Katie's Story

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Location: Georgia, United States

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Katie's Story, Part I

Okay, I do know where to go. I finally do know who the bogeyman was, and why I was afraid of the cellar and attic particularly. But I don't know how to write it. I don't know how to tell it in a way to make it less ugly. But it is ugly, and maybe I shouldn't try to sugarcoat it.
It's said that you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. But there's more to it than that. It's the telling it that sets you free. I've been in so many group sessions; so many I can't count them. People are talking about marriages gone bad, about tragedies and loss, and there is invariably the new girl in a corner somewhere who will not speak. When asked directly why she won't speak, sometimes she will say that no one in the room could relate to her pain. She doesn't say it as a way to get 'one-up' on other patients; she really believes it. Who, among those who've been molested and raped as children, can believe in a world so horrible that their experience is a common one? Most have been told they were liars; they don't want to hear that again, and so they keep quiet. They keep it inside, and it quietly eats them alive.
I know. I was once one of those girls. And I say 'girls', but I mean women, 60-year-old women, and men, too, of all ages. They've sat on their secret for years, and it's become an unbearable place to sit. Sometimes they leave the group when talk turns to abuse, as it almost inevitably does. Sometimes they leave forever, and take their secret back home, and never speak of it again. Sometimes they die. But if they had talked! The ones who talk, who begin the story of multiple rapes by multiple men, multiple abuses by mothers who have heaped upon them pain and shame, simply say, "I was molested."
No big deal. Surely the problems of the others in group are larger and more important than theirs. How surprised they are when the room gets quiet, and all eyes are focused on this frightened person who has finally found the courage to simply say, "I was molested." And then the outpouring of acceptance, the nods and tears, the stories that come out about the abuse that they, too have lived through. In my experience, about 80% of the people who have to be hospitalized for depression, and more than that of the ones who've attempted suicide, were molested as children.
So why do I find it so hard to count myself among that number? Because the voices say to me, "Liar! Liar!" and I hear the screaming girl, and I want to hug my Bubba bear and hide in a corner myself, and I feel small and vulnerable and afraid. I don't want to belong to this club. I don't want to admit my shame, and my fear. I don't want to tell my dirty little secret, the secret that makes me feel dirty and used and unworthy.
Some will tell their story with tears and rage, some will tell it quietly, in whispers, with heads hanging, some will tell it and then put their 'normal' face back on, and go about life as if it had never happened, the abuse or the telling. But in some small way, every time someone tells the truth, some part of them is set free. Something filthy is cleansed. Something evil is gone from their soul. And so, I have to tell. But how do I tell? What words do I use? There are words I still cannot say, dirty words for dirty deeds. I was small, less than 4 years old, and a man I trusted and adored did vile things to me, and made me do vile things to him. That is the truth, and that is my freedom

There's a bum on the corner
Hippies in the Square
Jukebox playin' boogie
Wind in my hair.

There's a man all in tatters
Sellin' them the news.
I wonder if it matters?
Got the New Orleans Blues.

Walkin' down the crowded streets
Buy myself some flowers
Tryin' not to cry
Gettin' higher by the hour.

Baby in my belly
Won't give me no clues.
What's goin' on inside my head?
Just New Orleans Blues.
KZC 1971
In my imagination, there is a circular structure, like a gazebo, entirely walled in with glass. There is nothing within this room, and nothing beyond it. The glass could be windows, but there is no view. That's as finished as my mind has made it. As finished as it's ever needed to be.
There's a girl in my glass room, and I suppose she is me, although I never imagine her as looking like me at all. I have long, blonde hair, and hers is dark and straggly. If I try to go closer to her, she goes into a crouch, forming herself into a taut shape of condensed energy, ready to run. And that's what I see her do; she runs. Her goal seems to be to expend as much energy as possible, in the shortest possible time. She runs, flailing, ricocheting off of walls, slamming the glass with her fists, gathering momentum from the sound of the glass breaking and the feel of it crunching underfoot. She wheels and turns and spins until she's spent, and then she falls to the floor, bleeding from gashes on her hands and feet, a lifeless bundle of rags and hair, and she has no person-shape at all. That's where I always leave her. I don't give a second thought to the cuts on her body. I know she'll have been resurrected, the next time I come here.

I recently had my appendix removed. There was nothing wrong with my appendix, but the doctors couldn't decide exactly what was wrong, and so an exploratory surgery was done, in the course of which my appendix was removed. It's okay. I didn't need it anyway, but I wish the surgeon had gone ahead and taken my uterus, too, because it has definitely gone bad, and I'll have to have another surgery in the future to get rid of that. I don't like surgery. It's not the cutting that bothers me so much, but the anesthesia. And falling asleep is no problem, as there's not much point in resisting the inevitable. It's the waking up that I can't stand; the struggle to return to your senses. It doesn't seem worth the effort, and I always have the thought that, "Damn! Now I'll have to die all over again!" That's what bugs me. There was the perfect opportunity to die without pain, and instead, I have to come back and face the pain, and who knows? I could get hit by a truck the day I go home.
Since this appendectomy, though, I've had drowning dreams. In one, I simply put my face into a few inches of water, and then I couldn't, for the life of me, turn or lift my head. I wanted to inhale! I woke up sucking air in great gasps. After I'd had a few of these dreams, I started sleeping sitting up. I've had sleep apnea before, but never to this extent, where my awareness that I couldn't breathe preceded my taking that huge gulping breath. Before, I'd just woken up with a gasp, had a brief thought that I'd had an apneaic(?)episode, and gone back to sleep. Disturbing, but not terrifying, as these drowning dreams are. In any case, I've had to give more thought to my preferred mode of dying, as simply 'quitting breathing in my sleep' doesn't seem to be as merciful as it sounds.
I think about dying a lot. I always have. Most people seem to be afraid of death, but I never have been. Not that I want to suffer. I'm familiar with suffering, and I've no desire to be a martyr. I want to die quietly, peacefully; just slip out of my skin and go to wherever it is that I'm going. The slipping
out of my skin part I've got down pat, but the trouble is, I always slip in again, after seconds or hours or days. No, the idea of dying doesn't bother me. It's the uncertainty that makes me hold off. I wonder, even if I've slipped, if I've gone, will I come back at the moment of dying and have to suffer through that last gasp by myself? It hardly seems fair, but then again, life isn't, so why should death be? So since the appendectomy and the apnea, I've had to rethink all my plans.
Plans. That's always the question I'm asked when I want to die. "Do you have a plan?" My answer is that I have many plans; it's just a matter of choosing one. I've considered blowing my brains out with a gun. That's so messy, and I don't want anyone to have to clean up that kind of mess. Slitting my wrists would be messy, too, but I'd do that in the bathtub, and all anyone would have to do is rinse the tub when I'm gone. But I've talked to many people who have slit their wrists, and they all say the same thing. It hurts! And the point is to end pain, not create it. Being hit by a train might work, but I had a friend who was hit by a train, and all it did was throw her off beside the tracks, and now she's brain-damaged, and has to be taken care of for the rest of her life. I'd hate to live like that, and I think that would hurt people more than my actual death. I could slam my car into a tree, but there's certainly no guarantee there. I could attach a hose to the exhaust pipe of my car and run the other end through the window, and that sounds pretty good, as you hear stories of whole families who've died from carbon monoxide, and were found still sitting on the couch with the TV on; no signs of a struggle at all.
But still, that awareness of the last gasp might have been there. The best I've come up with so far is hypothermia, but if I'm feeling suicidal in the summertime, there's no chance of that. What I'm usually left with is an overdose, but if I panic or I'm found, then there's that stomach-pumping business, and then it's called a 'suicidal gesture', and I'm left feeling like the boy who cried "Wolf!"

The first time I tried to die, I had just turned 18.

