons that will always remain a mystery to me, my parents often slept in the living room. We lay on the floor and waited for him to wake up. We were not allowed to get our own food. We weren't allowed in the kitchen at all, unless we were sent to get something for our parents. We were also not allowed to turn on the TV. And so we waited. we tickled each others toes, being careful to be quiet. If we woke up my father, there would be a beating. I was five and my brother four. It amazes me now, after having my own children and experiencing little ones. We stayed there, waiting through the day and into the evening. I remember the hunger. I don't have a memory of being bored or restless. We knew how to be still. I just remember the cramping in my stomach and the feeling of weakness as the day faded away. We had not been given dinner the night before. My brother had had an accident.  At four he was still having troubles regulating his bathroom skills. The punishment had been swift. My brother was held up by one arm, his legs dangling in the air as my father hit him. Over and over, while he yelled about how stupid he was. How disgusting and dirty. He called him an idiot and a moron and turned next to me. I was to have taught him this by now. He never called me names. He just hurled blame and then of course it was my turn to dangle. We were sent to bed with no dinner. I tried to talk to my brother, to explain it all again. I really needed him to learn this.

   We never snuck a bite. We stayed there until after dark. Whispering and touching our fingers together and waiting to be allowed food.

  Such was the fear that we lived with. It was our constant companion. Like a special pet our parents had bestowed on us.  A watch dog, with a short leash. I can feel that fear still, of that little lost child. I can hear it's echoing bark in the depths of my mind. It is not to be reasoned with. It is certain in it's proclamation of silence. I only overcame it a handful of times. Slipping past it's sharp teeth and long claws. I can count them on one hand. The first time I told, the second time when my mother took me to that doctor and one more time, when I said it was enough. That I would take no more. The time  I conquered that fear and got my freedom. The day will come, I can feel it in my bones. I am going to do the bravest thing of all and put that dog named fear down.

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