Pretty Little Girl

A day in the life….

Archive for the category “rage”

The Stories Begin….

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Just as suddenly as we were whisked into chaos, we were returned to our normality with very little fanfare. Everything was the same as it was prior to the California turmoil. The only real explanation I ever got was that my Uncle Mike was running from some really bad people who were liable to lash out at his family and then another story was the FBI was after my uncle. Depending on who told the story, the reasonings were different. When I asked our neighbor, JoAnn what she was told it was a mixture of both stories. Again, yet another version of the same event.

I felt as if my life was “choose your own ending” phenomenon.  The only thaing that was for sure was that everything was being covered up. Maybe I was too young to understand. Maybe it was too outlandish for anyone to believe. Maybe it was just a cover for something completely different. I was 8 years old but I was far from naive to the ways of the Maddox family. Deceit, pathological lies, exaggerations & cruelty was par for the course. I became convinced that I would only find out what happened when the dust settled or until I was grown–whichever came first. I asked my dad because he would be straight with me.  It became clear that he was just as much out of the loop as I was. After all, we weren’t apart of the Maddox inner circle.

Roughly 30 years later, I finally was given some of the answers. It had all been about me.

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Inside the Looking Glass

When people recollect about their past, it gives rise to all kinds of emotions.  Many of those emotions are thought to have dwindled on the vine, but in reality, they are just dormant, resting  and waiting for the sprinkle of acknowledgement that revives them instantaneously.  My California experience is no different. It could have been a dream with all the strange happenings and truly surrealist environment.

Our fantastic excursion continues as we arrive in LAX late at night.  My mother tells Ray that my uncle will be picking us up in a “MACK” truck.  Ray stopped and just looked at my mother. He was just as surprised as I was.  I didn’t know what a MACK truck was. We walked outside to the pickup and drop-off outside the airport. When, out of nowhere, my Uncle Mike came running from the passenger side of an 18 wheeler. He ran towards us and grabbed me as he ran. My mother and Ray followed behind. We circled back around to the truck, where he tossed me into the cab as he grabbed my mother and helped her in. He closed the door and we drove off leaving him and Ray on the curb.  I scraped my ankle as I got into the truck. It wasn’t bleeding but  sure did hurt.

The driver of the truck looked over and introduced himself as Bobby Riggs. He had a black cowboy hat, scraggly long jet black beard and he was wearing dark tinted glasses. His shirt was a black country-western shirt with white pearl buttons.  He made small talk with Mother about the plane and the ride. The only thing I remember him saying was “now you are safe, little one.” I suddenly became concerned about my Uncle and Ray. Where they safe? I asked my mother about them. She said something I would always remember. She said ” Don’t you worry about your Uncle Mike. He can handle anything.”

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“My Baby”

When I tell  people about my family, I have to remember who my family is. People can’t wrap their heads around the reality of my family.  Every single relative has a chemical dependency problem. How do you make that normal or coherent for somebody? On our spontaneous jaunt to California, I realized for the first time how unconventional and off the chart my family was as a whole. A stranger skulking our house early on a Sunday morning. I heard my grandmother feverishly making phone calls to what seems like random people. My Uncle Mike in California was screaming through the phone. My mother was recovering from a drunken bender the night before at a friend’s house. This wasn’t the most odd Sunday but it wouldn’t be a typical day in the life of any of my friends.

It was a crisp Sunday morning. What the hell was going on? By the end of the day with virtually no clothes or possessions we were on a plane L.A.X. Before we boarded the plane, an older man with kind face walked up to my mother and hugged her. He said it had been a long time. He was trying to calm my manic mother. They discussed what my uncle wanted us all to do. She finally introduced me to him.  “This is Ray. He’s Ernest’s brother.”

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Ernest was my Paw Paw. Even the mention of his name, made me smile. He died when I was 3 years old, but I remember him being the source of continuous laughter and him being a clown all the time. It wasn’t until I was older that I was told he was just “a damn old drunk”.  He couldn’t hold a job; he sponged off my grandmother who worked midnights at Waffle House-esque diner known as the “Steak and Eggs”. But to me, he was my crazy Paw Paw telling jokes, pulling the chair out from under my mother or taking me to the little general store to buy me whatever kind of candy I wanted.