I always say, "I left home when I was 16." or, "My parents kicked me out when I was 16." But either of those could make it sound like I was a runaway, an incorrigible, or that I made the decision myself, and none of those is strictly the truth. What actually happened was that I got pregnant, and was sent away to New Orleans, to a home for unwed mothers, Seller's Baptist Home and Maternity Center. After the first flurry of considering options, there was never a question that I'd give the baby away. It never entered my mind that there was anything else I could do. That seems so terribly naive to me now, but I was very naive, or rather uneducated, at the tender age of 16. Not uneducated as far as book-learning went, but completely ignorant of how the world worked, what options may have been available, or how I would feel when I finally held my own child in my arms. All of the girls at the home were told, "You'll forget all about this someday. You'll 'get on' with your life. Your baby will have a better life than you could ever provide." Some of the girls cried a lot and were sad most of the time, and I guess those were the ones who had some inkling of what the repercussions of surrendering their babies might be. I was ignorant, and blissfully so.
I had a grand time in New Orleans. The rules of the home were strict, but much less harsh than the home I had left, and for me, it was my first heady taste of freedom. Everyone had chores, besides the obvious ones of making beds and keeping our rooms and lockers clean. Mine was to make breakfast, and cooking for 25 to 30 people was fun and challenging. There were two of us in the kitchen before sunrise, but I did most of the cooking. I cooked huge pots of oatmeal and cream of wheat and grits. I'd never eaten grits before; never even seen them, but found that I liked them. I was a Yankee from Pennsylvania, and my mother's repertoire of dinners consisted of variations of meat and potatoes, with the occasional fish thrown in. I liked the greasy Southern food: fried okra, beans and rice with sausage, white gravy, fried chicken. I was young, I was well fed, and I was free. I was happy, probably as happy as I've ever been.
After breakfast every weekday, I went to school. I was one of the youngest girls in the home, and so I was more often than not by myself on the trip there and back. The special school for unwed mothers was miles and miles away, and I had to ride both the trolley and a bus to get there, and then I still had to walk from the bus stop. I never got tired of making that trip. I loved the jostle of getting on the trolley, and the bus wound through the French Quarter, making sharp turns on the narrow streets, so narrowly missing poles and buildings that I held my breath every time. The school was in an area of the city that reminded me of my grandparents' neighborhood, and I became familiar with every cat on the route. School only lasted half a day, and after the bus ride back downtown, I was on my own until I had to be back at the home for supper. We had been admonished never to go to the French Quarter, but how could I ride through it every day, and not be enticed by what I saw? The nudie bars, the head shops, the jazz blaring from the open doors of restaurants? I had to go. Mimes and jugglers amused me, and I always put a little something into their hats or pails. Sometimes it seemed there was an artist on every corner, working in oils or watercolors or painting portraits in no time flat, and in Jackson Square, I could sit and listen to guitars or bongos or flutes, and catch the whiff of pot smoke in the air. I hung around in antique shops, bought candles, earrings, stationery and gifts for friends back home. I never spent much time thinking about the future, or of the baby growing inside of me, although I did once buy a tiny nightgown at Maison Blanche for him or her to wear when I got my chance to take the three pictures that we were each allowed to have of our babies before we went home.
When I got too big around the middle to comfortably work in the kitchen, I learned how to work the small PBX switchboard, fielding incoming and outgoing calls for the offices, the nursery and the nurse's residence. Sometimes the board was busy with green and red lights and a tangle of wires, and I took pride in my ability to keep it all unsnarled and running smoothly. I never took the opportunity to listen in, even though I was often tempted when calls came through for the social workers, as I knew that these involved the babies and prospective parents. It was a plum job; I knew it, and I didn't want to lose it. Besides, I got in trouble enough as it was.
Once I got caught shoplifting, and someone from the home had to come and get me, but the worst was when I brought home a little grey and black rat that I'd bought. I kept him in my closet, and when no one was around, I would take him out of his cage and pet him, or let him climb up my arm and nestle in my hair. The problem was that he spent most of the night running in his spinning wheel, and the wheel (and the rat) had a distinctive squeak. It didn't bother me; I liked knowing that he was playing while I slept. None of the girls I roomed with complained to me, but one morning after breakfast we were told to remain in the dining room while Mrs. LaPrairie, the regal and genteel old lady who was the director of Seller's, did a locker search. I had been ratted on! The look on her face when she walked into the dining room was worth any punishment that might be meted out, as she sputtered,
"WHO...is...keeping...a...RAT...in...her...CLOSET?!" I had to turn him loose in an empty lot at the end of our block, and a few of the girls came with me to bid him farewell.
I was almost eight months pregnant when Mardi Gras time came around, and we were allowed to go to the parades as a group to holler, "Throw me something, Mister!" When ten or fifteen of us went together, the crowd parted to let us through, and we'd end up in the very front, so close we could touch the floats as they went by. Often, the people on the floats would do a double take, and throw handfuls of beads and doubloons just for us. We'd walk back with strings of beads covering both arms and doubloons filling every pocket. A friend of mine from home came to New Orleans to stay with his brother for the parties, and we made arrangements to meet at one of the parades. He said, "I'll be the one at the top of the light pole", but there were people hanging from every tree and light pole in sight, and I never found him.
I didn't go to school that last month. I spent most of that time in my room, confined to bed, listening to Carole King or Cat Stevens on my record player, with my feet propped up on half a dozen pillows to keep the swelling down in my legs. I was never told why my legs and hands and face were so swollen, but now I know I must have been toxemic, and in early March the decision was made to induce labor, even though my due date was still three weeks away. The nurse and I left before sunup to go to Southern Baptist Hospital, and I was scared and excited that this day, March 3rd, 1972, would be the day I'd get to meet the little person who'd been created in me. I had no idea what that day would hold, and I suppose that was a blessing.
I'd never been in a hospital as a patient before. I didn't know the least thing about IV's or 'preps' or enemas. By the time the Pitocin drip was started, I was frightened and humiliated. I didn't know that it could only get worse, but when the pain started, I knew that it was going to be more than I could take. I ripped the needle out of my arm at least twice, and thrashed so much in the narrow bed that I had to be restrained with straps on my wrists and ankles.
No one spoke directly to me, and there was no comforting touch or murmur of reassurance. They gave me a drug called Scopolamine, otherwise known as Twilight Sleep, and from that point my memory of labor and delivery is blank. I woke in a private room, alone, a puddle of blood under my bottom, not knowing what time it was, whether or not my baby was okay, or if it was a boy or a girl. The first thing I said when a nurse finally came to check on me was, "I want my baby!" She told me I'd had a little girl, that she was still being watched in the nursery, and that I had to get up and go to the bathroom while she changed my sheets.
I put my legs over the side of the bed and stood up, and it felt like there was an empty space in my belly, and all of my organs had suddenly dropped into that hole. The nurse helped me to the toilet, and told me not to get up. So I sat there. And sat there. I pulled the cord that said 'pull for nurse', but no one came, so I figured they'd forgotten about me, and decided to walk back to bed by myself. The last thing I remember is calling, "NURSE!" before I hit the floor. Again, I woke up in bed, this time with clean sheets and a pain in my head to rival the one in my bottom.
I didn't get to meet my daughter, whom I'd named Sarah Jane, until late that evening. They brought her to me swaddled, and I was afraid to unwrap her to count fingers and toes for fear I couldn't wrap her up again the right way, and someone would know and fuss at me. So I just held her and talked to her, and she studied my face with big blue eyes, as if she had wondered what I looked like as much as I'd wondered about her. She was beautiful, and it suddenly hit me with the force of nature itself what it would mean to give her away. I was her mother. She was mine. I wanted to run from that place with her in my arms and never look back. I might've done it, if I'd been in any shape to run. By that time, I'd been told that she'd been born breech, butt first, and I knew that most of the pain I was feeling was from where I'd been cut so that she could pass through the birth canal quickly, before she had time to take a breath while her head was still inside me. The pain of that was nothing compared to the pain I felt, realizing that she'd be out of my life in a matter of days. Why hadn't anyone told me? Why hadn't they said or done anything at all to help me prepare? They had stolen the memory of her birth from me with the Scopolamine, and now they would steal her, too. But I loved her! Why didn't they tell me how much I'd love her?
Before I left the hospital, my mother and my sister Amy came to visit me. We walked down to the nursery together so that they could see my beautiful baby. There were babies lined up behind a big window, each with a pink or blue card in a slot on the end of the bassinet. I looked for Sarah, but she wasn't there. So I tapped on the glass, and asked the nurse to please bring my baby to the front, so that Mom and Amy could see her. She said that it was against the rules, and pointed to a bassinet in a back corner of the room. I asked again, "Please? I want my family to see her." But her answer was that as I was from Seller's, my baby was not to be brought out for viewing at any time. Three days old, and already branded. I was disappointed and angry. I think I had hoped that if my mother could just see Sarah, she might change her mind about not letting me bring her home. But that was not to be. My mother seemed unaffected by my emotion, and I can hear her say, "Well, they have to have some rules for this sort of thing." This sort of thing? My daughter was not a 'thing', but neither was she good enough to mingle with the other infants, as if she might bastardize the whole lot.
Seller's had a tradition, or maybe it would be better called a ritual. Whenever a girl came back from the hospital, everyone would gather in the sitting room to ooh and aah over the new baby. Then the baby would be whisked away to the nursery, never to be seen again by anyone but her mother. The new mother would then be taken to her room, but not the room she had left. The mother of the bastard would be taken to entirely separate quarters, on a different floor and tucked away near the laundry room, to 'recuperate'. When I walked into that room, all my things were already there. I would never go upstairs again, or take meals with the girls who had not yet delivered. I was completely isolated from anyone but the staff and my baby, who was brought to me, as were my meals, three times a day for about half an hour each time. I was allowed to take three pictures of her, and brought my camera with me for one visit. I took three pictures, and when the nursery attendant stepped out of the room, I took two more. I felt very rebellious and sneaky. Then I gave the attendant the gown I had bought at Maison Blanche, and asked her to please put it on Sarah, and leave it on until the last time I would get to see her. I wanted it to smell like her; to have some small piece of her to take home with me.
I had to go to the director's office and sign the relinquishment papers. I didn't read anything; I just signed. Then my sister's boyfriend came and picked me up, and we headed for home. I had been led to believe that I could slip back into my former life like pulling on a sweater. But that particular sweater just didn't fit anymore. I went back to school, and wandered the halls in a daze. I remember some kids asking me what it was like, and why didn't I cry? What was there to cry about? My baby was gone, to bask in the glow of her new, loving, capable family, so where was the problem? I'd done what I'd been told to do. I could pretend to be a 'good' girl again, and all was well. But one day, during class, I was thinking about Sarah, and suddenly a wet stain began to spread over the front of my blouse. I was leaking milk, milk that was meant for the baby who no longer existed. I was mortified. I borrowed a friend's jacket, picked up my books and walked out of class, and out of school. I never went back.
Soon after that, my old boyfriend, the guy I'd dated all through high school, came from Shreveport to Alexandria to visit. Dale and I had dated for almost two years before I found myself pregnant, but he had moved away before I'd gone to New Orleans. He stayed at my best friend's house, and her parents were out of town. I spent the night with her, sleeping with him. The catch was, my best friend lived right across the street from me, and first thing in the morning, my mother stormed over and found us still in bed. I was marched home, and threatened with everything from a beating to juvenile hall. I went to my room, threw some things into a paper sack, and snuck out the back door. I went through my back yard and met Dale on the opposite street, and we headed for Shreveport, to his mother's house. I was certain the whole way there that my parents had sent the police after us, and kept looking in the mirror to see if we were being followed. We weren't. I was gone, and good riddance.
Dale's mother was less than happy to see me. She said that I could stay, but that we'd have to find our own place as soon as possible, and being the good Baptist that she was, she insisted we get married. We moved into an awful little apartment, one room with a separate kitchen and nasty bathroom, and were married by a Justice of the Peace in his house in Taylortown on May 18th. I wore my best granny dress, and carried a bouquet of daisies. Dale wore a suit with a purple shirt. Then we went to Dale's sister's apartment, to have cake and Boone's Farm wine. His mother gave us a toaster and towels. Sarah was two and a half months old. I was 17, Dale was 19. He was parking cars for a living, and didn't make much. But we didn't need much. Rent, food, cigarettes, drugs, and we were happy.
My first night in Shreveport, Dale had given me my first hit of acid, and from then on, drugs pretty much defined both our lives. We would go to Columbia Park, where all the hippies hung out, and where every drug imaginable was being used and being sold. Tripping my ass off, I would swing on the swings, and imagine I could fly right up into the clouds and be gone. Gone was the only place I wanted to be.
Dale decided to join the Army. On May 29th, he left for Fort Polk, for basic training. I went back home to stay until I could find a place to live. It was a very uncomfortable place to be. The worst thing was, in the short time that I'd been gone, my mother had turned my bedroom into a guest room, and had sold all of my belongings, including Sarah's gown, at a yard sale. There was nothing in that house, or in that room, to signify that I'd ever been there. She'd swept me out with the dust bunnies. I found a duplex near England Air Force Base, and for the first time in my 17 years, I was alone. I got a check from the Army each month, and had pretty much pared down my needs to rent and drugs. I didn't like being alone, and couldn't bear the nights. I would sit, frozen on the couch, and keep watch until daybreak.
We had an old car, an Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight. Three times I drove to Fort Polk to visit Dale. The first time, we had a fight, because he wanted to have sex in the car, and I wouldn't do it. I don't know why. By that time, I had been picking up men nearly every night, just wanting someone to bring home and keep the shadows away. Sex was the payoff, and I didn't care.
On nights when there was no one to be with me, I’d walk the seven or eight miles to my parents house to sleep on the back porch swing. I had to leave by sunup, though, because I knew if they caught me there, they’d be angry. It felt good to be home on those nights. The sound of the air conditioner was familiar, and lulled me to sleep.
I was also in a relationship with a previous boyfriend, and often he'd be the one to keep me company. All of this I told Dale, and the next time he got a pass, he came to Alexandria and took the car away. I was very angry, and more alone than ever.


