Yankee-Brand Eucalyptus

Mom and Me

Our earliest recollections from childhood often involve a vivid sensation that pains, excites or shocks us into self-awareness.

Sometimes, what occurs is brutal.
This is the story of my first memory.

She was bleeding from both brows and pumping her legs against the slick vinyl floor when I entered. With her back pressed to the kitchen cabinets, this woman kicked like she was trying to save herself from dropping off a cliff. Elegant fingers, with bitten-down nails and knobby knuckles, clawed at the countertop above. Tangled at her breast was her hair, grown long since college with hanging, breezing bangs. They were plastered to her temples now, blood-soaked to the color black. Her eyes were mouths to the mascara rivers running down her cheeks. This woman’s small frame froze when the man standing near came closer.

He grabbed something from the oak table in the center of the kitchen. His cowboy boots clicked as he approached the woman on the ground. He squatted down and turned his head to inspect her, as he would to see if a shot animal was dead.

He scratched at the nape of his Texas neck, truck keys still in hand from the drive home. Forearms dangled densely from elbows planted on his knees. The keys tinked against the 22 oz. glass jar in his other hand, the Yankee-brand candle from the table that caused the afternoon’s argument. The man leaned in toward the proud head of the woman’s body. He did not speak loudly to her, but made sure she heard his words.

I did not hear what my father said to my mother before he swung. The mass just crashed into her jawline, crowding her teeth to the harsh left. The impact drew blood. He swung again. More dripped to her chest.

My parents met in the stormy winter of ’83 at Angel Fire Resort in New Mexico. Dad was working on ski patrol and recently had an encounter with one of my mother’s friends. The meeting between the men ended badly, with Dad breaking the other guy’s nose on one of the mountain’s runs. The day after the bloodshed, Mom charged through the patrol booth while eight months pregnant to bring my dad to justice. He was fiddling with the channels on his radio when she blew in with winter’s wind.

It’s important to mention here that she was not only visibly carrying my older brother Sepp at the time, but also married to her first husband Joe. My father knew this about her, but he wanted her anyway, even while she screamed, “I want this man arrested!”

My mother didn’t know his charm before busting down the door that day. His smile is what quickly lured her in, as in the past when it attracted all the beauty queens that loved him then. Those never lasted, though, and marriage was not an option until he met my mother, causing him to pursue her from that day on, for better or for worse.

Dried, dripping wax ran down the side of the glass in my father’s hand that day.  They were melted by the flame my mother set that morning to make the kitchen smell like Eucalyptus. My father was furious because she left it beneath a cabinet unattended. “You could’ve burned the house down,” his red face yelled after a swing.

My mother’s cry stirred me to action even at three years old. I leapt from my spectating stance and into her chest to save her, to keep my father from hitting her again. He repeatedly swore at me for interfering, but he did not make me his victim too. Instead he collapsed the kitchen around us, cracking the pantry door and tipping the spice and cookbook shelf. I hid close to my mother and listened to her heartbeat and its heavy strange heave. I felt her arms fall across my legs and back. Her breathing slowed as her bleeding teeth did. It eased even more as the door slammed and the shrinking growl of my father’s Harley told us he was gone.

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45 comments

  1. Jane adams · · Reply

    It pains me so much to read your words and know the pain of that innocent child. ou are such a wonderful writer and I want to read the rest. I love you and your courage!

  2. Brave and uncompromising. Good balance, thoughtful, mature, And loving, in the deepest sense. Brava!

  3. It’s horrible how some men treat others like property or punching bags, and get angry over every little thing. The good news is, you survived, and the fact that you’re willing to talk about it shows you won’t make the same mistakes or fall for the same type of men. And with you writing this, you encourage others in your mother’s situation to speak out and fight against abuse. I think that’s an admirable thing, even if it wasn’t your intention.

  4. A wonderful post, its good to see bloggers writing about such material, thank you kindly for sharing.

  5. Wow. I don’t quite know what else to say. Just…wow.

    Powerful, evocative, heart-breaking. Truly brilliant writing.

  6. Powerful! This really was an amazing read. Congrats on FP! http://mccrackenlove.wordpress.com/

  7. I couldn’t stop reading, this was a amazing story, keep writing.

  8. Intense play of emotions,read like a crime story-very well written & from the heart!Its traumatic experience ,which I pray no one is subjected to-definitely not a small kid!I salute your courage for putting in words that experience!Keep writing & congrats on being chosen for FP:-)

  9. You are a gifted storyteller – weaving together beautiful pieces among threads of tangled relationships.

  10. Interesting story about your mom and dad. Is this really true?

    1. It is, friend. The first thing I saw of the world was my mother’s despair. Thanks for reading!

      1. This has to have been a hard thing to write about. I admire your courage. I hope you have a nice holiday season. http://www.segmation.wordpress.com

  11. I don’t know whether this is your personal memory or a story you’ve written so powerfully, but I love the way you leave so many big questions unanswered at the end. I also think there are probably a very large number of people whose first memories are terrible, life-changing, traumatic ones and the rest of us do not realize how fortunate we are.
    A well deserved fresh pressing!

  12. As a woman with a similar past, I appreciate you sharing. Very well written, I hope this reaches many.

  13. Wow. Sorry that had to be your first memory. Great Post!

  14. Your writing is brutally visceral. Thank you for finding the words in a place that must be very painful to access.

  15. You provide a wonderful example of how writing can be good therapy. That’s why I started blogging, to explore writing as healing. Thank you for sharing so openly about what must still be incredibly painful. Blessings – you have a real gift, keep writing.

