Pretty Little Girl

A day in the life….

Archive for the category “alabama”

Trauma in the Making: The Conclusion

Jo’s youth, child , hair, health and sexiness were gone. The only thing she had left was Ernest and her grandson, John.  He was growing up so fast but Ernest adored him and sometimes she would imagine that he was their child on nights he would spend the night. Although, it was an illusion, one that was beyond holding for too long.

The cancer had been taking its toll and by God, she had to work. Ernest couldn’t make enough with the occasional job cleaning gutters. He drank more than he could make in a day. She had to work, even her son’s money was not enough to pay for the medicines, food, beer, rent & utilities.

Just after Christmas, 1973, Jo’s cancer appeared to be in remission but even with the treatments being finished, her hair had yet to return nor had her energy.  Her daughter Liz had called her this one evening, crying. She was leaving him–Jim, her husband. She was done. Ernest drove out to Cahaba Heights to get her. John was to come with them but for the sake of the peace, Ernest and Liz left him with Jim. Jo walked home the following morning after working all night. Ernest must have been asleep; he didn’t come and get her.  Mad as a wet hen, she arrived home, half expecting Liz to be waiting on the stoop.  She wasn’t there.  Oh well, she is probably was asleep too. When she opened the door, dying for the beer in the refrigerator and wanting to soak her feet, she saw it.

Oh my God, she thought. There was Ernest and Liz having sex in her bed. She screamed and threw the shoes at them–the same shoes she had carried for 15 blocks.  Liz jumped out of bed and grabbed her clothes.  Ernest said wryly, “Hey, Baby, whatchou doing home?”

She couldn’t believe it. Had they been screwing for all this time? Every time she turned her back were they laughing at how stupid she was. Why would Liz do this? Why would Ernest? Liz did it out of spite she reasoned. She was trying to take her husband–that little whore!

Liz came out of the bathroom with shame on her face but also contempt. She cussed at Jo and left.  Jo didn’t know where she went and damn if she cared. Ernest was young and vital why wouldn’t Liz want him. So he was a drunk? Most men were.

After a few weeks, Jo and Ernest returned to normal. She’d not heard from Liz and didn’t care if she would. She did get an occasional call from Jim who didn’t believe she didn’t know where she was, but that wasn’t her problem. Ray, Ernest’s younger brother had inquired if his twin, Joe had been around. It seems he wasn’t to be found. He walked off and left 3 kids and a wife. For all, Jo knew they were together. After all, Joe was John’s biological father back in the day. Liz had a weakness for him and his bad boy imagine. He was a damn psychopath though and almost biblically, Ray, Joe’s twin was mild tempered but men like him usually were–homosexuals that is.

In June, 1974, Jim called Jo to tell her to get to the hospital fast. Liz was there and she may not make it. When  Jo and Ernest got to the hospital, they met Jim in the waiting room. Joe had beaten Liz–nearly to death and Jim had brought her to the hospital. Oh and one more thing, she was pregnant—very pregnant. Doctors were not sure she would make it or the baby. The first thing Jo could think was, “my God, Ernest’s baby” but she couldn’t think like that…not now.

Over the days to come, Jim had agreed to take Liz back. All he ever wanted was a family and being sterile, that was the one thing that eluded his 48 years. The baby seemed to be ok, but doctors were sure that the baby was brain damaged. After an amniocentesis, Down’s syndrome was concluded and low amniotic fluid which was most definitely a bad sign. The baby needed to be aborted, the doctors said. Jim and Liz had decided against it. In the beating, her bladder, gall bladder and spleen had been dislodged. Joe was attempting to abort the baby himself–God knows why, but the baby was holding the organs in place. There was a chance that the pregnancy may allow for muscles that had been torn to heal, but the baby was defective. Jim didn’t care. He wanted the baby desperately but to Liz’s detriment, it seemed to Jo. She wanted the baby gone too, just in case. But that didn’t matter, Jim and Liz didn’t care, they had this fool idea that they’d live happy ever after.

Liz made a deal to let Jim be the legal baby daddy and no one ever mentioned the night that precipitated all this. Jo was just happy that Liz was alive. Assuming the baby would be a mongoloid, she knew no one would want the child after birth.  There was no reason to think the baby would matter to Ernest even if he was the father. He wouldn’t want a broken baby. It was all safe.

October 2, 1974, Jim called Jo at work. He said she needed to be at the hospital in 20 minutes; Liz was having the baby. Jim and John went bowling while Liz had the baby, natural childbirth, which wasn’t the plan. I was born at 10:09 pm. Daddy named me Jimmie Lee.