Part II

Twice she knocked; there was no answer.
The door was shut and windows locked.
She was puzzled, unbelieving
that no one answered when she knocked.

The sign that hung above the door
said, "Peace to All Who Enter Here".
This was the place that she'd been sent;
the sign was there, its message clear.

She sat and waited on the steps;
no coat against the winter chill.
She'd thought to find some warmth within.
Trembling, she waited, still.

Finally, she wandered home,
hungry, sick and feeling old.
She slept, mindless of the filth;
mindless of the blasting cold.

Next day she stumbled, weak and weary,
up to the door and knocked again,
and when he answered, she implored,
"Please give me more, man. I'm in pain."

"Can't help you now", was all he said.
He closed the door. She sat and cried.
"Peace to All Who Enter Here"
was what she read before she died.
KZC 1973
Sarah is a 17-year-old girl. She is shy and quiet. In a room full of people,
she makes herself as inconspicuous as possible, hiding in a corner when she can. She is sad and very lonely. She likes gauzy blouses, blue jeans, bare feet and silver jewelry. She likes to read, listen to sad music, and walk in the woods alone. She is in love with love, and with Dale. Her favorite painting shows a girl much like she likes to imagine she looks: sidesaddle on a horse, her long wavy auburn hair blowing in the breeze, reaching down to kiss her knight in shining armor. A print of that painting hangs on my bedroom wall.

I first met Dale on my first day in my brand-new high school, which
was actually brand new; it had just been built. The school I had come
from, in Frenchburg, Kentucky, had about 300 kids in it, in kindergarten through eighth grade. This new school, Alexandria Senior High, or ASH, as everyone called it, had about 1,200 students, and my only cold comfort was that everyone else was as fresh as I was, although probably not nearly as intimidated. While I had been used to schools with one long hall with classrooms on either side, and a gym-auditorium-lunchroom area, this school had stairs, an elevator, corridors with nooks and crannies and hundreds of lockers lining the halls. It had tennis courts, a baseball field, a track and a heated indoor pool.
That first year, my freshman year, I stuck to easy courses like English I, French, World History, Band and Algebra. At least, I thought Algebra would be easy. I'd never had any trouble with math before, and had always brought home report cards with A's and a few B's mixed in. Algebra was altogether different. I could understand math as it applied to the real world, but math as a concept? That was totally beyond me.
It didn't help that the tall, lanky, red-haired cutup in the back of the class
absorbed most of the attention I should have been giving to the teacher. His
name was Dale, the same as my stepfather's, and I was experiencing my first
major crush. He was irreverent and witty, always the center of attention, or at least trying to be; he seemed to be everything I was not: confident, quick of tongue, a sharp dresser, a guy who knew the ways of the world and used them to his advantage. I could see that even the teacher was intimidated by him, and I was duly impressed. Trouble was, he had a girlfriend, an Amazon girl named Kathy. For months, I satisfied myself with furtive glances, and an occasional acknowledgement in the halls. But I had planned a party for my 15th birthday, which was to be on January 7th, 1970, and I decided to invite him. What did I have to lose?
To my great surprise, he showed up. The people I had invited were people I knew from band class and a church that one of the band members had invited me to. Not a very lively bunch, but things seemed to be going well. We were listening to the Monkees, the Association, Three Dog Night, eating cake and ice cream and drinking Cokes. Then Dale sauntered in, his arms laden with record albums. Our house had a built-in stereo system, so that the music followed you anywhere in the house, even outside to the patio. I think Dale actually winced in pain at the bubblegum music blaring from every room, and he went to the record player and lovingly placed a record onto the turntable. For a moment after the music started, everything got quiet, and then suddenly we were all thrust into the new world of hard rock with the sound of Steppenwolf's Born to Be Wild. I was, oh yes, I was. And this was definitely the guy I wanted to be wild with. Soon after, he dumped his Amazon girlfriend, and from then on, we were inseparable.
We walked the halls together at school, getting in trouble for holding hands between classes, and walked or rode our bikes to one another’s houses nearly every day. I had been really kissed only once before in my life, but Dale already had kissing down to an art. He played guitar in a garage band, and I was the one and only groupie. He wrote lyrics, too; not very good lyrics, but still, he was a 'writer', and I admired that. Mostly, though, they practiced Beatles' songs until they got them perfect, which of course, they never did. But it was a new world to my country bumpkin self, and I reveled in it. We were young and rarin' to go, and we made a pact that as soon as school was out for the summer, we would consummate our relationship by having sex.
We made elaborate plans. I often slept on the patio in a sleeping bag on nice nights, and we decided that it would be our meeting place, the place where we would do the deed, and give up our virginity forever. I did have to tell him, though, that he shouldn't expect from me the things a man might expect from a virginal partner. My hymen had been broken one day while I was horseback riding, and that meant that there would be no pain, no blood. He readily accepted that, either not caring or being too ignorant to question me about it. Neither of us knew much about the whole process of 'making love' anyway. We figured we'd give it a go, and see if it was worth repeating. At least, that's what I was thinking. Lord only knows what he was thinking, almost 17 and still a virgin. He probably wouldn't have cared if I'd lost my hymen to a broomstick. Little did he know how close to the truth that might have been. In any case, I failed Algebra that year, the only subject I ever failed.
The first time we tried to have a go at this sex thing, it just didn't work.
We understood the mechanics, but he was too scared of being found out to make his body cooperate, even though our petting sessions had stopped so close to the line from foreplay to sex that the only next logical step was intercourse. But finally we gave up, he went home, and our lovemaking went back to its previous form of half-clothed fumbling and kissing in the back of his mother's car at the local drive-in. Until the day he came over unannounced, to find my sister and I in our two-piece baby-doll swimsuits, greased up with baby oil mixed with iodine, frying ourselves in the Louisiana summer sun. I guess that jump-started something in him that was not to be denied. We talked for a few minutes, and soon we were in the house, going at it like gangbusters on my little brother's twin bed. Success was sweet. At least for him it was. For me it was a drop of water on a parched throat. I couldn't think about what had happened or what it meant. I just wanted more. Much more. Any day, any time, anywhere, and soon, very soon, anybody.
And so began the contest. My best friend, Patty, and I decided to have a
little competition to see who could sleep with the most men. We didn't set any time limit; just kept a running tally of each of our conquests. I was dating Dale, and was very much in love, but any time an opportunity presented itself to sleep with someone else, I opened the door. I didn't really understand that I was the one being used; I was simply trying the only way I knew to feel that I had some control over the men in my life, and besides, I never felt anything anyway. Except for revulsion and guilt. I felt that strongly. Once the cuddling and kissing part was over, if there even was any cuddling or kissing, I retreated to a faraway place in my mind, and never felt a thing. What I did understand was that I was a bad girl, and this is what bad girls did.