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Ernest wasn’t biologically related to me. He had been my grandmother’s last husband many years after the death of my grandfather, Curt. He was younger than my grandmother by about 8-9 years. He died abruptly in 1977. I remember the night clearly. I was a sleep on the couch in our living room on Cypress drive. It was odd because my mother wasn’t there; it was just me and my Daddy.  My mother didn’t drive and I don’t know where she went. My normal routine was to sit down with my Daddy and watch TV after my bath. Daddy would carry me to bed, but this wasn’t what happened this night. Daddy said we had to go see Paw Paw. We drove up to their apartment. There were flashing lights everywhere. People were walking all around. It was the middle of the night or at least it seemed like it to me. I’d never seen people at their apartment before–not even the neighbors. My daddy and I sat down on the stairs amid all the chaos. He had a look on his face. It almost looked like anger. He was a mild man. He didn’t throw fits or anything. He would look at you with this look of disappointment and restrained words.  It wasn’t a scary look; it was a look that always made guilt well up in my chest. I remember asking where Paw Paw and Grandma were. He said Paw Paw was sick and Grandma and Mother had gone to see how Paw Paw was doing.

None of those words meant anything to me really. I never realized I’d never see my Paw Paw again. I was “his baby” as he’d always say. He came to our house all the time. I knew my Daddy didn’t like him or my Grandma for that matter. Daddy had never taken me to see them before. It was unusual but I couldn’t comprehend the truth of it all. My Paw Paw had died. Grandma had found him when she came home. Mother was at the hospital with her.

Now 5 years later we sit in an airport terminal with a brother of his, on the spur of the moment. I had school Monday morning. What had happened now?

So It Begins; A Reflection

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The  funny thing is I think I look a lot my uncle. As I look through pictures, I want to understand why he was the way he was. I see strength and uniqueness in this “beast” of a man. I don’t know what it is that makes his life so intriguing but I have to keep delving into the unknown abyss.

I just found something I wrote a while back.  It’s the beginning of a story that is giant portion of my recollection of my uncle. 

“Hey pretty girl, won’t you look my way, 

you can bet you’ll make this ol’ boy’s day, 

hey pretty girl, won’t you look my way”

I heard this song and a flood of memories came over me.  The low husky voice, those words..

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March 1983

Cahaba Heights

A Sunday morning 8 am, to a 8 year old is THE most boring time. All my friends were in church.  My Grandma spent the night with me while Mama was out and  there was no way in hell Grandma was going to a church.  The closest she ever got was watching Jimmy Swaggart.  That was her religion.

 I was bored.  I went outside and kicked the gravel in the driveway.  I was pretty disturbed.  I missed my Daddy so much.  He worked out of town and came home every other weekend. A old truck rolls down Cypress Drive. This is odd because all the neighbors were in church.  Our street was out of the way for somebody to just be passing by. A dark haired man was hanging out the passenger side window.  They slowed down at the driveway.  So I started to walk towards them.  The man asked if my Daddy was home.  I said, “No sir, he is working in South Carolina”.   He asked me if I was alone.  I said, “ No sir, my Grandma was inside the house.”  He nodded and the truck drove on.   A few minutes later, the truck came back the other way.  This time the man was driving.  He stopped in front of the house again.  Again I walked up to him.  He said smiling “Hey pretty girl, you wanna come home with me?”  

 

I said, “No sir, I was just waiting on my Mama. She should be home soon.”  I thought maybe he was friend of Daddy’s.  He was more interested in knowing about him than anything.  Something about the man looked familiar but I didn’t know why.  

The old truck drove away. I went back inside.  I told Grandma that Daddy’s friends were asking about him.  And she asked me if I told them he was out of town and I said “Yes, m’am I told them he’s working out of South Carolina”.  She looked out the kitchen window and the truck was driving by again.  She told me to go play in my room.  I didn’t have anything better to do. She got on the phone and was talking.  Then the phone rang and she was yapping some more.  It was a little unusual.  Grandma wasn’t the social butterfly that talked on the phone very much.  I think I fell asleep on my bed.  The next thing I remember Grandma was talking to Uncle Mike in California.  That was just odd. Then all of a sudden my mother flies in the door.  She grabs me and tells me to get a couple of toys that we were going to California……that’s where the weird got even weirder…….

The Making of a Man

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Michael Maddox was a brute. He was massive and a force to be reckoned with. His size was a tool; his voice thundered. When he entered a room, every person knew it. Even at the age of 15, I am told by my aunt, Sonia who went to high school with my mother and worked with her and Mike after at Lamar’s Drive-In, remembers Mike as a ladies man. “He smelled so good and he was so handsome. I always had him come sit next to me, even though he was younger than us. He didn’t act  like it”, Sonia told me. One of his quotes from that time was that he loved Southside Baptist Church. He went there as often as he could. Why?  It was the best place to get laid. Enough said.