The secret was kept but Ernest connected the dates. He made everyone uncomfortable by caring me a round saying that I was “his baby”. He spoiled me rotten. My mother didn’t seem to mind.  Ernest drank himself to death when I was 3 years old. Jim could not stand him. Maybe he knew something they didn’t know. Or maybe it was just a feeling. Whatever it was, hatred might be the best way to characterize it.

How many times Jo look at me and wonder whose child I was? How many times did it break her heart to think of how my life started? Did she ever resent me or Mother? Ernest was gone. He’d forever be the blameless one in death. But is that fair?

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Trauma in the Making: Part 2

After being traumatized by watching a mere TV show, I finally saw my grandmother in the bigger picture. She was a broken woman with a strong will but a fractured spirit. Was it a wonder that she was an alcoholic? Hurt people hurt people. That statement from freshmen psychology is the moral of the story.

This TV show enlightened me. In the early 1960’s, my grandmother was transitioning in life. She was an aging woman with now grown children. How could that be? She was so young in her heart. It was an inconceivable thought. She was no longer young woman. This compounded by the corpse in her belly. A reminder of her last chance to be young was, in fact, turned to a calcified cadaver that was no longer a child but a curse.

In this emotional turmoil of coming to terms with how her life was not what it had been. Seemingly overnight, the young hell-raiser was now a middle aged woman, who wore her age honestly. She must have felt the beginning of the end with her body acting as a casket for last opportunity to be a mother–her last chance to re-do the role of mother. With all this going on, a younger man started coming around to drink with her. He was familiar. His family and hers had intertwined with this man’s brother being the father of her only grandchild. She was too young to be a grandma but she was and there was no way around it. Her youth like her baby was gone, but this younger man, Ernest, was about 8 years younger than her. He was a prankster.  A fool and a drunk to be sure. That was what fueled his character, the alcohol. Ernest had a hard time making a living but as Jo’s taste in men went, he was a step up. He didn’t hurt her. He was younger which in a way made her feel younger–more desirable. So they married.

Jo was restarting her life with her son helping her by sending money to her while he was in Vietnam. She was supposed to save it for him but she needed the money to be comfortable. That was a fight for a later date. She and Ernest lived pretty well for a while in that honeymoon phase. Then it happened. She went to the doctor for the first time in years. She had cervical cancer. They discovered the baby still in her womb. Doctors suggested aggressive treatment of the cancer which meant chemo therapy and radiation. The baby wasn’t causing any immediate problems so that was to be addressed at a later date. It was the cancer that needed to be treated–and fast.  Also being concerned, the doctors removed over 100 small moles on her back, fearing they might be cancerous. Thankfully they were not.

Since Ernest did not work much, Grandma worked through her chemo therapy. She lost her hair and donned a wig. This had been a sensitive issue. She’d had dark auburn hair her whole life…now she had nothing but this damn wig. She simply couldn’t catch a break…..then her world turned on a dime. The little she held dear to her was now being used as a weapon against her. …to be continued.

 

Trauma in the Making: Part 1

My grandmother was a paradoxical woman. She had a fire but by the time I saw it was but an ember.  You could see the smoldering in her eyes. She quenched it with drinking, every day. Relying purely on stories, I have been able to see some of the fullness of her life and the demolition that came to bring the need to self-medicate, daily.

Josephine Ruth Leonard was born in 1918 in Talledega, Alabama. She was one of 5 daughters and 3 sons of Pa and Ma Leonard. She was the black sheep, the hellion. She broke away from her family but her emotional fragility always brought her into the care of her sisters or brothers.

I spoke to her younger sister just days before she passed. She described my grandmother as being so kind and frail but not physically frail, but emotionally. This is an opposing image to the one given by my grandfather, Curt’s family. She was a floozy. She drank, danced—a walking temptation surely sent by the devil to lead the meek to the self-destruction.

Jo, as she was known, was a woman first and a mother second. After her much older husband died suddenly, she spun into a era of insensibility. As a woman who needed to be taken care of, she was not adept to nurturing but being nurtured. She found this in a slew of men who came and went. While, her children fended for themselves, she continued on her search for someone to take care of her. Drinking, fighting, instability. This was her life. Rejection, subjection, and dejection were the pillars of her existence.

One of her “husbands”, was an Native American (Indian)  named Short. He was hateful, according to my mother. He was “damn mean”, evil to the core. Jo got pregnant by this man. She was several months along. One night he beat her so severely that he killed the child in her womb. Being so fragile, she was so sullen. This baby was dead but still there. She could not afford to go to a doctor. There was always a hope that the baby might still be alive even though the it ceased to move or grow. Jo wanted that baby, but she knew that would not happen.

