I was just helping Mommy set the table for supper. It wasn’t like I meant to spill Adam’s glass of milk. I put Mommy’s special pink bowl full of green beans on the kitchen table. I did it very carefully because it was her special bowl. But my hand hit the glass. It tipped spilling on the floor. It was like the milk fell in slow motion. And then all of sudden everything started moving in fast forward.
Mommy twirled and was on me so fast I didn’t even see the last of the milk fall on the floor. She yanked me by the hair into her bedroom, the room Daddy had painted green to match her eyes. I’m sure I was screaming which probably didn’t help matters.
The large flat, ivory brush with inland black and green butterflies sat in its place of honor on her dresser. I knew she didn’t know what she was doing or she would have never used the brush. Daddy had given it to her when they got married. She didn’t even let me brush my hair with it.
She usually spanked me with her hand on my bottom and it really hurt, too. This time she began beating me with the brush. It felt like a million daggers piecing me at once everywhere on my arms, legs, back, bottom. She hit me anywhere she could and more times than I could count.
Her voice wasn’t like Mommy’s voice. She was shrieking. Some of the words were hard to make out. Something about how Mandy would never get away with it.
I kept saying, “Mommy, I’m Sarah. I’m not Mandy.” But she kept telling me that Mandy was a bad girl and she was going to teach her a lesson.
“Then…why… are…you…hitting…me?” I said between sobs.
“Stop crying, you baby. You know what you did. You know what a bad girl Mandy is. Mandy can never do anything right. Mandy lets boys get away with anything. Mandy is a bad girl.”
I tried to get away but she chased me around her bed and cornered me by her dresser. I didn’t know what dying would feel like but I was sure it felt something like this.
It was the first time I even thought about it, but I prayed then. “Dear God. Make her stop, please. She doesn’t know what she’s doing. Really.”
That’s when it happened. The brush broke, just snapped in two. Half of it went flying across the room. The other half she threw at me, but I ducked. I ran through the living room into the kitchen and down the hall to my room as if my life depended on it. I was sure in that moment that it did.
I quickly climbed up the ladder that was in my closet. Once above the rest of the house, I hid in a dark, musty and extremely hot corner as far away from the ladder as I could get. It was hard to breath up there. But, Mommy wouldn’t come up to the attic. She didn’t like to climb the stairs. She especially didn’t like to climb over the boxes. It was dirty and she said there were mice up there. That made me shudder. But it was better than being downstairs.
My shoulder and back hurt. I curled up in a ball to wait until Daddy got off work. I only had to wait a few minutes. Daddy always came home every night at 5:30. He came straight home after work. He said it was because he loved us so much. I knew it was true.
When I heard the front door open, I slowly climbed down, the cool air from the window air conditioner gave me a surreal feeling of welcome. Standing between the dresses, I could listen to the conversation through the wall vent.
“How was your day,” he said.
There was no answer.
Mommy didn’t speak.
I crept down the linoleum-covered hall and peered into the kitchen. The red-topped chrome table and chairs were just where we left them. The milk was puddled on the floor and the glass still lay on its side beside Adam’s plate. They must be in the living room. Cautiously, I peeked around the corner.
“What’s the matter?” Daddy said. “Suzy, do you need me to get your medicine?”
I didn’t know Mommy needed medicine.
My foot hit one of Adam’s hot wheels, a candy red Corvette racing car. It rolled across the floor. I held my breath.
“Sarah?” Daddy said. I dropped my head to my chest. Now my special Daddy would know I was a bad girl.
“Sarah. You have any idea why your mom’s not talking?” He had a frown on his face, but I could tell he wasn’t mad at me. Daddy rarely ever got mad.
“I don’t know, Daddy.”
He was staring at me now and I knew he knew. He knew how bad I had been and that I had spilled Adam’s milk. I started crying.
Daddy was at my side in two seconds. When he bent down to hug me, I pulled away and sucked my breath in. The pain was more than I could take.
“Are you hurt? What…what happened, Brown Eyes?” He called me that I was sure because my eyes were just like his. It was our connection.
He cupped his hand under my chin and gently lifted my eyes to his. The water made his face blurry.
“I was bad. I spilled Adam’s milk. Mommy hit me…a lot.”
“Did she hit you with her hand?”
I shook my head. “With the brush.”
“The brush that sets on her dresser?”
I nodded in response. “It, it broke.” The piece she had thrown at me lay on the floor. I picked it up and showed him.
He sat down in the big brown chair, the one he had covered with fur, and pulled me into his lap. I snuggled against his work shirt. It smelled of Old Spice mixed with sweat from his day. It was the Daddy smell that I loved.
“Everybody makes mistakes. Remember a few nights ago, I spilled my tea? We laughed and I cleaned it up.”
“Mommy kept telling me that I was bad.”
“Can you remember what she said? What words did she use.”
“She kept calling me somebody else’s name and that I was bad.”
“She called me Mandy. She said I knew that Mandy was bad.”
Daddy sighed. I looked at him. His eyes were wet, too. “It’s OK, Sarah. You are not Mandy.”
Daddy took me into my room and got me a clean shirt, my favorite one with the clown on it. I didn’t know the shirt I was wearing had a rip in the back right in the place that hurt the most. Mommy had hit me. He took me in the bathroom and washed off the places that hurt and put some ointment on them. It didn’t really make them feel better but I knew he was trying to make it feel better.
Then, we cleaned up the spilled milk and poured another glass for Adam. That’s when my brother came banging through the back door all dirty from playing baseball with his friends. Daddy asked him to wash up. Then Daddy went in the bedroom to try to get Mommy to come to supper.
