Pretty Little Girl

A day in the life….

Archive for the category “self-destruction”

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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