Along with being a cad, he was a huffer; he would inhale the pressurized chemicals in aerosol cans. Looking for a way to escape his meager life. Mustard and lettuce sandwiches were a commonality for my mother and Mike. Jo was too wrapped up in her personal demons to be an adequate mother. The kids were on there own. My mother Liz tried to step in to look after Mike but she had no role model to know what she should do. Jo’s lifestyle kept them from connecting with people for any length of time. Constant moving, beatings and generalized hell raising kept most away. Surviving the best way they could with an emotional not present mother and her present drunk, was life for them.

Mike was different. He wanted out. He had delusions of grandeur from early on. My mother and many others favored Mike. He had something as a little kid. He was unique but no one really knew why.  I can only assume it was the aura of being in the present of something great. I have heard this about many great men.  They had something intangible innate that radiates from them. No word to describe it but just a magnetism that was beyond words.  Recently in college studying psychology, a found out what that “thing” was.  It is, what is erroneously called anti-social behavior. It is not like it sounds. The dynamic, charismatic charmer is truly a well primed facade for the absolute inability to be human.   He was in a word– a sociopath. Calculated, cunning, charming, and evil with the inability empathize with anyone beyond his mother and sister.

As a teenager, he was a thief. He evolved into stealing cars. His biggest adventure took him to Florida in a stolen car. He was eventually arrested. This was the early to mid 1960’s. Vietnam was a reality for the youth of the nation. Mike was given the opportunity to go to Vietnam or jail for his interstate mischief. He chose Vietnam. This was truly the end of anything human in Mike’s personality.

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Man vs Myth

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When I say Michael Maddox was a evil, visualize the mythology of the Minotaur. Half man, half beast. When he raged, this is what I saw. His voice boomed. His face contorted. Furniture shook. It was something I had never encountered, but this particular display of animalistic fury, was because my cousin, Curtis, his son, named after his beloved father didn’t finish the food on his plate at dinner. I was 5 years old. Curty was only 4. I was so scared for him. No fictitious villain could ever compete with the ire of my Uncle Mike. Fire was in his eyes. Carnage in his voice over brussel sprouts. My God! I had envied the lifestyle of my cousins but this night, I was scared for them. During my youth, he would sweep into town sometimes unannounced and hold our lives in limbo. By ours, I mean me and my mother. I am sure my brother and grandmother too but all I knew was his presence on us. He would lavishly buy things, dinners, without a care in the world. He was a self-proclaimed millionaire. Just as quickly as he swept in, he was off again.

This was so bizarre to me as a child. My parents scraped by, month to month. Grandma was not wealthy but more comfortable but we struggled. How was he a millionaire? None of this makes sense but I recognized even then that his vitality was the difference in the rest of the family and him. Modesty vs extravagance. He moved to Los Angeles and made himself a fortune. The American Dream, right?
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That is what you were supposed to strive to do and he did it fluidly. He was a phoenix rising from the fire of squalor. Again Elvis and the Devil personified. When I would ask my father about Mike’s line of work, he would simply say was a “con man”. He explained that to me. But he’s rich and he’s not in jail, surely he wasn’t just a con man.

Now Just Look at You

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“..You sure are a  pretty little girl” One of the scariest memories I remember as a child. My uncle, magnificent, bold, brash, and evil. His voice boomed. I prayed he wouldn’t notice me. His rage might find me and my mother wouldn’t be able to protect me. As fabulous and dynamic as Michael Maddox was, he was just as much a monster. A breeze might blow in the jovial, life of the party or it might blow in the rage of man that seemed more like a beast than a human. He was Elvis and the Devil all in one.

Mike was the youngest son of Curt Maddox and Josephine Leonard. They were my grandparents. My mother was 5 years older than him. Curt died when Mike was little. I believe there were memories there for Mike to remember but I never heard about them. When Curt died, Mike became the man of this end of the dysfunctional Maddox family. He was the protector for his mother and sister. Being 6’2″ and broad shouldered when he hit his teenage years, made him look like the “man of the house”.

I don’t know what his childhood was like. I never got to spend that much time with him but what I knew was that after Curt died, Jo, as she liked to be called, became a woman who couldn’t be without a man. Being a broken woman due to the hardships of poverty, loneliness and being a country girl in the city, she did what everyone did then–she drank. Barn dances were her favorite events and the men there were overloaded with testosterone and gin. They were looking for a submissive woman. While my grandmother wanted the security of a man, she was NOT submissive.  Her fiery dark red hair looked black in the old pictures but I have been told it was red and her personality like her hair was vibrant.

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Mike had his mother’s charisma. He was the life of the party as was she. But there were times that Mike felt impotent when his mother brought home the drunk du jour with a temper. As I was told, there were knock down drag outs that Mike was told to stay out of. However, there came a time when Mike stepped up for his mother. From that moment on, he was always in charge.

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