The last time I did this, it was with a man whose kids I had baby sat. Once, when the wife was away, I decided to add the husband to my growing roster. I snuck out of my house in the middle of the night, and went and tapped on his bedroom window. He came and let me in the back door, and I very blatantly told him why I was there. He hemmed and hawed a little while, said he'd never been unfaithful to his wife, that he'd feel terribly guilty, that I was a minor and he could get in big trouble, but in the end, screwed me anyway.
Many times, I would tell Dale what I'd done. I don't think he knew about the game or the list, but he knew enough to be very hurt by what I was doing. Every time, I would apologize and beg him not to leave, and every time, he would forgive me and love me anyway. Then his parents broke up, and he had to move with his mother back to Shreveport, where her family lived. I was very angry.
How dare he leave me? I could not face the pain of his moving, even if it was only a hundred or so miles away. We had a huge fight, and that was that.

I didn't really care anyway. My sister had introduced me to a boy named Alvin, and I'd had my sights set on him for quite some time. Amy was dating someone else at the time, so Alvin figured that since he couldn't have her, I'd be the next best thing. I wasn't anything like Amy, though. Amy was outgoing and carefree and funny, and I was shy and scared to death of doing anything that might make Alvin go away. He was constantly belittling me, and I was forever trying to be the kind of girl he wanted. He seemed much like Dale in some ways; supremely self-confident and friendly, and I was exactly the opposite. I had fallen hard for this guy, but my behavior was a constant source of strain in our relationship. Before Alvin, sex had not really been something to do, but something to have done to me. Alvin was never satisfied with that, and my uptightness angered him. His feelings for me ran as hot and cold as a Peerless faucet. Eventually he joined the Army and went away, leaving me heartbroken and very, very needy.
Dale had come to visit friends in Alexandria a few times, but I was loyal to Alvin, and wanted nothing to do with him. By this time, I had ended my competition with Patty. My list had reached forty names, and I became disgusted with the whole thing. I was a whore, no doubt about it, and even though Alvin didn't know how many guys I'd slept with, I knew, and I knew I didn't deserve his love anyway. But I had stopped sleeping around before I started a serious relationship with Al, and one night not long before Alvin left, we made love on the living room floor of a house near mine that was empty. That was a night that changed my life.

I missed my period, and then another, and I finally admitted to myself that I was going to have a baby. I wrote to Alvin and told him I was two months pregnant, and he got an emergency leave to come home and marry me. I started making wedding plans; even went with Amy to look at gowns. We came home talking about the beautiful dresses we'd seen, and my mother said, "But you can't wear white, you know." For the second time in my life I stood up and talked back to her. I said, "What should I wear, then? Flaming red?" She slapped me for that one. The first time I had gone against her wishes was soon after she found out that I was pregnant. I couldn't tell her, and asked a friend of hers, Jan, to do it for me. We walked back home, and she called the only family meeting I believe we ever had. While my sisters sat on the couch, and my father in his easy chair, she told them I was pregnant.
My father barely stirred, and all he said was "How could you be so stupid? Don't you ever watch TV?" The next day, my mother told me that I'd have to have an abortion, although I'm sure she didn't use the word. But I knew what she meant, and I said no. No way was I going to kill this baby. I'd marry Alvin, and life would be perfect. But a few days later, his mother called me and told me that she'd told Alvin that the baby couldn't possibly be his, as he was sterile from having the mumps as a child. She'd told him the same thing, and he'd already gone back to boot camp. It was a very sad girl who packed her bags and went off to New Orleans.
However, I was still in love with Alvin. He was sent to Okinawa, and we exchanged letters frequently while I was at Seller's. The last letter I got from him was brought to me in the hospital. In it, he told me he'd met a beautiful Japanese girl, and that he was planning to bring her home with him. After Dale and I got married, I tried to put Alvin out of my mind. It wasn't so hard to do. I was so stoned most of the time that there wasn't much going on in my mind anyway. By the time Dale left for basic training and I moved back home, Alvin was like a distant memory. One night, when I was walking home, I kept hearing what sounded like fat raindrops hitting the sidewalk. I'd take a few steps, then, PLOP! PLOP! and I'd stop and look around. There'd be no more sound, and I'd start walking again, hear a PLOP!, and stop. After a few minutes of this, I realized that someone was throwing stones in my path. Alvin stepped out of the shadows, and my heart skipped a dozen beats. Alvin! He was HOME! He'd come back, and no Japanese girl in sight. He'd come home to me!
But I was married, and I had to tell him that. He asked, "Why?" and I told him that I didn't think I'd ever hear from him again, and besides, he'd told me about his lovely geisha girl. Then he asked me, "But didn't you get my letters?"
"What letters?" I asked.
"The ones I sent to your parents' address."
The ones my mother had conveniently forgotten to tell me about. The ones that might have made me Al's wife, instead of Dale's, and might have made it all turn out differently.
Instead, we took what we could get. Dale was gone, I was alone, Alvin was there, and what else was there to do? I didn't want to be alone any more. Alvin slept with me in the apartment rented with the money sent every month to me, the Army wife. In fact, he spent most nights there. The nights I found myself alone, I'd go to the nearest bar, and pick up the horniest man (or the most drunk man, which was better). Or I'd walk the eight miles to my parents' house, and sleep on the swing on the patio. I had to be careful to leave before daylight, though, so they wouldn't know I'd been there. I don't know what they would have done, but I was sure it wouldn't have been good. The only time I slipped up was when I entertained a cute little redheaded guy who turned out to be a friend of Al's, and Alvin really lit into me for that. I somehow missed the irony of it. Here he was, sleeping with another man's wife, but I was a slut for sleeping around on him.
The strain of it all was getting to be too much for me, and somehow it
happened that I moved in with a divorced male friend of my mother's. His oldest child had just gone away to college, and he needed someone to look after his younger son after school, and do light cleaning and cooking. I slept in the room vacated by the daughter, and struggled through each day as best I could. I don't remember much at all about that period of time; even how long a period of time it was. But soon an invitation came from my oldest sister, Bonnie, to go to Lexington, Kentucky, and live with her. She was working and going to school at the University of Kentucky, and was living in a small one-bedroom apartment not far from campus. She generously gave up what had been her living room, to turn it into a bedroom for me. We papered the walls in a red, white and blue striped wallpaper, and went to a junk store and bought a pretty antique four-poster bed. There was a fireplace in my room, and it felt cozy and safe, being there with her and her boyfriend, Larry. He had his own one-room apartment, but spent most of his time at Bonnie's, including most nights. Bonnie was a wonderful cook, and she taught me a lot. She even ground her own wheat berries to make flour for bread. I especially liked cooking for her and Larry on the nights they had to study or work. I liked hanging around on campus, playing air hockey in the student union with Larry, going to the library, and pretending that I might be a college student too, someday. I got a job, too, as a dishwasher in a small restaurant. After work, I sometimes hung around and pestered the waitresses. I wanted to learn to wait tables, and get myself out of the kitchen. I'd washed enough dishes, and cooked enough huge meals to last a lifetime. Besides, the pay was better, and I knew that I had what it took to make big tips from the men who came in for lunch. It didn't take me long to get where I wanted to be. It took me even less time to fail.
Bonnie had a neighbor, a man in his early thirties named Ron, who reminded me of the Pillsbury doughboy, only with a lot of hair. He had a son in elementary school, and I liked going to his apartment just to hang out and talk to him. I was especially fascinated by the fluffy, bearskin-style rug on the floor in front of his fireplace. When his son fell asleep, we'd sit on the rug, smoking a joint in front of the fire and talking quietly about nothing. One thing led to another, as it always did, and we ended up being lovers. And as also always happened, one day he told me he was leaving. He was moving to Florida, his home. Shortly before he left, Amy came to visit, and she and I went out to eat with Ron and his brother, whom I'd never met before. I don't remember the brother's name, but I remember his deep blue eyes, and that night, those eyes couldn't be pried off of Amy with a crowbar. Amy, on the other hand, was dating the man she'd eventually marry, and wanted none of it. When we got back home, she went to Bonnie's, and I stayed at Ron's with him and his blue-eyed brother. Ron went to bed, and BlueEyes and I had sex in the kitchen, sitting in a straight-backed
chair. I was thinking what a lucky girl I was, that this gorgeous hunk of man
with skin like silk, wanted me, although he was probably thinking the same thing that Alvin had: if you can't have Amy, the little sister will do.
When Ron moved out, a shifting group of people moved in. I say shifting, because I never really knew who actually lived there. There seemed to be a core group, brothers named Tomi and Target, and a girl I assumed was their sister. But there were always so many people, it was hard to tell. Target was quiet, and seemed to enjoy nothing better than to sit on the front porch, playing his guitar and singing, but I liked Tomi immediately and best. He was dark-haired and cute, and completely uninterested in me. My consolation was that they all did drugs, and drugs were better than boys anyway. I had smoked a ton of marijuana, done some THC and dropped some acid, and these guys had it all, and more. One thing they turned me on to was what they called 'drug salad'. We would take capsules of all kinds, and all colors of the rainbow, open them and empty them out into a bowl. Then everyone would take turns licking their fingers, sticking them into the bowl to pick up whatever clung to them, then lick their fingers again to get the chemicals. You could get some pretty strange highs from doing that. Bonnie was never happy to see me come home from there. Sometimes I'd
stumble in, tripping hard and scared, and she'd let me lie on her bed and play
soothing music for me and talk to me while I came down. Tubular Bells was my favorite. I could get lost in that music, and not be afraid anymore.
Once, while I lived in Lexington, Dale came to visit. I wasn't particularly happy to see him. Lexington was a college town, it was an election year, and I'd heard enough talk about Vietnam that I was beginning to have a sense of the general feeling among most young people to know that just the sight of a man in uniform could make some of them angry. I was ashamed of the way Dale looked, and that made me angry, with him and with myself. Whether or not I also told him, as was my habit, of the things I'd been doing, I don't remember, but even if I didn't, my indifference surely caused pain enough. He told me he was leaving for Germany, and I was glad. But later, when he wrote to me from Schwabisch Gmund to tell me that he'd saved enough money to rent an apartment off base, I wanted to go. I knew my life was a mess, and I knew that Dale loved me unconditionally, and I longed to be with him. I got my military ID and my passport, and then I got another letter from him, telling me that all his money had been stolen, and I couldn't come after all. I wonder, again, how different it all might have been.
By the time Thanksgiving came around, I knew I was about to lose my job, and when we flew to Pennsylvania to spend the holiday at my grandparents', I told everyone that my boss had given me the time off. I think they knew I was lying, and they were right. What had really happened was that I had just quit going. At first, I just left the house every day at my usual time, and came home when I would've gotten off from work. But when Bonnie and I went back to Lexington, I had to tell her the truth. From then on, I spent my days and nights in a spaced-out blur. Soon after Christmas, Bonnie and Larry became engaged, and in late February, they took an overnight trip to Louisville so that she could meet his family. I was alone again, and I was terrified.