I kept wondering all this time who Mandy was. Maybe she was a new little girl in the neighborhood or one of Mommy’s friend’s kids. Mommy was always talking to her friends on the phone. Maybe they told Mommy that Mandy was bad. Then when I spilled the milk Mommy thought I was acting like Mandy.
I just couldn’t figure it out. I could hear Daddy’s silky smooth voice speaking in his and Mommy’s bedroom but I couldn’t understand what they were saying.
Adam sat down and started dishing up potatoes, green beans and hamburger patties. I glared at him. He knew he was supposed to wait for Daddy and Mommy.
“Make me,” he countered. He was a year younger than me but already he could beat me up.
I knew he wouldn’t listen to me. So I went to get Daddy. Just as my hand was poised to knock on the door, I heard Daddy talking.
“Suzy, why won’t you talk to me? You’ve never shut down like this before.”
“Honey, you have to talk to me. You just have to. If not, you know I’ll have to call the doctor.”
I held my breath.
“Amanda Sue, speak to me.”
Mommy’s name isn’t Honey. It’s not Suzy.”
My heart fell to the floor. It’s…Mandy.
© Copyright 2011 by Teresa Parker
This is powerful. It kept me very engrossed and fully engaged in what Teresa or her character was going through. It is also an excellent example for me as I begin the journey to write my own memoir.
very powerful story, pulls the reader in right from the start. i found myself holding my breath in several places. the tension throughout is palpable. would love to read more.
All I can see are all the things I need to change. I have heard you are not supposed to use “was” and I use it all through this story. I need to try to rewrite it without most of the “was” statements. This story I posted on facebook from my blog and got so many comments about it that it scared me and I pulled it from facebook but left it on the blog.. Because I am Sarah and I knew my brother and sister would be upset with the truth about Mom. Sure enough my sister was upset. It sort-of stymied my writing and I’m still not sure if I need to write it in “disguise” or in person. I mean Mom and Dad are both gone so it is just my brother, sister, four neices, a nephew and my son and daughter. Do I want them to know the truth or continue to have her up on a pedastal? The kids were small when she died so they don’t know the truth. My sister wants to stick her head in the sand and my brother (who has a degree in counseling) says I’m living in the past.
Another issue is how much I don’t remember. I don’t remember the whole part about why she hit me. The rest of the story is true to what happened but her calling me a different name and it being her is just me knowing that is a little of why she acted the way she did. She didn’t want me to turn out to have sex before marriage like she did. It’s another reason that I wrote it with a different character’s name.
Not sure where to go with this quasi-memoir thingy.
Hi Teresa, it seems we can be our own worst critics at times. I can’t advise you because I am writing memoirs with a different twist. I’m trying to write my Spiritual Memoirs about all my memories where God has been there for me in my life. None of them will require speaking truths that hurt, affect or offend others. Your piece (above) will help me give more “life” and impact to what I write.
I really understand though what you mean about writing as you or writing in disguise. I think that is something many others struggle with. Personally, I think we need to find a way to speak our truths without bringing the innocent others into things as “they” are not the ones that have decided to write about their experiences. I’m no expert on these matters so that is just my opinion. Also, several weeks ago NAMW had a teleseminar and I believe they talked about the whole “memory thing”. You might want to do some research on that. Best of luck as you continue.
I will check it out. I try to listen to all the teleseminars but I haven’t listed to the latest ones. I do like the voice and style I wrote this piece in. Perhaps I should just continue in this vein. I’ve already learned much about myself by just writing this piece and the other about Dancing with Mom. I tried to write that as a happy moment but it didn’t come out as “happy” as I wanted. My later memories of her are much better and that is probably where I need to go with the memoir, past versus her later life before she passed.
Teresa, I am really proud of you for having the courage to write what you did. I have been trying to write my own memoir for a long time and it’s very difficult to do because it’s scary trying to put certain events into writing; it’s sort of as though once you write them down, then you have to accept that they happened. But here is what has happened to me: I have known for the last 20 years or so that I need to write my book, but so far I have ended up writing chapter 1 about 50 times and can’t go much further than that. So I found this NAMW website today, became an annual member, and this story was the second piece of work that I have read.
I don’t think you should stop writing. I think that you should keep going. Just because you keep going does not mean that you have to share everything with your brother or sister. By the time that you get done, you might see something else entirely. At least that’s what my own group of supporters tells me. And I think that by questioning everything, you might turn out to be like me — writing chapter one 50 times. Don’t do that. At the very least, it sounds like what you experienced was horrifically painful and, if what my supporters say is true, just putting it in writing, even if it’s just for you, will be helpful.
I have worked as a reader for a fiction magazine and have a law degree so I have some experience with publishing in general. #1 – Until you have already written a draft that you’re happy with, don’t worry about the tense or the grammar. Just write. #2 – Worry about your family’s feelings once you have a draft you’re happy with. Who knows? By the time that you get done, maybe you won’t want to share it anymore at all and will decide it’s too personal to tell the world. If you let all those guilty thoughts keep you from writing then you’ll never write, and parts of you won’t ever get put on paper. So my own advice, for what it’s worth, is just to keep writing.
That said, again, I’m really, really proud of you for writing this and sharing it. Like I said, I’m still on 50 drafts of chapter 1. I’ve never publicly shared very much at all of my life in writing. Writing your story here took a lot of courage. Don’t look at what you haven’t done or could do better; look instead at how far you’ve come just by doing what you did. I’m really, really proud of you. Know that you are a strong, intelligent, brave woman and keep going. Keep writing. Everything will work itself out if you just keep going with it, at least that’s what they tell me. And with that said, I need to learn how to take my own advice, which is very far from easy to do.