There is no Love in Violence

“Domestic violence rarely affects only those directly involved in the abusive relationship.” ― Asa Don Brown
Short of stepping on Curly’s tail, Becky stormed into the living room, slammed the screen-door shut and hurried to her room.
“What?” her mother asked from the kitchen, “back already? Did you forget to take something?” her mother continued.

Becky didn’t answer. Her footsteps were heavy as she went up the stairs. She closed the door to her room, pressed the play button of her CD player and turned the volume on high. She got inside her closet and sat on the floor on the corner closest to the window. The evening was pleasant and the sound of the birds on the tree outside the window was silenced by the sound coming from inside her room.

Her mother finished rinsing off the dinner dishes and wiping her wet hands on her apron, rushed upstairs to see what the matter was with her daughter. She knocked on the door with the secret code they had settled on for the month, but no tap-tap, the code of acknowledgement, came from inside the room. Mother knocked the same way again and again, but again Becky didn’t reciprocate. Mom turned the door knob and realized that the door was locked from the inside.

“Becky, open the door. Let me in. Becky, what happened? Did something happen with you and Margo?” Mom was getting worried. This was so out of character for her daughter.

She waited a few more minutes and knocked again. “Becky,” she said, a little more impatient this time, “talk to me. Open the door.” Becky got out of the closet, lowered the volume on her CD player and unlocked the door. Then she sat on the floor next to her bed. Mother knocked again and this time Becky reciprocated by tapping on the side of her bedroom table with their coded tap-tap. Mother turned the door knob and entered the room.

“Honey, did something happen to you over at Margo’s house?”
Becky hugged her knees and looked away from her mother. Mother followed Becky’s lead and sat on the floor next to her daughter.

In the short year that they have been neighbors, Becky and Margo have become best friends. They walk to and from school together, they spend endless hours playing outdoors and talking on the porch-swing, they walk up to receive holy communion together at Sunday Mass and apart from the fact that each girl has their own house chores to do, they are inseparable. Once or twice a month Margo’s mother has invited Becky to come along as Margo’s guest for a family dinner at a sort-of-nice restaurant in town. The dinners always left Becky a little perplexed but she dismissed the feelings Because she could not find the appropriate words to form the thoughts about the feelings, even in her own head. This being the case she never got around to saying anything about this to her mother. When mother would ask, Becky would talk about the food instead of the feelings she would bring back from the dinner experience with the Romanos.

“Yes, I decided to sneak in on Margo instead of calling out to her. When I looked in through the screen door I saw Margo kneeling on the floor. She had her hands stretched out infront of her and I saw her daddy loading her arms with heavy books.”

“You mean that it was like some kind of punishment?” her mother asked.

“Yes, exactly. It had to be. Margo looked sad and scared but she had her arms stretched out and her daddy kept putting book after book for her to hold in her outstretched arms. At one point, Margo got tired so she relaxed her buttom on the back of her legs and her daddy hit her on her back with a book,” replied Becky suppressing fresh tears that burned to come out.

“And you saw all that? ” her mother asked holding her daughter’s hand with one hand and wiping a tear off her own face with the other.

“Yes. But the worst part is that Margo saw me looking. I think that I will never be able to face her again. I am embarrassed to have seen what I saw. And I am sure that Margo is embarrassed for it as well.” Becky’s words punctuated the conversation and a long silence, thick as a morning mist, permeated the room. Her mother didn’t know what to make of the situation. And she didn’t want to say something out of place without thinking things over first, so mother and daughter just sat there on the floor.

In the year since they have been neighbors the mothers have not become close. They have exchanged pleasantries but unlike the girls, their relationship hasn’t advanced beyond that. For starters, Mrs. Romano, Margo’s mother is a career woman. She works from 9:00 – 5:00, sometimes later and like the rest of the neighborhood, Becky’s mother refrains from approaching Mrs. Romano to allow her the space she and the neighbors think she needs. Come to think of it, besides attending Mass with her family on Sundays and the occasional dinners out in town, Mrs. Romano seldom participates in anything in the community. Mr. Romano, on the other hand, works from home. According to Margo he is a translator of German Novels. He is at home all the time and it is he who attends to Margo and her younger sister when they return home from school. He is very polite yet reserved with the neighbors. He attends school meetings but doesn’t socialize with anyone at school. According to Becky, the Romanos move to a new town every two years or so and before coming to Macondo, they lived in Los Alamos. Apart from that, no one knows anything else about the family.