I'd always been afraid of the dark and the night. When I slept, I wrapped myself like a mummy in my blankets, tucking them around and under my body, leaving only a small open space for my nose. I always tried to be the first one to go to sleep, because as long as someone was awake, I felt relatively safe. But I very rarely succeeded, usually because I made myself so tense by listening to the sounds in the other rooms of the house, that I couldn't relax enough to sleep. When the sounds stopped, and I knew everyone else was asleep, I felt like I was on the moon, utterly alone with whatever deadly dangers the night might hold. Sometimes I even imagined that everyone else in the world was dead, except for me and the man or monster who was coming to kill me. I never understood where my fear originated, or what it was that might harm me. I just knew that whatever it was, it would take me to the depths of hell, and the terror of it would cause me to lose my sanity, irretrievably, forever. Often I could feel a malevolent presence standing beside my bed, ready at any moment to rip the covers off of me and expose me to some unspeakable horror. I felt like a coward
and a freak. I felt like I was falling off the edge of the earth. Sometimes I
had to cover my face completely, afraid that the evil would seep in through the very air I breathed. With my breathing space covered, I feared I would
suffocate, but that was preferable to losing my mind. It took me years and years to get over that fear, and it's never left me completely. Even now, almost thirty years later, it still creeps up on me sometimes, and I run through the house, turning on every light, and finding a corner from which I can keep watch against anything that might come to annihilate me.
I was alone. I wasn't high on anything. I didn't know how I would get through the weekend with Bonnie and Larry gone. I knew I wouldn't sleep, and I knew that the night was creeping up on me. I had insulated myself from the fear for nearly a year, with drugs, with men, with my sister sleeping in the next room. But suddenly all my insulation was ripped away, and I was left exposed to the cold elements of loneliness and fear. I put on my coat and left the apartment. I walked to the nearest store, and bought two bottles of Sominex and a Mountain Dew, and then I walked home. I laid the pills out in two rows on the kitchen table, and one by one, I swallowed them with my soft drink. I remember doing that. The next thing I remember is stumbling through the door of the emergency room at the UK Medical Center, and hearing someone say, "We've got another one!" before I passed out.
I came to on a gurney, surrounded by people. Their faces were distorted, and I looked up at a clock on the wall, and was fascinated by the way the hands were spinning on its face. Someone had handed me a beaker full of icy water, and told me to drink it. The voice in my head said, "Drink Me!" and I couldn't remember if that meant I'd get bigger or smaller. It didn't matter. I couldn't hold onto the cup anyway, and soon I had a lap full of ice water. They tried again, and again I spilled it all. Then I threw up, and all the white-coated people drew back and then swarmed in again, and held me down. One for each arm and leg, one holding my head, and one lying across my stomach. I remember having a fleeting thrill of pride that it was taking the strength of six people to keep me down. Then they pushed a tube into my nose, and a faraway voice said, "Swallow! Swallow!" And then, as I watched the tube fill up with my blood, another one yelled, "It's in her lung!" And that was all.
I woke up when my eyelids were pulled back and a light shone in my eyes. I was in a different room, but this one also seemed to be full of people in white. I thought for a moment that I had made it; that I was in heaven. But I could hear them discussing something about diphenhydramine poisoning, and slowly came to realize that I was the subject under discussion, and all these nice-looking young men were doctors and students. At some point, a nurse came and removed the tube from my nose, which felt like someone had set a fire in my throat. After that I was taken by wheelchair to the third floor of the hospital, and I heard the door lock behind me. I was on the 'mental ward'. In the loony bin. The nut house. They had come and taken me away, ha ha.
I stayed there for thirty days, until my Champus insurance ran out. The
memories I have of that month would probably fill less than 24 hours. I remember Bonnie bringing me some clothes, and once talking to my mother on the phone, but all I remember of the conversation was her saying, "I'd never have forgiven you if you'd succeeded." I remember one of the doctors, a nice-looking young man named Kennedy, teaching me how to play pool, and a group of us playing volleyball on the roof, which was fenced. I remember talking to my psychiatrist about my poetry, which he seemed very interested in, and one session of 'desensitization therapy', which was supposed to help me overcome my fear of the dark. The idea was that the doctor would sit in my room with me in the dark, and gradually he would move further and further away from me, until he was actually outside the door. I doubt he ever made it that far. I asked the doctor once what was wrong with me, and he told me I had a personality disorder. I didn't know
what that was, but it seemed to fit.
I remember a man who was locked up alone after a visit with his family, and how he screamed and screamed for his wife. There was a girl who stole the food off of my tray, and another who wouldn't eat at all. Her mother came every day, and tried to feed her, as if she was a baby, but she never ate a thing. And I remember the two friends I made, Stephen, who
was about my age, and Teresa, who was 14 years old. I got a weekend pass once, but instead of going home, I went with Teresa to her mother's house, and then to a party at a big house somewhere in the country. It's one of the strangest recollections of my life. The house was large, but unfurnished, except for a dirty mattress or two on the floor in every room. We had done some acid, and it seemed I wandered from room to room for hours, seeing without believing that I was seeing, people having sex in every room I went into. There was a van outside, with music blaring from it, and what looked to me to be at least a hundred people, roaming around or sitting in groups on the grass, passing joints. I don't know how we got there, how long we stayed, or how and when we got back to the hospital.
I didn't want to leave the mental ward. I felt safe there, and I felt that I
belonged. But I continued to see my shrink once a week, and I took my medicine religiously: 20mgs. of Stelazine, 50mgs. of Thorazine, and Artane, three times a day. When I walked to my appointment, I passed a house that had a large clover patch near the street. I never failed to find a four-leaf, which I would pick and give to the doctor. I kept in touch with Stephen and Teresa after I went home. Teresa was sent to a foster home. It was a shabby, filthy place, with a half-dozen sets of bunk beds and kids of all ages. The foster 'mother' was forever yelling about something, which was quite a trick, as she never took a cigarette out of her mouth except to put it out and light another. Teresa told me once that she'd had sex with Dr. Kennedy. She might have been lying, but I believed her, and when he showed up at my house one day in his white shorts and asked me to go to the park with him to play tennis, I indignantly refused. That's the last I remember of either one of them.
I moved out of the apartment I had shared with Bonnie, and into the attic apartment above hers. I was working as a long-distance operator for General Telephone of Kentucky, a job I got through Vocational Rehabilitation, using the experience with a PBX that I'd gotten at Seller's. It was easy and fun. I worked the night shift, and many of the calls I handled were from businessmen making their ritual call to home. Often they wanted to chat, and many times I was complimented on my lovely voice and my professionalism. I loved every minute of it. Occasionally I had to ask my supervisor for help with calls to foreign countries, because I could never understand heavily accented English. Even calls to New York or Boston were sometimes a problem for me.
I was still smoking pot, but only on my days off. I slept during the day, and even though I was still afraid of sleeping alone, I had the company of my cat, Borkum, a grey tabby, and a black and white mutt I called Precious. On the nights I wasn't working, I went downstairs to smoke pot with Tomi and Target. Most nights I spent at Stephen's apartment. He was an artist, and his hobby was making dope pipes out of pieces of bone that he collected, mostly from road kill. His scrimshaw designs were intricate and beautiful. We would talk while he worked, and sometimes we had sex before falling asleep in his waterbed, but he never pressured me, and for that I almost loved him. I enjoyed his small circle of friends, their lively and intelligent conversation about Vietnam, music, art and literature. I learned a lot in Stephen's company, and his memory is a bright spot in my mind.
One night, in the middle of my shift at work, I felt a very strange
sensation, like a vibration, or a buzzing in my head. I was talking to a
customer, and suddenly I ripped my headset off, and tried to tell the girl
sitting next to me to take my call, but before I could get the words out, I fell
out of my chair, my whole body thrashing in a violent convulsion. I heard the screaming of the ambulance siren, but nothing else, until I woke up, alone, in the emergency room. I had no idea what had happened to me, but I knew that something had gone terribly wrong in my brain, and I was sure I was going to die. I was confused, then, when a doctor came in and angrily told me that I could get up and go home. After that, there is nothing but a blank space, and then I was standing in my supervisor's office, hearing her say that I had to sign a paper stating that I was resigning my job. I'm sure she had surmised that my seizure was drug-induced; maybe that is what the doctors had told her. In any case, I had nothing to say in my own defense. I signed, and left, tail tucked and head hanging.
That night, I dropped acid with some friends. This LSD was called purple microdot; it came in pill form, and these little pills were each 'eight-way hits', meaning that each pill had the potential to get eight people tripping. We each took one whole pill. While we waited for the high to kick in, someone suggested, or dared, that we each take another, so some of us did. There was some discussion going on as to who had and who hadn't taken two of these eight-way hits, and in the confusion of that, I believe some of us took a third one. Sometimes I tell this story that way, but I've never really been sure. I just know that after a while, I realized that someone, a girl, was screaming. I couldn't figure out who it was, or why. Then I noticed that people were starting to leave, and somebody was helping me get to my feet, and trying to get me to leave, too. It was about then that I realized that the girl doing all the screaming was me. I was literally shoved out the front door, and the next thing I remember I was walking down Euclid Avenue on the center line. Some guys stopped and put me in their car and took me, once again, to the emergency room at the U.K. Medical Center. They gave me Chlorhydrate and sent me upstairs to see the psychiatrist. I don't remember him, although it may have been my own doctor. What I remember is the Disney cartoon character posters that lined his walls, and being fascinated by the way they moved and talked to me, each in its own voice; Mickey, Donald, Pluto, Goofy. That was the last time I ever did acid.
In fact, for six months, I didn't take any illegal drugs at all.


