Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chores

I am eleven years old.  I have open blisters on my hands and my knees are hardened shells of blood and dirt. I have been mowing the lawns, pulling weeds, and raking for hours. My body is one pulsating muscle- I am lithe with this servitude coupled with no lunch. This is a typical Saturday, I am slaving after my morning meeting with my step father and my Buddy.


More and more my step father wants me to work instead of wear my nighty. When he says I am growing up and becoming a woman, he looks me up and down like I am a someone he just met and doesn't approve of.  I am glad not to have to have to hide the face that I can't help but make whenever I have to use my mouth to play with Buddy. Things are changing- mostly he hates me now. He fills all of my time with chores. Tomorrow I will scrub all of the walls in the house since I didn't do a good job the first time. I never do a good job. There is always a mark here or there and that is an abomination. It is always even dirtier than before I started. How do I manage that? A blow upside the head accompanies his third degree. I will make a horrible wife some day. It is his job to teach me how to do things right the first time. It is his job to teach me what happens to bad wives who don't do good work.


I wonder what other kids are doing. I have heard them talking at school about slumber parties, going swimming, boating, cook-outs. I have swam a lot at the camp we live in in the summers. I have even gone on a boat. I even have a real friend from my grade. She lives with foster parents on her grandparents estate and I am allowed to stay the night sometimes. Of course, if I talk about my real best friend, Buddy, I will never see her again. I am not sure if he means that he will do what he says he will do to my brother and kill her, so I keep my mouth shut. If I get my chores done by nightfall, maybe I can call her up and spend the night again.


I hear voices on the road- they sound like kids my age. They are on bikes and have stopped, as they often do at the pull-off just after our front yard to drink from their water bottles. My throat is a narrowed and dusted path to my lungs. I want water more than to draw air. It is a visceral need that I cannot attend to as I am drowning in breathlessness.


I recognize the girls from school. They are nice to me when they include me in jumping rope. They are patient with the fact that I don't talk much. I sometimes wish they will just be mean so I don't have to wrestle my face out of my hair to look at them. It is hard to use the muscles in my face that make a pseudo-smile. They see me now and wave me over. I look around for my step father. He is always there, even when he isn't. I see him standing by the screen door- out of their sight. He juts his head in their direction and I know my job is to be polite and cheerful while I tell them, in essence, to bug off.  I even toss in a lie about how we are getting ready for company and then later a boat ride and a swim if the water is good. They launch their bikes as they wave. He slips back into the house and I wish for things that do not exist for me and let those hopes fly away as fast as they come.


When I am doing chores and my step father leaves to run an errand, I find friends by the pond out back. There are sheep from the neighbors' farm that wander to our pond for water. There is a cow that my brother and I have named Wilber who just had a baby. My best friend, by far, is the fence gate that swings as I saddle it up with an old blanket and use twine to make it my pony.  I can feel his spring hair shedding away.  I can smell his pepperoni pony smell. I can make him gallop away with me, never to return. He takes me to places where there are no weeds and no wood to stack. He takes me to a still pasture and I lean over to bury my face in his mane as he grazes. I love him. I am at rest and nothing hurts- not even my feelings.


I hear the truck on the road. I move fast to dismount. My rake is nearby and I climb out of the gully as though I have been pulling a wad of grass clippings down into it. I smile at him and tell him I love him as he climbs out of the truck looking suspicious and appraising the lawn. I call him Daddy and give him my sweetest smile, trying to be a baby doll because I know he loved me small. He is temporarily satisfied and I have done his bidding today.  He tells me to rake the lawn again, it isn't done right and then walks up the stairs and into the house with his cold Pepsi- the sight of which makes my throat clam p down even harder. The lawn sprawls endlessly before me. It is a field of perfect green grass. It is my master's plantation, big as the world. I set my bloodstained rake to earth and leave my pony to pasture.

10 comments:

  1. There sometimes just aren't words. the yearning to save you is just that immense.

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  2. Maybe I will re-write it and have you save me. God knows that never happened for me- it would be a cool story! Thank you for posting. :)

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  3. I'm so sorry this happened to you. I think it is a brave and good thing to write about it in such an open way. I hope all the love and goodness of the world comes your way.

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  4. I had a pony too. every so often, thirty years later, my pony comes to me still and we float away together...a sound, a smell, a dream...anything can bring me back to that place where all there is before me is a shattered mirror of history, of self, fragmented shards...but i know how to lean my face into that soft strong musky pony neck, let my body dangle and drape, close my eyes and let go..the trot becomes a gallop, the gallop becomes a cantor, and then you are weightless, free. Now, when I open my eyes I am home, safe, loved, surrounded by good things. You OWN your story, Cairn, tell it for both of us. For all of us.

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    1. My God- you have a voice! What beautiful writing! Thank you for this. That "pony" got me through a lot of hard stuff. Now, I am a lover of all things equine, but most especially that smell and how they just know that you just need to bury your face in their necks for a while. I will continue to write. More than anything it is for all. I believe we are all one, as corny as that sounds. The things we do effect ever single person. That is my intention. Much Love and a hug to whomever you are :)

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  5. you realize why he felt he had to punish you? Self loathing. He knew at some level (but denied it) that what he was doing was wrong. He needed to blame some one. YOU he blamed you for his actions (and self justisefied by claiming "she led me on, she seduced me, she was wrong" and he had to punish you.

    YOU became a victim a second time. This part is almost worse than the physical abuse--this blaming and making you the cause of his behavior.

    this is the hardest part to unlearn.

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    1. Hi Helen!
      Yes, I realize this- as hard as it is to imagine such deeply rooted self-loathing. By realizing this I have formed my ideas about compassion. I am not going to say that I love this man, but I understand what he did and why as much as anyone will ever get it.
      I wholeheartedly agree that the psychological torture was far worse than the physical stuff. The brain, the mind, the soul is a mysterious body- so hard to heal. But it can be done with a lot of very hard work. There is no way it can be done without. I see a lot of people reasoning that it will fade with time and it never works that way.
      Thank you for this insight.
      Warmly, CAirn

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  6. Ok. Now that I have had a few minutes to process, I want to say I love you and your honesty and bravery and the gift you are giving by sharing your story and making it safer and less scary for someone else to do so. And I want to say I am so, so, so sorry for not having done anything to help you. I hope that I can teach my girls to be aware and honest and strong advocates for themselves and their friends and those who cannot advocate for themselves.

    How are you doing with all of this coming up and out? Does it feel freeing and cathartic?

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    1. Hi Gretchen!
      DO NOT in any way think that as a child yourself, you should have known to say something. You had no idea and like I say, I knew how to keep the secret. We were not educated in the least about this stuff and sadly, unless parents are doing a good job with their kids, I don't see very much impressive work being done in schools. The only way i will ever think that a satisfactory job is being done is when I see the Huffington Post being as loud about this stuff as they are about all of the other "taboo" subjects. I will be happier still when it is not just being sensationalized,, but backed loudly with an honest desire to create dialogue that begins to feel less like dirt in the mouth and more like soul-soothing, honest desire to take it on.
      There are many sources out there to help you to help your kids. I am working on linking to them here so keep your eyes out.
      All of this came up and out a long time ago. I have done ridiculous amounts of wrk to restore my soul. I am truly over it except for the fact that I cannot sleep unless i am doing something to help others. What feels cathartic is when that happens. What feels freeing is writing without shame and seeing so many people supporting it. That feels like Heaven.
      Thank you for being my friend, even through my weird and dark days! That was your part in helping me through. I didn't have a lot of friends, but the ones I had are surfacing as a united force making me know ore than ever that they were always there.
      Love, Cairn

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