*****

“The abuser does not believe, however, that his level of authority over the children should be in any way connected to his actual level of effort or sacrifice on their behalf, or to how much knowledge he actually has about who they are or what is going on in their lives. He considers it his right to make the ultimate determination of what is good for them even if he doesn’t attend to their needs or even if he only contributes to those aspects of child care that he enjoys or that make him look like a great dad in public.” ― Lundy Bancroft Bancroft

The Fabric of our Lives

 

That evening there were twelve kids at our lawn party. The grownups were noisily conversing, or arguing with each other, as it had seemed to us kids, to notice that the littlest boy was eating away at the candy from the colorful bottle he found next to the ketchup and the relish on the food table. Some of us had already gotten used to seeing that plastic bottle sitting on tables at every party that it made us think that not having it meant a lack of proper hospitality to our neighbors.  On one similar occasion, we had been made to understand that we were only allowed to have one tablet for the entirety of an evening. The tablets contained in the bottle came in all different colors and each color was a different flavor. Leonora and I were fond of the color purple and we each took one of the grape flavored tablets when offered.  The tablet wasn’t caramelized like hard candy and neither did it dissolve easily in our mouths. Yet its sweet flavor was released slowly enough to entice even the young palate of children. The part about these being for heartburn and sour stomach, never registered as anything other than grown up talk, as none of us knew what having a sour stomach or heartburn even meant.

Leonora and I lived nextdoor to each other on a street closest to the beach. Never did a day go by without I going over to Leonora’s house, or she coming over to mine. Our houses were separated in the middle by a green mesh fence that was removable. Long iron poles with hooks at the top and at the bottom held the mesh in place. The mesh ran all the way around the four corners of our yards. Our families each raised chickens and they didn’t want our chickens to roam too far away from their respective coops. This fence was a good fence. At times it acted as a great net for when Leonora and I played badminton and also for secretly calling out to each other when we didn’t want anyone else to hear us calling. A few simple kicks in the right place and our suzus would ring out with secret messages to one another. Some messages would say ‘meet you at the library or at the park in 10 minutes’, or ‘I’m angry or sad’, or just plain-old ‘wanna come over’.  We referred to our fence as our very own Morse-code device.

Our parents were friendly to each other as well, but they didn’t have a way to calling out to each other like we did. Our mothers would stand close to the fence and talk and laugh with each other, but that’s all they would do. Except that on some special occasions like national holidays or long weekends, we’d shu all the chickens in after their morning strolls around the yard, lock the coops and roll back the fence on the side where we shared a green lawn. Our parents loved to have cookouts. They would set tables to sit our two families and sometimes they’d even invite one or two other families. Then there were the other tables on which they’d place the food and drinks for that day. Both Leonora and I liked it when our families did this, as then we were allowed to stay out longer than usual without having to think about whose turn it was to do the dishes or to empty the trash cans or tiresome decisions like that. We would eat and drink as much as we wanted and we’d play games as long as we could.

The food was always very good, but it always disturbed us to see our parents and all the other grown-ups eat too much and drink too much of everything.

“This is an amazing party,” the other kids would say at regular intervals, and then we’d move on to continue playing our childish games.

I really don’t remember when or who it was that introduced our family to our first bottle of whatever that was, but I remember that the introduction was followed by  “It’s what they take in such and such a country for heartburn and sour stomach”.  Since then, that good old bottle of whatever that was has been an integral part of all our celebrations.

Minutes later, Mrs. Garcia was running behind Mr. Garcia who carried little Marvin curled up and unconscious in his arms. In her haste, Mrs. Garcia left her shoes behind in the yard. Mother found them and had me and Leonora run after Mrs. Garcia to return the shoes.

The couple and the boy were nowhere in sight. Stopping by their house revealed to us that home was not where they had headed to with their child.

“Let’s go to the hospital,” I said to Leonora.

The Macondo hospital wasn’t  far from where we lived, so holding on to one shoe each, we raced each other to get there. A full day out in the sun and now the exercise found us gasping for fresh air when we arrived.  We gulped down a big breath of air to replenish our starved lungs but copious amounts of  Dettol, Bleach, pee and Pledge furniture polish scurried in instead. It wasn’t a pleasant smell.  Neither Leonora nor I had ever been in the emergency room before, so the unfamiliarity of the smell and the place had us feeling light-headed and weak at the knees. We determined to take short sporadically paced breaths and sat there and waited.

People came and went in the emergency -room, yet no one seemed available enough for making a quick inquiry about the whereabouts of The Garcias.  We waited for a while longer thinking that perhaps The Garcias were being held up in consultation with a doctor, but they never emerged again.

“We’ve been here long enough already” Leonora reasoned after a while, “new patients have gone in and have left already. Perhaps The Garcias didn’t come here after all.”

On our return home, we had no energy for running.  An unfamiliar odor had impregnated our nostrils, and it seemed to have penetrated all the way up to the farthest recesses of our brains causing us to walk with lethargic movements. The early evening sea-breeze felt good on our foreheads but we refused to let it into our lungs for fear of what that salty combination would smell like. We each still carried a shoe in one hand just like before, but for some reason, the shoe too came to reek of the smelly emergency room. We held it with a little trepidation then.