There is a girl who screams. Not the classic horror-movie screech, but more of an animal sound; a howl or a wail. Sometimes she reminds me of the mountain lions we used to hear at night in Kentucky. Like an abandoned baby; a lost soul. It is a sound utterly bereft of hope. I have never seen her, and have no image of her in my mind. I have never heard her speak
although I have spoken to her. When I ask about her, my questions are usually met with a warning, a caution to step lightly and not to pry. I understand that this is for my own safety and sanity, and that scares me more than I believe an understanding would. I want to know, and yet I don't. I can't imagine a pain so penetrating, so persistent. I don't want to imagine having any part of that pain. But I know. In my gut and my heart, I know who she is, and why. Someday I'll walk into her room, take her by the shoulders and turn her to face me, and stand toe-to-toe with the deepest
damage one human being can wreak upon another. Maybe I'll scream, too, when her eyes tell me what the keening is about. That's the greatest fear of all. That's the fear that defines us.


What do children fear? The bogeyman, ghosts, witches, spankings. How do they learn to fear? We read books about wicked wolves and monsters; we learn from experience to gauge the tone of voice of an angry parent; we learn that pain can come suddenly, for no reason. We learn how small and vulnerable we are, and being alone can seem like a permanent situation, and so we fear that. Do children fear death? Do they fear insanity? I know I did, although I didn't know what the words meant. When I remember fear, I think of a loss of self, even though I couldn't have articulated that when I was a child. Everything I've ever said or done, every decision I've ever made, was provoked by fear. A fear so ancient that I can't remember the beginning of it. It's always been a part of me. It's always been my motivating force. If I was a slave to fear, I was born into servitude. If ever I had been a carefree child, it was in the earliest part of my life; my infancy. In my very earliest memories, I am afraid.
I was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the youngest of three girls. Amy was two years older than I; Bonnie, four years older. My mother was divorced, and had returned to her parents' home to live. My father was long gone. I loved that house, and even now, I can describe it down to the smallest detail. I remember how it smelled. I remember sounds, like the clock chiming, the china cabinet doors shutting, my grandmother's parakeet saying "Pretty boy!" I remember what brand of soap and shampoo my grandmother used, the colors in the linoleum on the kitchen floor, where the dishtowels were kept. I recall every insignificant feature of the home I lived in for my first four years. I loved it, and it terrified me.
My grandmother had a huge vegetable garden, and in the summer and fall, she put up jar after jar of tomatoes, corn, beans, beets. These she kept in the basement, and they shone on the shelves like jewels in every color of the
rainbow. Sometimes she would ask me to fetch a jar of something for our supper, and I faced those cellar stairs with terror in my heart. Why? I didn't know; that part of the house was as familiar as any other. It had lights and windows, but it also had dark corners with spiders and shadows. There was an earthy-smelling root cellar that was no longer used, a coal furnace, and my grandmother's wringer washer. On very cold or rainy days, she hung her washing down there, and those were the worst, because I couldn't see what might be hiding behind the sheets and housedresses. I would grab whatever I'd been sent for, and run, my heart in my throat, back up the stairs and into the kitchen. I would shiver and feel grateful that I had outrun the evil thing that constantly chased me.
It was the same with the attic. My sisters sometimes slept up there, but any time I had to open that door and climb those squeaky stairs, I was scared. It was a nice attic, full of boxes of books and old clothes. There were no dressmaker's dummies, nothing swinging from the rafters. It was dusty, but warm, and windows on either side let in the sunlight. What was there to fear?
It's hard for me to go back there in my mind and to remember how small and frightened I was. I can't put my memories in chronological order; it is all one big day. No individual Christmases, no birthdays, no seasons. If I remember a season of the year, it's summer; there's no snow in my memories of Williamsport. Summer things.....swimming in Lycoming Creek, playing Purple People Eater (Was I scared of people-eaters? Jeez, who wouldn't be?), eating cherry tomatoes off the vine, the Mister Softee truck, walking down the street to watch the bottles go by at the coca-cola bottling plant. The smell of that syrup always in the air, competing with the lilacs in full bloom in the backyard. No winter. Windows open to let in the breeze. Sitting on the porch watching a thunderstorm, playing with baby dolls outside. Mother's Day at church. (But no mother!) That's the other missing component of my memories. I do not remember my mother. I know she worked as a secretary somewhere, and my grandmother worked in a leather factory, making purses and belts. My grandfather was retired, so I suppose it was he who took care of me before I was old enough to go to nursery school. I remember my aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends, but I don't find my mother anywhere at all. It puzzles me.
My first memory of my mother comes after she remarried, when I was a few weeks shy of my 5th birthday. My stepfather was in the Forest Service, and was transferred to Laconia, New Hampshire. I can't say much about that time and place; my memories are sketchy and have an unreal, dreamlike quality to them, and so I can't be entirely sure of what is true and what isn't. There are a few incidents I know to be true, though, and only one of them is a good one. One night, my stepfather woke all of us up from a sound sleep to go outside in our pajamas and see the Northern Lights. We sat on the back steps and watched the Aurora Borealis shimmering on the horizon. It was magical, beautiful, and filled me with wonder. I have never seen anything quite as beautiful since. I don't know what made my stepfather, or 'Daddy', as we called him, do that. It was the one and only time that he ever did anything nice for us. Maybe he thought it would be a way to bond with us, these three little girls he had taken to father. Maybe we weren't appreciative enough, and so he gave up. But what I believe is that he just didn't have within himself what it takes to be a Dad, and that even though he loved my mother, he resented her children.
While I remember Williamsport as perpetually summery, I recall Laconia as always covered in snow. Sometimes my sisters would pull me on a sled to school, or we'd make an igloo with big blocks of packed snow. They had dog-sled races in town, and we watched the mushers go by from Daddy's office window. But I don't like to recollect these things, because what I do remember reminds me of all that I do not. I can walk through that house in my mind, and there are parts of it that I just can't see, even though my grandmother's house is laid out neatly in my brain, and if I could draw, I could sketch it down to the last detail. But not this house. This house holds nothing but shadows for me, and painful memories. My mother is there but three times, and this strikes me as particularly odd, as she wasn't working then; she sold Tupperware from home. I must have been in kindergarten then, and had recently learned to write my name. I practiced on the kitchen table. Not on a piece of paper on the table, but on the table itself, and that is my first memory of my Mom, when she took me over her knee and spanked me. The second one is when she caught me with a little neighbor boy under the picnic table in the backyard, both of us naked, and spanked me again. The third, hazy memory of her is when she killed a snake on the back stoop.
My new Daddy, however, figures large. He is a big man, over six feet and sturdily built, and I was afraid of him. Once, when my sister had broken some rule, he decided that her punishment was to have her most prized possession, a tattered teddy bear, taken and burned in the ashcan. We watched from the window of the bedroom that we shared, while he set fire to her precious toy, and dumped him in with the garbage. I knew then that I had to be very, very careful. If a Daddy could do that to his little girl's cherished companion, what, then, might he do to a little girl?
My sister changed towards me after that incident. She began to take advantage of my fear, doing things like putting her hand over my face when I was falling asleep; if I chanced to open my eyes, I would see in front of me what looked like a huge spider, and I would scream. I never got used to it, and she never tired of it. I began to have nightmares, and once when I awoke from one, scared, I went into my parents' room, crying. I got into bed with my Mom and Dad, and was surprised to find both of them naked. I fell asleep curled up against my father, spoon-fashion, and I could feel his hand on my hip, pulling me close, and something poking me in the back. I was terrified then, much more than I had been of Amy's 'spider', but I didn't know why. Instinctively, I held my body very still, not wanting to do anything that might make him angry and hurt me. It is a memory that haunts me to this day, for the most part because I feel that something more happened, but I have no further memory of it. I wonder if maybe I was just confused by his nudity. After all, my mother had spanked me for taking off my clothes, so I knew that to be seen naked was a wrong thing. Again, in this remembered scene, my mother does not exist. She was most definitely there when I climbed into their bed, but after that, she must have been
invisible, because she is no longer there.
In the middle of my first grade year, Daddy was again transferred, this time to Petersburg, West Virginia. We moved into an old farmhouse just outside of Petersburg, in a town called Arthur. It was the first time we had lived in the country, and I loved it. Our neighbor on one side was a widow named Mrs. Campbell, and I thought it was neat that she and I shared the same last name. She was a teacher, and in fact, became my teacher when I went to second grade. I spent as much time as I could with her, eating her homemade bread slathered with homemade jam. Once, I went with her and my parents to see the old farmstead where she was born, and all the land that belonged to her. It seemed she owned everything as far as my eyes could see, and I stood at the top of that mountain, certain that this was the most beautiful place on earth. I wished so much that I could have been her little girl; instead she was more like a surrogate grandmother to me.
