Eyes of a Child-Part 3
The day Hurricane Donna blasted the Jersey Shore, a foretelling incident also hit me like a hurricane.
Mom had stocked the house with canned goods and jugs of water, but forgot one item. “Nancy, I need you to run to Grant’s and get some candles.”
“Now, Mommy?” I said. “Me? Go to the store?”
“Yes, Nancy, while there’s a lull,” she said.
“What’s a lull, Mommy?”
“It means you need to hurry, Nancy.” Handing me my yellow plastic raincoat, Mom pointed to a pair of over-sized black rubber boots. “Put those on too.”
Like it or not, I had to be brave and help her. I peeped outside. “Mommy, are you sure you want me to go out there?”
“Yes, honey, I’m sorry. We need candles and I can’t leave the little ones.”
An eerie presence blanketed the neighborhood. Goosebumps pinched the hairs on my arms. I dashed up the hill of our street, dodging puddles with my clumsy, booted feet, turned onto Prospect Avenue, and ran downhill and stopped at an uprooted tree sprawled across a lawn. I ran through a stranger’s yard to get around it, when a man’s voice called from behind me.
“Hi there, little girl. Would you like me to help you?”
I glanced back to see a fat old man standing on his porch. He winked at me then pulled out his private parts and made weird noises.
Immobilized, my eyes fixed on him for an instant. I shrieked and turned to run. His laughter taunted me as I stumbled and tumbled over tree branches. I ran as fast as I could, all the way to the store instead of home. I didn’t dare return home without the candles. Back home, I hung my raincoat on the hook and slid to the floor. As I struggled to pull my boots off, I drooped my head and cried with shame.
Mom knelt next to me, held my face, and peered into my eyes. “Nancy, what’s wrong?”
I couldn’t lie to my mother, so I told her what the man did. Mom’s face reddened. She called the police. Then she said, “Bobby, watch the kids.”
Putting my raincoat and boots back on me, Mom yanked me by my hand, and practically dragged me up the street. I couldn’t tell if Mom was angry with me or with that old man.
Lightening flashed ferociously. Rain dumped on us. Wind blew me around as Mom’s tight grip shot pain through my hand. In front of his house, Mom banged on the front door. “Get your fat ass out here, you sick bastard!”
He didn’t answer. No surprise. Mom kept banging and yelling. Soon two police cars pulled up to the curb.
“Step aside, Ma’am,” one of the officers said. He handcuffed the ugly man and stuffed him into the backseat of his cruiser. The other officer drove Mom and me home. Mom didn’t explain to me why the man was arrested, nor did she ever mention the incident again. She told me not to tell my father about the “episode.” That was fine with me. I felt funny that I saw a man’s privates. And I would have been happy to never see any more again.
Despite all of Daddy’s bad behavior toward Mom, he made up for it—or complicated it—by trying to please her. For her birthdays and Christmases, he lavished her with furs, jewelry, bottles of Chanel N°5, and even a turquoise Mustang Fastback. Mom would wrap her arms around his neck, kiss him all over his face, and gush, “Oh, darling, thank you! I love it!”
And he’d say, “Anything for you, sweetheart.”
No longer satisfied with life in a cramped rented duplex, she coaxed him into buying a house of their own. So in 1961 we moved to the upscale neighborhood of Strathmore. And I waved goodbye to the house of my mother’s tears.
A grand four-bedroom colonial house stood before us. Decorative ebony shutters gleamed against creamy white paint. Our dream house.
On Saturday afternoons Daddy retreated to his piano bench, a pipe dangling from his lips and a snifter of brandy on the piano top. I watched as his fingers danced across the keys. His love of the piano seemed to soothe him, and I never saw him happier or more relaxed. He let me hover over him and turn the music pages. He even took my fingers in his hand and taught me how to play “Chopsticks.”
The melodies, the smell of Old Spice on him, the way he tenderly touched my cheek—those afternoons seemed to be my opportunity to bond with him. The calming music mixed with fragrant cherry tobacco that permeated the air to create a sense of comfort throughout our home, and gave me a false sense of security.
We appeared to be a wholesome family during those scattered weekend days. Daddy stayed somewhat sober and Mom laughed a lot. I desperately wanted to believe this house would make them both happy, so I convinced myself that life in our new home was perfect—until that horrifying day.
What do you think?