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Rust, dust, grittiness against my tongue: I pressed my mouth against some sort of metal mesh. I didn’t know what it was. My feet were bare. I stood on a cool, smooth surface, wore pink and white pajamas with legs that ended before they reached my ankles. The mesh was inset in the upper part of a white, wooden door. On the other side of it, there were trees, sky, grass, flowers. Where was I? Who was I? I was like an electric light that had been snapped on. I felt inside myself for answers and encountered a palpable blackness, a thick, rubbery barrier. I was not alone. A Presence was with me. Separate. Accompanying me. I couldn’t see Him with my physical eyes but He was absolutely clear to the eyes of my heart. My physical senses were intensely aware of some One near me. I felt on the verge of touching, smelling, seeing Him. Though He spoke no word, I understood Him. I stood there probing the barrier, questioning the Presence with my heart and mind. A harsh, angry voice intruded: Go and finish your nap! I looked toward the sound, saw a narrow stream to my right that disappeared between the trees. A woman and several children sat or played near the stream. I could not see them clearly. I did not know them. The voice intruded again, louder, angrier: Go and finish your nap! I turned, ran into a room and climbed onto a bed. With the eyes of my heart, I looked towards the Presence and shrugged.
Days passed. I cried. Tears fell when I was alone. They fell when I was with the woman and children. As I walked through the woods with them: I lagged behind everyone else and cried. Food tasted of the tears in the back of my throat: I was not hungry. Each morning, my pillow case was crumpled and damp with tears. I lay awake long after the house was quiet. Only when the man was present did my tears stop. Around him, I did my best to keep them from falling. I was full of a sharp, searing pain as if my heart was burned, twisted, wrung. I hurt when I moved. I hurt when I breathed. The Presence comforted me. In the moments when I was alone, inwardly, I lay against His shoulder and snuggled into His arms. At night, I felt His hand gently stroking my back as I lay in bed, even as a huge, male member came down from the ceiling to get me. I could see it with the same eyes that saw the Presence. I knew it would get me, knew how it would get me; knew all I could do was shrink within myself, suck my thumb, rub my hand against my private parts and, hide my face against the Presence’s shoulder. Only the warm, gentle tingle from His stroking hand and His hugs kept the tiny shards of me together. When I cried so hard I wanted to scream and scream and scream, the tingle became a powerful, electric surge that overrode the insistent pressure to break down and carried me into a brief period of sleep.
During the day and well into the evening, the house was filled with noise from many, many, scary children: the oldest girl, the second girl, the oldest boy, the big, mean second boy, the third boy and others, both boys and girls, who came and went before I could place them in the miasma of the house’s occupants. Children shouted, screamed, cried, were loudly indignant, clomped their shoes on the floorboards while running, banged doors, bounced balls against the walls and threw toys on the floor and at each other. The woman and the housekeeper shouted at the children much of the day, Be quiet! Stop shouting! Stop crying! Lower your voice! Don’t run in the house! Walk quietly! Close the door! Don’t bang the door! You may not play ball inside! Don’t throw toys at him, her, it! In the evening, the housekeeper’s voice was replaced by the voice of man. Night after night, he’d shout: Don’t make me come up there! Night after night the noise continued and he’d stomp up the stairs, enter one of the rooms that held laughing or indignant children and beat them with whatever came to hand, often removing his belt or leather slipper. Then the shouts would be replaced with loud cries until the man threatened to continue the beating if the noise and tears did not end. He’d often beat all the children in the room. I soon learned to get in bed, pull the bedclothes up to my chin and close my eyes as soon as the man began shouting.
The most quiet inhabitant of the house was the woman. When she wasn’t shouting, I liked her voice. It reminded me of something. She sewed or worked in the kitchen and I read or played quietly in the dining room. She scolded me sometimes, Stop sucking your thumb! She shouted at the noisy children but as long as I was quiet and she did not see me sucking my thumb, she did not shout at me or scold me for crying. She did insist I eat things that made me ill; the other children were usually happy to gobble down their share and mine. She scolded me for being slow at my chores. Dusting, scrubbing baseboards and, vacuuming made my head ache, my nose stuffy, my heart pound; it was hard to breathe. I enjoyed drying cups, small glasses, plates. They fit my hands and I could sit when I was tired. I was always tired.
The man was big, loud, angry, terrifying: Children should be seen but not heard! I wanted him to go away. He remained. We were all concerned with what he thought, felt, needed, wanted, desired. We were all afraid of him. Everything we did was wrong. He called us, Devils! We were, Doing the work of Satan! He often told his children, I rue the day you were born! He told me and the children who stayed for a time and left, I rue the day I brought you home! Each time he said it, I felt the tingle of the Presence hugging me: we heard the difference. The man hit us. He beat us. When the oldest girl poured part of a box of the mush she most hated down the sink and clogged the pipe, the man beat her until she bled. We watched as her blood saturated the back of her white school uniform blouse. As he beat her he screamed, I’ll kill you! Often, when he planned to beat one of us, the man would send the child to retrieve the weapon he planned to use: a heavy leather strap, a broom or mop handle, a branch the diameter of a pencil from a shrub that he would peel before our eyes. When he injured his back, he used his cane. The other children would fetch the weapon and return repeating, Please, daddy, don’t hit me! Please, daddy, don’t hit me! I didn’t understand. When I left, I did not return. I hid. If he found me he’d beat me and I’d bellow in rage: Don’t! Hit! Me! But every so often, he forgot in his anger at someone or something else and I’d escape. I shrank into myself, hoping he wouldn't notice me, hoping he’d would quickly move on when he did.
