Eyes of a Child-Part 2
When Mom gave birth to my second brother, Billy, his face had a gaping hole where his upper lip and nostrils should have been. Not one to express emotion, Mom set about the task at hand of caring for my brother. During the first year of his life, Billy underwent several surgeries to correct his cleft palate.
Yet a sweeter, happier baby did not exist. Billy brought a unique joy into our lives. My brother, of course, had no awareness of his affliction, and although he suffered obvious pain, he cooed and smiled anyway.
Billy remained cheerful until that awful first day of school. He had so looked forward to making new friends. But he came home sobbing. When he could finally speak, he said the other children only laughed, mocked, and taunted: “Hey, crater face.” “Ewww! Gross!”
The ridicule never ended. Billy possessed an extraordinarily tender soul, and his tears escalated over the years into a severe depression that lasted throughout his lifetime. Mom cared for him until the day she died.
Mom found herself pregnant again in August of that same year. Would she give birth to another disfigured child? Kathy’s appearance relieved her. Mom delighted in my healthy, cuddly baby sister, and so did I.
I had prayed for a sister, and God had answered. Mom adorned Kathy in pretty dresses—she looked like my baby dolls. A natural-born nurturer, I mothered all of my siblings. Besides, since my weary mother insisted that I help her, I watched them, changed diapers, and took them for walks. Doing so gave me the hope to recapture her love, to be her perfect little girl. But that didn’t happen.
My relationship with Mom changed after Kathy was born. Discontentment with Daddy and his verbal abuse combined with four noisy children kept her overwhelmed. My father grew increasingly harsh, insensitive, and mean when he was drunk. Mom never quite overcame being the little orphan girl who longed for security and a happy family. When she and Daddy were in the bedroom with the door closed in the daytime, I sometimes heard her yell, “Bob, no! Stop!” I knew he must have been hurting her. Her childhood dream was slipping into a nightmare.
Neither of my parents hesitated to take out their irritations on Bobby and me. When I ran to hug my father as he came home from work, he brushed right by me. Mom grew cold toward me. The sting of their rejection haunted and drove me for years. I desperately tried to be the obedient child, hoping to revive their love and affection. It didn’t work. When I look in mirrors, I can sometimes still see the confused sadness in that little girl’s eyes.
One night Mom put all of us kids to bed then let the neighbors into our pocket-sized living room for a party. Bobby and I slipped out of bed and spied on the adults through the heating grate built into the upstairs floor. We giggled at the silly, rambunctious adults until unexpectedly, everyone quieted down. Except Daddy. Drunk again, clumsy, slurring, and goofy, he spouted his familiar dirty jokes. Mom tried to calm him down, which only provoked him. Daddy put Mom over his knee and spanked her in front of the party guests. My mother sobbed, “Bob, please stop.” Instead he laughed and slapped her harder.
Bobby squeezed his eyelids. “Why’s Daddy spanking Mommy? He’s making Mommy cry.” Teardrops dripped from the corners of his eyes.
I cradled him. “I don’t know.” I could only pat his tears with my pajama sleeve.
The neighbors walked out of the house, their faces contorted. Not one of them helped my mother. Gradually our neighbors distanced themselves from my entire family.
I found it hard to fit in with a cliquey group of girls my age who lived across the street. Who would want to hang out with a boney, bucktooth, bashful kid from a weird family? Patsy, Judy, and Debby let me tag along behind them but never included me. The few friends I knew from school rarely invited me to parties.
But dance was my freedom. Gyrating in front of my bedroom mirror transported me to ethereal wildflower fields, overflowing with tiny dancers just like me, dispelling my loneliness. By the age of nine, I had mastered all the latest dance crazes, like “The Twist” and “The Stroll.” I became alive through my fantasy life. No one could hurt me there.
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