Pretty Little Girl

A day in the life….

Archive for the tag “dysfunctional”

Nature vs Nurture

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In reflecting on the obstacles and the skeletons that have plagued me, I have to say that my belief in God was restored after all of this. The circumstances that I was born into should not have allowed me to flourish in the way I did. I was a bastard child of morally absent parents surrounded in dysfunction. Yet Jim Barnett, my Daddy, took a child he should have resented and made that child his own. He took the purity of innocence and cultivated it into a loving functioning person. He took an act of anger and rage and with almost alchemy-like conversion turned it into love and compassion.

Nature vs. Nurture.

Score one for Nurture!

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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?

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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