  16. you are so courageous; I’m left speechless.

  17. anotherkaleidoscope · · Reply

    Thank you for this beautifully written post.

  18. What can you say to this post? Except it is brilliantly and brutally written and such an important story to tell…

  19. What a wonderfully written piece. Gut wrenching.

  20. This is a wonderful piece of writing. Such a contradiction between the harsh brutality of the events and sensitive flow of the words you used to relay the memory.

  21. Beautiful writing. I’m sorry you and your mom endured this horrific abuse. And it occurs to me that although you were not physically assaulted, you were a victim. But now you are thriving!

  22. Men can be such assholes… Abuse like that happens so much, I almost wish we women weren’t so frail and delicate so we could defend ourselves. I understand what you’ve been through, I am, like many many others, a girl with an abusive father as well. Women have to stand up for each other though. We are so much smarter and kinder than men, it’s about time we take control in a world dominated by a bunch of assholes with anger issues. This is the best post I’ve read on FP so far. Excellent writing, and such an earnest story, many people have this same ignored memory in the back of their minds.

  23. People can be assholes, and people come from both sexes, and assholes come in different shapes and sizes, the common denominator with assholes…they all stink.

  24. Powerful writing that brings back memories of my youth and one incident between my mother, father and Richard, my half brother.

    As men, our fathers are usually our roll models in how to treat women. My father was very gentle with my mother, but one day my half brother, in his late twenties and fourteen years older than me, pushed my mother when she wouldn’t give him any money. My brother then cursed her out. It was early in the morning and my father had not left for work yet. He was in his little half bath shaving. In a thread thin white T-shirt and with white foam on his face, he stormed out of that bathroom into the kitchen.

    Now, my dad was a small, compact man. My brother wasn’t. Richard towered over my dad and his muscular arms were crowded with jailhouse and professional tattoos He’d already spent several years in jail, was into drugs and too much booze and ran with a biker gang. Although I loved my brother, he was trouble most of his life. Even as a toddler he had been a hand full. It was as if he had been wired wrong at birth. I never met Richard’s biological father, the one my mother, pregnant with my half sister, crawled out of a bedroom window to escape from.

    That didn’t stop my tough father, who didn’t waste any time getting in between my mother and Richard. My dad was no softy. As a young man, he’d boxed professionally in the Golden Gloves and once went 50 rounds with an opponent. During the Great Depression, he dropped out of high school at age fourteen to earn a living working at Santa Anita race track mucking out hoarse stalls.

    Dad knocked Richard to the kitchen floor with one punch to the jaw, stood over him and told him he would never talk to my mother like that again and he never did–even after my dad was gone at age 79.

  25. I like this very much. Shades of Faulkner at his best.

  26. Dang. I’m really sorry to read this. I hope both you and your mom are OK. The way you describe scenes and emotions is perfect.

  27. Reblogged this on Hasta Que mi Corazón Explote… and commented:
    Una amarga historia descrita a la perfección. Disfrútenla.

  28. Your writing is beautiful. Every word was felt. Thankyou.

  29. Wow! Very powerful! Thank you for sharing something so intimate!

  30. Oh my god. I really thaught this happened to you until I read the comments.
    What a great writing! I really like your style. It’s just so real. I saw the scenery in my head and felt the pain of the mother and the child. Nox I think I might need a hot chocolate and a Disney Cartoon to calm down again.

    1. I’m sorry to inform you, but this did happen… I promise, though, I won’t always write about sad or horrendous things. Thank you for reading!

      1. Well now I’m sorry this really happened. But it’s a great writing anyway. Writing about sad things is okay, it can help to see things from another ankle. But I like your happy stories too! :)

    1. Sepp was in middle school at this time with his father in another state. He couldn’t have done much at that age, though I suppose none of us could have.

      1. Thank you for the reply. Likely his soul would have been poisoned. Boys seem more vulnerable that way. I’m glad he was not there. I am glad you have survived. Even if an entire book doesn’t get written soon, you do have one excellent, publishable short story (that I know of). Don’t worry too much about try to remember your whole entire childhood chronologically. Not all memory works that way. Similar feelings, similar experiences, similar outcomes tend to clump up together. Sometimes things that happen years apart with different people and different aspects of our own personalities clump up and feel like one thing that has happened or one thing shatters into uncountable bits of brokeness. You can never draw a circle around part of yourself and say, well this happened then, as your understanding and compassion will keep growing greater for your whole life, so the sources of your learning will resonate in your growth also. Remember to have fun! Lots of fun. And fall in love. Fall in love and have fun. Enjoy the view up there on your uphill path! None of us really knows for sure where we are going, even when we get there. We just know that most of the paths are uphill and have wonderful views, now and again. Well, that is if we are paying attention.——–Granny

    1. Yes! Of me and my mother. It is one of my favorite photos of us together and many people have see it, but it’s bittersweet. Up until now, no one’s known the story of the kitchen and what took place there.

  31. very cute baby.

  32. Vivid writing but a very sad story…

  33. Tom Olson · · Reply

    It’s refreshing to read something that makes you feel again.

    We are the only ones that can allow ourselves to become trapped. I was on this side of the fence before and luckily walking out was the medicine he needed to stop.

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