I did not speak very often. Neither did I smile or laugh. I was glum. There were many books in the house at the near the woods and as often as possible I took one and hid behind the drapes and read while I sang songs to the Presence and cried. Some of the songs I picked up from the man who sang in the morning. As everyone else slept, I lay awake listening as he sang in his beautiful voice. Then, I’d sing In The Garden or His Eye Is On The Sparrow to the Presence when we were alone. I hummed other tunes to the Presence though I did not recall the names or the words. I had so many questions but didn’t know how to ask. Why was I in that house? How did I get there? Why did they keep me there? They did not care about me. One night there was a fire. As red lights flashed and sirens screamed, I snapped on as I had that day at the mesh door. I had wakened, dressed myself in robe and slippers and, carried an old, ragged bear out the back door. No one noticed or asked after me.
One day we moved house. The front porch was taken away by men who had come to tear down all the houses near the woods. I kept going to the edge of the porch and looking down; the ground seemed so far away, too far for me to jump. How would I escape? Finally, the woman locked the front door so I could no longer get to the porch. The new house had many doors downstairs: one in front and one in back. In the cellar, there was one at the back and French doors that led to a driveway, the front garden and then, the street. Another door in the cellar led to the back garden. On the second floor, there was a balcony with stairs that led to the back garden. The door to the balcony was in the rooms shared by the man and the woman. The upstairs hallway bathroom was next door. The first day, when no one was around, I looked out the bathroom window. The porch rail was a few inches from the window frame. I raised the sash, used the toilet to climb up, sat on the sill, reached my foot over to the balcony railing and pulled myself onto the porch. I can escape!
Soon after we moved, the woman went away. The housekeeper stayed at night. Meals were easier to eat. When the woman returned, she brought a new baby. The noise decreased. I loved the baby. He smelled soft and sweet, smelled right. His curly fingers clasped one of my small fingers. His nails were pearly, delicate, his skin warm velvet. The woman allowed me to hold him in my lap as I sat in a chair. When she took him away, she warned me, Never try to pick him up. He’s too heavy for you. One day, I was alone with the baby, watching him sleep. I went over and carefully tried to lift him as I had seen the woman do. I dropped him back into the cradle: he was too heavy. He howled and I squeezed myself between the bookshelf and the window frame, pulling the drape over me. The woman rushed in, lifted him and soothed him back to sleep.
One afternoon, not long after the baby came, the woman held a party for me. She told me it was my birthday. A long, low table was set in the back garden. A number of strange children arrived. We all sat round the table; I was at one end. The weather was quite mild but the wind was a bit chilly: I wore a sweater over my dress. The boys received toy cars, the girls small dolls. I received wrapped packages. The housekeeper served sandwiches, lemonade, candy and cake. After the meal, the children ran off to play with their toys. I remained in my seat. The weather was wrong. It should be very hot or cold and foggy, not a mild, late Spring or early Summer day. The smell was wrong. I should smell the sea, horses and, a riotous sweetness of red flowers or wool, horses and, potpourri. The scent of blossoms and new mown grass was wrong.
Some days after the party, as I lay awake one night, I saw the man and woman rush downstairs, heard the back door slam and the sound of the car driving away. The next morning we were told the baby was dead. A few days later, someone dressed me in a short, cream coloured dress adorned with cream coloured lace with matching pants underneath. It felt as a dress ought to feel, smelled as a dress ought to smell. I had not worn it any other day since that first day at the door, not even to church, but I knew this dress was mine. I was taken to a large room inside a stone building. A white, wooden box with part of the top open was at the far end. The delicious feel of the dress against my skin, the sight of that white, wooden box: I wanted to prance like a young colt. My knees raised themselves for a few steps, my feet touched the ground toe first, then heel. My bare legs were a delight. The man caught my hand, squeezed, hissed: Walk quietly! My knees quieted; my feet became heavy. People sat in rows of chairs; some seemed familiar. The woman sat in the front row crying. As we walked forward, female voices whispered, Why wasn’t the funeral held at the church? The baby wasn’t baptized. Well really! She said, No! I was led to the box. The baby lay within. I touched his cheek. It was no longer warm. I sat in my seat in the front row as the man who spoke each Sunday talked about the baby, about God, about death, about life in Christ. Many cried as he spoke. Eventually, I slid to the floor. Why did they cry? The baby’s face was before my eyes. My mouth hidden in my hand, I smiled to my Friend: He’s so sweet, so beautiful. After we returned to the house, I was told to change my clothes. When I went to bed, the delicious, cream coloured dress was gone.
Copyright - Drusilla Barron 2013
Reflections on loving God, being Catholic, being a woman, being ill, loving life and anything else that comes to mind.
Saturday, December 21, 2013
The entire section beginning & ending with the two sample paragraphs: