Pretty Little Girl

A day in the life….

Archive for the category “stories”

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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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!!!!

The Power of Understanding

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Not long after my mysterious jaunt to California, my mother, recently divorced from my dad, ended up letting me go live with him “temporarily”. She planned a moved to Pensacola, where my dad and his new wife lived. I had spent the summers there. I loved it because it was peaceful. No drunken, bipolar hissy fits. No mind games. No belittling. I was just a kid. I was away from my mother, brother, uncle and grandmother. Each day was me and my dad. He and I had always had this special bond. He loved me more than anything and he was my hero. I knew he wasn’t perfect, but I couldn’t imagine what a better daddy would be like. His flaws made him human and made me feel like I didn’t have to always be perfect. I could be me without hindrance.

During my life, I clung to my Daddy. He could always talk me through things. I would get upset; he & I would sit down and talk about it. Usually, it wasn’t as bad as I perceived. He was a calming, reasoning and enlightening force in my life to rival no other. His death in 1997 broke a portion of me, because at 22, I was not prepared to give up the part of my soul that he occupied. He physically, emotionally, & psychologically was a part of me. Jim Barnett’s influence in my life will resonate forever. When he saved me, he saved my future, my children. I married a man that cherished me who is much like him. He showed me how to live peacefully without drama. He taught me how to think things through. His actions reverberate in every faction of my life.

Then one day, I get a call. It is my brother, who I have not spoken to since my mother’s funeral. I had medical issues I wanted to discuss with him. I had emailed him begging him to talk to me about such issues. It was May 14, 2012. The day after Mother’s Day 9:30 AM.  The words he spoke I was not prepared to hear.  Jim wasn’t my Daddy.

 

 

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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