Pretty Little Girl

A day in the life….

Archive for the category “birth”

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?

Even the Liars Do Not Know the Truth….

Sonia Aaron Stephens, the niece of Ernest & Joe Aaron worked with my mother when she was pregnant with me, but this doesn’t make sense. My Uncle Mike was in California when I was born after he left the Navy & Vietnam. I knew what this meant. The secrets even have secrets. I could anticipate the answer of my next question–“what year was this?”

“1962 of course,” Sonia answered. I asked a flurry of questions that seemed crazy I’m sure to Sonia, but I couldn’t wrap my head around this. John didn’t even know the truth. Joe was his father. Sonia was sure of the timing. I googled Lamar’s Drive-In in Birmingham—nothing but Omar’s Drive-In was a place that opened in 1962 and closing in 1967. My brother was born in July of 1962. The timing is right and Mike being there would be correct. But the version I was told was that Tommy Brookshire was John’s father.  But it didn’t make sense because when I asked my Daddy (Jim) if he ever met John’s daddy and he said yes that he’d fished with him. Later when I said Tommy’s name he asked me who that was. Red flag #1 as a child. Joe used to fish.

So my brother who dropped the bomb on my life didn’t even know the truth. How ironic. Joe Aaron is his father too. 

 

 

 

 

Putting All the Lies Together

After the conversation with my brother, I spent the next year remembering every moment of my childhood. Every instance that now was a red flag. Encounters, conversations, interactions between everyone. I started asking people. I started with Patti Warren Lett. She was like a sister to me. Her mother, Jo Ann, was the woman who took care of me the first 2 months of my life as well as most of my childhood. Jo Ann was my babysitter  She was my surrogate mother. I loved her so much. Patti was leaving the nest when I spent the bulk of my time with Jo Ann. She was 10 years older than me and 2 years younger than John.

Patti told me that she knew Jim wasn’t my biological father. She remembers hearing him say that no one had the right to take me away. I was his little girl. The rumors had suggested that the man who contributed to my birth might have something to do with my PawPaw Ernest. She said somehow he was involved. It made sense since it was his brother Joe. She never saw Joe. Patti was able to corroborate the tale my brother told. So if Patti and her family knew who else knew?  I contacted Kim Aaron Lloyd. She had an Ancestry account with Ernest and Joe in it. She was part of their family. So in the most awkward email of my life, I told her my tale. She responded by putting me in touch with her aunt, Sonia Stephens. It seems Sonia worked with my mother while she was pregnant with me. She knew my mother and grandmother.

When I called Sonia, I was nervous.  This all seemed so unreal. Sonia talked about my mother, being young, pregnant, enamored with Joe Aaron when they worked at Lamar’s Drive In. She said my uncle Mike was always around and he smelled so good. None of the kids wore aftershave but he did and he smelled so good. There were 2 red flags in that statement. The fact Mike was there, when I know he was in California by the time I was born through pictures and stories and that none of the “kids” wore aftershave. My mother was 30 when I was born…this is not making any sense!!!!

My Village

They say it takes a village to raise a child.  In my case, I guess that’s true. I found out the man who was a superhero to me, is not my father. The worst part is the story leading up to my birth. My mother is 18 years younger than Daddy, Jim. My brother, John, is 12 years older than me. He saw what happened in the months prior to my birth. He proceeds to tell me that in the later part of the year of 1973. My mother left my Daddy. She ran off with a man named Joe Aaron. The relationship is convoluted. He was her step-father’s brother. As I have come to find out, he was an evil, mean, hard drinking man. He was married; he ran around on his wife, beat her & he is a suspected pedophile. My mother left my brother with Jim, who is not his biological father, to be with Joe. That is screwed up.

Oh but wait…there’s more. In the early part of 1974, my mother came back beaten SEVERELY, and pregnant. This is where God steps in.   My Daddy takes her back, gets her taken care of and agrees to raise me as his own. He had always been sterile due to an illness in his teens. He wanted a family and the agreement was that he was to be listed as my father on the birth certificate. Now, it must be understood, that my Daddy married mother in part because of her already having a child, my brother John, who was 18 mos. old when they married. But he always carried the name “Maddox”, a separating moniker placed their by my mother. To remind my Daddy, who’s son he was. Now that kind of option was off the table. I was to be a Barnett. He would name me. I would be his child–period.

me & daddy with that damn turtle

This decision broke my heart. He knew I was the illegitimate child of my mother and this mess of a man from a very painful time. How does a man reach such a place of forgiveness in the eyes of face of such pain?  I believe this is my divine intervention. After a hard pregnancy due to the injuries to my mother in her beating by Joe, I was born. My mother stayed in the hospital for over a month so that the doctors could fix some of the damage done by Joe that couldn’t be done while she was pregnant. In the meantime, my Daddy took me home. He couldn’t take care of a newborn, give John the attention he needed and work. He was also scared he’d break me. His solution to this problem was another one that would positively affect my life forever. He went to a neighbor lady who had 2 kids–one in high school & another a little younger than John.Her name was JoAnn Warren. He asked her to take care of me. These 2 people, not related to me, would be the biggest 2 influences in my life.  This is just the beginning of my village.

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