On the other side of us lived a family who owned and operated a small dairy. I was afraid of the cows when they were in the field, especially the big red bull who chased little children who happened to invade his turf, but I liked being in the barn at milking time. It smelled sweet with the combination of milk and new hay, and soon my sisters were taught how to milk the cows, which was something I couldn't master with my small hands. I wanted to help, too, and pleaded for a job of my own. So I became the 'wiper', the one who cleaned the udders before the milking began. I felt that this was a very important job, and was eager to run home and tell my parents that I was The Wiper. They laughed and laughed at me, and my pride fell into little pieces, and I understood then that my job was the one that nobody else wanted, and I was ashamed. Still, there was much that I enjoyed in Arthur. The dairy family had two daughters, and I think, a son. The mother taught me and my sisters how to make butter by shaking the cream in a jar. It took a lot of shaking! But the end result was wonderful. I had never tasted real butter before. We always used margarine, or oleo, as it was called.
There was a creek that ran through both properties, and a swimming hole with a vine that you could swing on, out over the water, to let go and fall in with a splash. There was an old chicken coop behind our house, and I played in there with my dolls. I guess my mother decided that, being in the country, we ought to have a dog, so she bought us a Collie puppy, and we named him Rebel. My sisters and I fell in love with him, but my Dad hated him from the moment we brought him home. He would kick him at every opportunity, until finally my mother gave him away to another family who lived nearby. We would go to visit, ostensibly to play with the kids, but as far as I was concerned, I was going to visit the dog who was rightfully mine.
That summer, we moved into town, into a house owned by the government. It had five bedrooms, three downstairs and two upstairs. Mom and Dad took the biggest downstairs room, and Bonnie got another. Amy and I shared one of the rooms upstairs. The other one my mother used as a sewing room. There was a door in our bedroom that led to a very big attic. This attic didn't frighten me, though; we played in there, and in a playroom in the basement. It was really a huge house, with a full finished basement. There was our playroom, a big laundry room, the furnace room, and a workroom for my Dad. Once, when the basement flooded, we were forbidden to go down there; Daddy was pumping the water out, and Amy snuck down to get a game out of the playroom. Daddy beat her with a length of rubber hose. By this time, I knew that my stepfather was a dangerous man. He hit us often, and often without warning, sometimes just to "wipe that look off your face." I never knew when I would break some unspoken rule, and I lived in terror of him. We all learned that the best thing to do was to stay out of sight as much as possible.
When I was still in first grade, my stepfather formally adopted me and my sisters. Instead of being Katie Campbell, my name was now Katie Fisher. I didn't like it, and didn't understand it, and I kept on signing my name on my papers the usual way. My teacher finally got angry with me, and told me I was never to use the name Campbell again. I protested, and told her that Campbell was my name, but she yelled at me, and from then on, I was Katie Fisher, legally the daughter of Dale Fisher. The name Campbell was never heard in our house again. We never talked of my real father; the few times I overheard any reference to him, he was always "that man". I wished 'that man' would come and rescue me from these strangers who were my parents, and I dreamed about him often. I wanted a Daddy like Jennie's Dad, who always spoke softly to her and treated her like his little princess.
I had made friends with Jennie, a little girl my age who lived two houses up the street, soon after we moved to Petersburg. We were best friends through the fourth grade, until my family moved again. We played house, and listened to her Elvis records, picked grapes and played 'Army' with the boys. We were the nurses. I spent the night with her as often as I could, and sometimes we slept on her front porch, to be awakened by the milkman when he came to put the day's milk in the box on the porch. Everyone had a milk box, and I liked to get the milk first thing in the morning, and shake up the bottles to distribute the cream that had risen to the top. Jennie rarely stayed at my house, as she was afraid of my father, too. One day, a bunch of us kids from the neighborhood were playing 'doctor' in the basement, and we were using a long hatpin for a thermometer. Amy was having her temperature taken when someone asked for the 'thermometer, and it was nowhere to be found. We looked and looked, and finally came to the conclusion that Amy must have swallowed it. When we went upstairs to
tell my mother, she sent us all back down to search for it again, with no luck.
Then Mom took Amy to the hospital, where an x-ray showed the hatpin lodged, point down, in her trachea. They tried to remove it, but were unsuccessful, and instead, did more damage, and my parents were told to take her to the University of Virginia hospital. We took her in the car, Daddy and I in the front seat, and Mom and Amy in the back. Amy was lying down, and my mom was holding a basin to catch the blood that Amy kept vomiting. I was terrified; I thought she was going to die. After we left Amy at the hospital, my Mom, Dad and I went to a boarding house where we would stay until Amy had had the pin removed and was ready to go home. There was a cot in the room for me to sleep on, and the lady who owned the boardinghouse told me that John Glenn had once slept on that cot, when his mother was ill and in the hospital. I was duly impressed. I was sleeping in John Glenn's bed!
Soon after we moved to Petersburg, my mother told us that she was going to have a baby. Bonnie says that she remembers hating that child before it was even born, because he would be our stepfather's 'real' child, and she knew that Daddy would be partial to him, and his treatment of us could only get worse. She was right. Right after Christmas, my mother went to stay with my grandparents in Pennsylvania during the last part of her pregnancy. For some reason, she wanted this baby to be born in the same place where all three of us girls had been. Probably she just wanted to be near her mother. We were left alone with Daddy.
For Christmas that year, I received one present that I had wanted very badly. It was a blouse with a slip attached, to wear with skirts and jumpers. It was white, with embroidered detail and small buttons on the front. It was my favorite gift. One day, coming home from school, I walked in the front door and there was Daddy, sitting in the living room. No one else was home, and I was immediately frightened. He usually didn't come home until after my sisters were there. I walked up the stairs to my room, to change from school clothes into play clothes, and heard footsteps on the stairs. He was coming to my room! I was scared, not knowing what to do. I was standing there in my blouse/slip, and I leaned my little body against the door, as if my weight could keep him from pushing it open. I was too small, of course, and he sent me sprawling as he opened the door. I got up, feeling as terrified as a wild thing caught in a trap. My Daddy raped me on my bed, and while it was happening, I looked out the window that was on my right, and watched the clouds. Soon I was no longer aware of what was happening to me. I was in the clouds, flown away to some place in my mind that protected me from the full knowledge of the torture that was being inflicted upon me. I wasn't me anymore, but a little girl who could wear pretty clothes, who could fly away and be safe, who would not remember what my Daddy had done.
It was so easy, this ability to go away in my mind, and I know now that it was a skill I had perfected as a very young child. It served me well. I don't
have any recollection of what happened after my stepfather forced himself on me; I only had a vague sense of unease every time after that that I wore my new blouse. The memory of that single Christmas present has stayed with me my whole life, and I could never understand the significance of it, or why it made me go cold with fear to think of it.
Soon after this incident, and shortly before my mother returned home, I
turned nine years old. My birthday fell on a school day. In the afternoon, some boys came into our classroom, carrying a big box,which they set on the floor. The teacher made no comment for some time, though of course all of us kids were very curious as to what was in the box. Then my teacher looked at me and said, "Well, Katie, what do you have to say for yourself?" I was dumbstruck; what had I done? Was I going to be punished? It couldn't have been more than a few heartbeats, but in those few moments, my heart raced with fear. Then the teacher said, "Happy birthday!", and told the class that we were going to have a party. One of my parents, I don't know which, had arranged everything, and my father must have been the one who brought the box to my school. Inside there were cupcakes, party favors and hats, drinks and treats. My class sang to me, and we ended the day.
When my mother came home with my baby brother, I was relieved. They tell me that I was very jealous of him; hated him, even. I don't recall that. I just remember him as this cute little redheaded thing that never stopped crying. I guess he had colic, but whatever was the trouble with him, I couldn't stand it. When he cried, I'd go to my room, shut the door, put my head under my pillow and hum. It almost drowned out his constant wailing. Once, he got sick; he had a very high temperature that wouldn't come down no matter what my parents tried. They took him to the hospital, and they packed him in ice. He screamed and screamed. I wonder if I ever held him, or played patty-cake or read him stories? I really don't remember him much at all. Like my mother, he had that invisible quality.
We moved to Kentucky during the summer that I was eleven. My Daddy gave up fighting forest fires to be the director of a Job Corps camp. We lived in a trailer park which was the government housing for the Forest Service personnel who worked at the camp. Our trailer was a triple-wide, much more like a house than a mobile home. It only had three bedrooms, though, and my sisters shared one room, while I was stuck sharing a set of bunk beds with my little brother. I resented him. Amy, even though she enjoyed frightening me, had been safety during the night, but J.J. was just a little bratty toddler.