She worked as a waitress at is the equivalence of “Waffle House” today. She worked with one other person on the night shift. She made friends with many people who were patrons of the restaurant. Policeman particularly would sit and talk for hours at night waiting on calls to go take care of the menial crime of the time on the Southside of Birmingham. Jo was always the one who could permeate the souls of people she encounter. Men wanted to take care of her but her fire pushed them away. However, in purely platonic relationships, the policeman thought of her as a sister they must protect. So when Short beat her and killed her baby, the policemen were enraged. This was in the 195o’s Birmingham, Alabama. As my mother would say, “There was only one thing worse than a nigger and that was an Indian”. They couldn’t be trusted.

The policemen took Short out of the small, dilapidated apartment where he squatted, while sending my grandmother to work. Everyone saw the policemen take Short. They headed out to the country and killed him. As the story goes. He never returned.

The most disturbing part of this story is the fact, at 70+, after varying cancer treatments, the remains of the baby was still entombed in my grandmother’s womb. This all resurfaced after I watched an episode of “Law & Order-Criminal Intent”. The title is “In the Dark” from 2004.  The character had dementia and inspired the murders over a baby that was never born. She said she didn’t want people to know she was “a coffin”. Wow! The very thought of the emotional and psychological effects of that statement explains so much.

The remainder of the story is to come………

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Dear Lord, Thank You!

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Out of chaos comes stability. Out of ugly comes beauty. Out of hate comes unabounding love. I have to look at the parts of the circumstances around my family at the time of my birth. It all comes pass in a fluid form of harmony. While everything was falling to waste, my mother’s health, my parents’ marriage, my brother’s reality, out comes a baby that unites everything. It is remarkable really.

Then you have my dad alone with a child that is not his and a newborn baby that is also not his, trying to work and balance time with everyone including my mother in the hospital. He was overwhelmed as he’d never ever handled a newborn before. He couldn’t stay up all night and go to work. Nor could John. There was no allowing of my grandmother Josephine to help, because she was a damn drunk with a husband who was possibly a sex offender. Nor could he ask his mother Georgia, for she didn’t like the circumstance that had befallen her son. So what do you do? He’d been close to the Warren family 2 doors down who had a daughter Patti who was 2 years younger than John. From what I understand, JoAnn, the mother and wife of the Warren family, would make him a plate of food at night after work while my mother had been gone. She’d help him out with John so that Daddy had some help. Quite kind of her in the circumstances.

Now he had a newborn trying to navigate the same situation. Whether she volunteered or he asked her, she took the newborn to her home and kept her there and Daddy would visit. She kept me for the next 8 weeks because my Daddy was afraid he’d “break” me and he was just overwhelmed by the entire situation. But out of that chaos, he and JoAnn where the first people on this planet that bonded with me.

When I was almost 3 mos. old, my mother came home and in the Liz fashion swept in to get “her baby”. She had little to do with JoAnn Warren after that. It seems to me that jealousy set in. She played the doting Mother for the first few years of my life. She was the normal mom. It wasn’t until I was 4 or 5 that she and JoAnn made some sort of peace. They became best friends. My dad was always closer to the Warrens and I assumed it was because Bill or (Uncle Bill) as I called him was his buddy. But I know now that wasn’t the case. The dynamic of seeing JoAnn and my Dad talk about me was unusual and I was not able to put words to it until I was older and knew the situation of my birth.

Throughout my life, my mother took a freefall. She went from “Carol Brady” to “Joan Crawford”. She blamed my Dad for his part in her descent. She was a walking zombie. She was drinking, popping pills. She’d gone back to work at Harry Alexiou’s “Gold Nugget” Restaurant. She shifted over to the his brother, Johnny Alexiou’s restaurant ,the “Brass Rail”, which to everyone threw up a red flag.

Johnny was reckless and lived on a level that was not as stable as his older brother Harry. Self-destruction was his middle name. His reputation could be inferred to be wild. I say that because of people’s reactions when she told them she was going to work for Johnny. Everyone lowered their brow and asked the same question, “Liz, are you sure?”. My mother’s answer was that he was “not the same”. Even as a young child, I knew what that meant.

From that time, JoAnn was my babysitter, my emergency contact. She was my rock. My mother tried to balance it by leaving with my grandmother on the weekends but her lack of parenting skills was infamous. Had I been a bad kid, I could have gotten away with anything? I would sit on the hill infront of her Southside Apartment. I would then barricade myself in her bedroom while she sat in her recliner drinking beer. Was the indifference because of me and where I might have come from? Maybe because she seemed to be different in the pictures of my cousins, Curt and Anna when she visited California. She didn’t seem ambivalent to them. I thought it was because Jim was my dad and the tension between the 2 of them was palpable. But now I know it may have been the fact, I was possible her dead husband’s daughter. How do you get passed that?

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