The Good Girl and the Devil Boy

I moped around in my bedroom for days, aching to learn a new dance step and see Mrs. Mauer. Her voice replayed in my head, “Never give up, never quit.” So I stood in front of my mirror and tried to dance, but my legs ignored my anemic attempts. My broken heart fell to pieces, as I plunged into a bottomless depression. I’d never see my beloved Mrs. Mauer again. My tears blurred my image in the mirror as if to wash me away. Not even my favorite songs could pull me up. I wanted to die.

In November 1963, just after I had turned twelve, my mother’s younger brother, Uncle Nicky, his wife, Aunt Loretta, and their children visited us for Thanksgiving. While the family gathered in the dining room, Aunt Loretta cornered me in our foyer hallway. “Nancy, come with me. I need to talk to you,” and she pushed me into the foyer bathroom.

Then she shattered what was left of my childhood.

“Since no one else will be honest with you, I need to tell you that Bob is not your real father.” She blurted it out without any consideration of my tender age.

“What do you mean? You’re a liar! Daddy is so my father!” I began to cry.

That was the first time I heard about my mother’s musician lover, Chris Jonfrida. Aunt Loretta must have disliked my mother immensely to say such a thing to me. Perhaps feeling her work was done, my haughty aunt breezed out of the bathroom, leaving me in a pool of tears. Devastated by her horrible lie, I cried and cried.

“Nancy Jean, we’re all waiting for you at the table,” Mom said. “What are you doing in there?”

Mom was standing outside knocking on the bathroom door. “Nancy, unlock this door.”

I turned the knob.

“Why are you crying?”

“Aunt Loretta said Daddy isn’t my father.” I groaned. “Is this true?”

Mom didn’t answer me. Her face turned beet red, and she stormed out of the bathroom. I crumpled to the floor, put my head in my arms on the toilet seat, and kept bawling. I heard my mother yelling at my aunt and uncle, a lot of commotion, and then the front door slammed. Uncle Nicky, Aunt Loretta, and my cousins were gone.

Mom and Daddy yelled at each other, and I feared coming out of the bathroom.     Eventually Mom returned. “Go to bed, Nancy.”

“OK, Mom.”

When I reached the second step of the staircase, I looked back at her, tears still dripping. “Mommy, is it true?” I searched her steely eyes.

“Please, just go to bed.”

My parents had a habit of burying unpleasantries. So this became just another subject never mentioned again.

After that I avoided my father. It made no difference. Daddy rarely acknowledged me anyway, and Mom’s mysterious resentment towards me grew. I talked to no one, for no one cared. I felt orphaned with parents still alive, well, and living under the same roof.

The timing could not have been worse. A few short months later, my life became a living nightmare.

We were Catholic, and confirmation classes had begun the October just before Aunt Loretta broke my heart. Oblivious to my ongoing depression, Mom wouldn’t let me quit. I was neither interested in the teaching, nor did I understand the purpose of the rituals. Mom said I should be grateful to have the privilege of Confirmation at age twelve. It meant I was mature. Odd, because I had no idea what the word mature meant.

Nonetheless, the thought of donning a fancy, white dress enticed me. Mom said it spoke of purity, another word I didn’t understand, but she made it sound special. Not one to question authority, especially Mom’s, I never asked for explanations. I only needed to feel special.

Besides wearing a white party dress, Mom bought me my first pair of half-inch heels. Confirmation appealed to me even more.

I chose Therese as my confirmation name. One of my religious teachers taught about her. St. Therese was “The Little Flower of Jesus.” I wanted to be his little flower too. As the day approached, I decided I should become a nun. I envisioned the holiness of actually being married to God.

That dream died quickly.

An older boy named John invaded my life that same month. John spotted Mom and her mechanic, Danny, riding alone in her car. John, a lanky, black, ninth-grade student with thick glasses, towered over my skinny four-foot-eleven frame.

I was in seventh grade. He trapped me in the middle school hallway after school in front of my locker. He put one hand on my chest, thrust my chin up with his other hand, forcing my head back against the hard metal slats, and then whispered into my ear.

“Do what I tell you, and I won’t tell your daddy your mama’s a whore,” he threatened, and then walked away. Plastered to my locker, I sucked in a deep breath trying to settle the swooshing in my stomach.

Daddy went to Taiwan a lot on business, and I heard my mother tell him he “should not be with that woman.” Dad’s affairs and cold treatment of Mom made her cry a lot. She was so lonely and desperate to be loved.

I knew that Mom liked Danny, a muscular olive-skinned Italian man with dark eyes and wavy black hair. She told me so, and I saw her kiss him. Danny managed the Sears auto service center on Highway 34, where she often took me to have our station wagon fixed. They laughed and chatted together in his office for hours. It bored me, so Mom gave me her Sears credit card and sent me into the store (where they knew us) to shop. Sometimes Danny treated Mom and me to Carvel Ice Cream. Mom must’ve gone with Danny to Carvel without me.

And John saw them.

I feared how my possessive father would react if he knew Mom had a friend. I saw no way out so I did whatever John said. I had to conceal what I perceived to be Mom’s secret. Immaturity and naiveté kept me silent and submissive.

The sins of an unloved mother, pushed by an unfaithful husband, became the next falling domino.

One day after school, John forced me go with him under the train trestle that crossed over Matawan Creek. Two boys my age tagged along side of us. John lifted up my skirt. The giggling boys dropped coins into his hand, and then touched my panties.

I covered myself but John slapped my hands away and gripped my elbows. Squirming, I crossed legs. They laughed harder and continued their stupid game of torment. My stomach ached. After I dry heaved, the snickering boys quickly tired of their fun and backed off. John called me a pig, then left me there. I slumped down into the muck, tucked my hands under my armpits, hugging myself as I rocked back and forth, and sobbed for what seemed like hours.

The disappearing sun meant it was nearly suppertime. With tears rushing down my face, I rose from the ground and ran towards home. My face heated up with shame from the weird sensation I felt when they groped me.

I slipped in through our front door unnoticed and tiptoed upstairs to the bathroom. I turned on the tap, squirted some Mr. Bubble into the tub, sank into the hot water up to my eyeballs in bubbles. The mirror on the door seemed to dominate the bathroom. A mirror never lies. Soap couldn’t wash away what those boys did or what I felt.

I was now a dirty little girl.

For the next two years, once or twice a week, John dragged me along with different boys to that hidden cove. I never had an appetite on those days. I picked at my food, moving it around on the plate.

“Young lady, your mother worked hard preparing this meal,” Daddy said repeatedly. “Eat your dinner this minute.” I never could. Daddy called me disobedient and sent me to my room.

He never knew the horrible price I paid for covering up for Mother, and I had little reason to believe he’d care. I knelt at my bedside at night and prayed to God to help me, but he never did. Maybe he was mad at me too.