My mother hated living so far away from a town. She made friends with the other Forest Service wives, and her life revolved around her coffees with them, and taking care of my brother and us girls. She baked cookies, ironed and sewed, cooked and cleaned. I also made a friend, a girl my age named Jennie, who was the oldest of three girls. Once, in the winter, I was supposed to be watching J.J. while we played in the snow. Somehow, a fire extinguisher had been left on the ground, and I didn't see it under the snow. I stepped on it, and was sprayed in my face with the chemicals. I ran, terrified and temporarily blinded, into Jennie's house to wash my face. Everyone was concerned about me, but there didn't seem to be any lasting side effects, and as soon as I calmed down, I remembered my little brother outside, alone. I ran out and called to him, but he didn't answer. I was scared to death. Then I heard dogs growling and yapping, and went to investigate, thinking that maybe he was in the woods, playing with our neighbor's two white German Shepherds. They were gentle dogs, almost like surrogate pets for me, because we weren't allowed to have any. When I found them, though, they were treating J.J. like a new toy.........playing tug-of-war with my baby brother. His face was bleeding from bites and scratches. I guess it
was lucky that it was winter, because his heavy clothes saved him from being bitten on his body; there was just too much fabric for the dogs to bite skin. I rushed him home, knowing that my punishment would be severe, and my mother took him immediately to the doctor, who stitched up numerous wounds on J.J.'s face. He still has small scars from the incident.
When we got home, my father was raging. My mother had taken J.J. to the doctor without calling Daddy, and he was furious that she had done so, and that he had learned about the attack from a coworker instead of her. He was also furious with me, even though I tried to explain why I'd left his precious son alone, even though I had been hurt and scared myself. In the end, the nice man who owned the dogs had them put to sleep, and I found that a worse cruelty than the one my brother had suffered. I knew the dogs hadn't hurt him out of meanness, and I missed my friends. It took a long time for my dad to get over his anger. One morning, when he came to wake me up for school, he was tickling me, and I tried to wave him away and accidentally connected with his face. He thought I had meant to hit him, and slapped me so hard that I carried the handprint on my cheek for days. Of course, I went to school that day, but no one asked about it. In those days, there was no outcry about the abuse of children. It was a parent's right to discipline as he or she saw fit, and no one would dare interfere.
I got hurt again when Amy and I were playing 'chicken' with the bicycle. One of us would sit on the side of the road, while the other rode by, as close as she dared, and the one sitting couldn't move or flinch, or she would be
'chicken'. I was no chicken, and when she rode by me, I sat stock-still as the
broken bike pedal tore a gash in my back. I went home, and Daddy was too angry to let Mom take me to get stitches. He put butterfly bandages on it, but it didn't really heal properly, and I was left with a fat four-inch scar.
During the summer between sixth and seventh grade, we moved again, this time to another Job Corps camp even farther away from civilization than Pine Knot had been. Our address was Frenchburg, Kentucky but actually we lived in Mariba, at the very top of Tar Ridge, which was the last stop on the school bus driver's route. I'm not sure why they sent those boys, most of them from the city somewhere, to learn their trades out in the middle of nowhere. I suppose it was to keep them out of trouble. I guess they never considered the possibilities of the Director's teenage daughters living next door to 200 or so bored and horny young men. Sundays were my mother's days off from cooking; we took our Sunday meal in the cafeteria with 'the boys.' We played basketball with them, practiced with them on the archery range, played in the snow, and brought them home to play Monopoly and drink cocoa. They taught us how to dance. It wasn't the sister Kate who could shimmy so well, though; it was Amy who caught their eyes. She was
beginning to show a wild streak that I'd always known was there, and began to spend time alone with them, without me. A very strange thing happened, something that was never explained to me or talked about, then or later. Apparently Amy had been caught in a compromising situation with one of the guys, and late one evening, she was dragged home, crying, and taken to the doctor in town. I didn't understand what had happened or why my parents were so angry. A few days later I found a piece of paper on the top of my Mom's dresser, a note from the doctor that stated that Amy was still 'intact'; still a virgin. It was only later that I learned what 'virgin' meant. Bonnie explained it to me one day as we were walking home from school. She's the one who gave me 'the talk', and I was horrified.
I said, "Uh-uh, not me! I'll never do that! I'm gonna adopt all my kids!" When I started my period, my mother threw me a book and said,"If you have
any questions, ask your sisters." It was Bonnie who explained that to me,
Soon after that, Amy began doing some strange things. She would thread a needle and put stitches in her tongue, or sew her lips together. She laughed about it, and showed off to people, as if it was a joke, but I thought it was very odd. Of course, she never did it in front of Mom and Dad, just like they never saw her take a mirror from a compact, break off a piece, and chew it up! I don't know how she did it, but she actually chewed and swallowed it! I never made a connection between my own self-abuse and what Amy was doing. Other kids would ooh and aah when she performed, as if watching a magic show. My own self-abuse was kept hidden, and I too, thought she was funny and brave, if a bit weird. I never made the connection between the things Amy was doing and the things I did to myself in private.
I had always had stray thoughts of suicide, but didn't have the knowledge I have now of all the ways to accomplish that. Cutting my wrists seemed like the only way, only I wondered how much it would hurt. So I took a razor blade and made a few practice scratches on my thigh. Okay, it hurt. But something else happened, something totally unexpected. I began to feel a great sense of peace, almost a euphoria, and the more blood I saw, the greater the feeling became. Also, I got a 'floaty' feeling; almost as though I wasn't actually having the experience, but simply watching it. I had experienced the floaty feeling many times, but this was the first time I had ever been able to self-induce it. After a while of playing with the blade, I felt better, so I quit. Of course, I knew that what I had done was just one more thing that made me 'crazy' (I'd always thought of myself as crazy.......as different. Not unique, but strange or depraved.) I also knew it was wrong, and that I'd get in trouble for it. But the sense of peace it gave me was like a drug. I did it again a couple of times, and then I quit for a long time. Probably because I got into 'real' drugs, and had other ways to dull the emotional pain. But that comes later.
In the summer of 1969, my mother was finally able to get away from the stifling confines of life in the country. My father was again transferred, this time to Alexandria, Louisiana. No more Job Corps; he was promoted to District Supervisor of Kisatchee National Forest. At first the government put us up in a motel, and then we rented a little house across the street from Alexandria Senior High, a new school that was still being built when we moved in. I watched the ongoing construction with awe and fear. The schools I had attended up until then were very small. Botts Elementary, in Frenchburg, had about 300 students enrolled, in grades K-8, one classroom per grade. ASH was built to accomodate upwards of 1200 students, and this was where I was to start my high school career. Amy went with me on registration day, otherwise, I would have been lost. But at least I was able to look around and get a sense of what this huge school was like, and it did have its charms. It was a very modern building, and equipped with everything from a Home Ec sewing room to an indoor swimming pool.
I signed up for the required courses, plus French and Band. I was prepared for adventure.
In July, Amy and I went to a nearby shopping center for an outdoor "Battle of the Bands", a concert featuring local talent. There I met a boy who reminded me so much of someone I had known in Frenchburg that I had to ask his name, which was Robert. We hit it off immediately, and even discovered that our birthdays were within days of each other. He asked if he could see me again, and I gave him my address. That Saturday, he came puttering up on his little Honda motorcycle, and Mom gave me permission to go riding. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven, riding on the back of a real motorcycle with my arms wrapped around a cute guy.
Robert taught me a lot, at least as much as it was possible for one 14-yr.
old to impart to another. Once, sitting out on the lawn, my little brother
walked by and made some kind of gesture at us.
Robert asked, "Did he shoot you the bird?"
The bird?," I said, in complete ignorance.
"You know, the 'finger'," Robert said. I still didn't understand, so he
explained it to me. I didn't even know what the word "fuck" meant, much less that it could be used as an insult, with a simple hand signal.
Standing in my living room one day, he kissed me, and slipped his tongue in my mouth, which startled me, but I made no move to stop him. This was nice. Of course, being nice, it must also be bad, but I didn't mind. For once, I could live with the guilt. I had a real boyfriend! But once school
started, I didn't see much of Robert anymore. He lived on the other side of
town, and went to a different school. We remained friends, but that was all.
My parents bought a house on Magnolia Drive, in Plantation Acres. What a house it was! I'd had no idea, living in government housing for so long, that my family actually had the money to live in a place like this. Also, instead of sewing all of our clothes, as she always had, we started shopping at the nicest stores in town, and I was able to dress as fashionably as the wealthiest girls in school. It was wonderful for my self esteem, and little by little, I began to feel like I belonged in this strange city, among these strange Southern people. After living in West Virginia and Kentucky for eight years, I talked like a hillbilly, but I'd always had a knack for accents, and soon the hillbilly accent was replaced by the rhythms of the Louisiana people. But best of all, most glorious of all, I had met the redheaded boy who sat in the back row of my algebra class.