The adults had cleaned the place up well, put all the garbage in bags and left-over food had been properly distributed among the families. The tables were folded and returned to the shed, and the mesh fence had been hung back to the poles like before. There was no news of little Marvin or his family. The women had collected all the tablets that were scattered on the ground and they noticed that the yellow tablets were fewer than the other colors. No one dared say what this could mean so they said nothing for fear that the possibility could be true.

That evening the party disbanded with a shadow hanging over every adult.”Please God,” they prayed, “don’t let this be true.”

 

 

 

This Old House

Aww what a mesmerizing sight, I heard myself saying in a voice that wasn’t my own. All the hues of red and brown and Crimson right before my eyes, again that was not my voice.
And this feeling, how can we be flying like this and not feel the autumn chill.  I remember thinking that.
We were gliding over a red barn surrounded by trees. I was not alone. I could feel my companion’s presence but couldn’t see her face. In a weird way, I knew I didn’t need to look. I already knew it was Valerie Moore.

I opened my eyes slightly and saw the silhouette figure of my mother in the dark.
“Risa, I told you that rain was predicted for tonight and asked you to lock the windows. For once I’d like to get a good night’s sleep without having to be bothered by things that I specifically ask you girls to do. One of these nights someone is going to come through that window and take you away quietly. Spare yourselves and me of such an awful ordeal or I’ll buy a lock and those windows will stay closed forever”.
Mom said all that in one go. That was just like her. Always saying things the grownup way. Only she would have the stamina for such a discourse in the middle of the night. Mom was talking to Risa but Risa didn’t budge.

Feeling exhilarated from the dream I was just dreaming I tried not to listen to her words for fear of losing the feeling I was trying to hold on to in my autumn dream.
Valerie Moore was my childhood penpal. We started corresponding before the end of the school year in Third Grade. This particular evening I had just received a letter from her. Valerie lived in Wisconsin. She had a cherry orchard and she had a pony she called Cubby. She and I were 8 years old and both of us had birthdays in September.
Every letter she wrote to me was riddled with eraser holes and consisted of ugly pages carelessly torn out from big writing pads. She told me about learning to milk their cows, and about driving a tractor and about picking cherries.
I have never been cherry-picking and much less never milked a cow in my life.
This time she told me about fall coming and described a foliage scene behind her farm that it stayed in my mind all evening only to resurface in my dream that damp rainy night. In fact, the words I had uttered in my dream had come directly from Valerie’s letter.

The stairs leading up to the attic were dark and narrow and cold. They were enclosed in a small upward-going tunnel and they swerved round so that you couldn’t see if someone was coming down or going up until you were right smack in front of them. It was void of day light and lacked a light switch and even a light bulb for that matter.
Risa and I shared a room up there but I had had no say in the matter. My mother, suspecting my sister to be up to something, used me as a bargaining condition.

“…only if you agree to share the space with your sister,” mother bargained assured that Risa would soon give up the idea. And when Risa said ok without a moment’s hesitation, mother couldn’t go back on her word. And so it was that I ended up sleeping in the attic.

Risa chose the attic because of the way it felt so disconnected from the rest of the house. Perhaps it was because the stairs were completely encapsulated, but once upstairs one could not hear anything going on downstairs. And vice versa. I didn’t like being upstairs but once upstairs I dreaded going down those stairs. I always got the distinct feeling that I was about to bump into a ghost.

We had two beds. Mine was closest to the stairs and Risa’s was next to the windows. Mom let me have a small table next to my bed and on it I kept a small glow-in-the-dark lamp. But the lamp hardly got any real light from outside or from the one dim light bulb that illuminated the room. In order to get any use of the glow, I had to wait for Risa to be in the room for a few minutes before going upstairs. Once under my covers, Risa would turn off the light and then I would get my glow. Good thing was that I fell asleep right away even before the lamp lost its glow.

There were no partitions between our beds so Risa spent her allowance on thick silk ribbons that she thumbtacked to the ceiling boards; I mean lots and lots of ribbons. She made it so that from the top of the stairs, one couldn’t see her bed and also from my bed I couldn’t see her bed. The ribbons were of all different colors and they cascaded from the low ceiling all the way to the floor. During the day I loved looking at the ribbons swaying with the wind, but at night the ribbons grazing against my face or any part of my body, sent shivers down my spine. They scared me.

That night, the rains came strong. There was thunder and there was lightening.
The old house moaned, the old house groaned; the old window blinds rattled uncontrollably. Shrrrrrrooweeee shrrrrrooweeeee rushed in the wind through small openings on the window frame. Oh that howling; how angry that wind sounded. I needed my mother but I was afraid to descend the stairs.
I called out to Risa but she paid me no mind. Closer and closer to her bed I went until I was right above her. She laid on her side, still as a corpse. I could see the shape of her body and even her hair but her face lay hidden under the blanket.
“Can I sleep with you,” I whispered in a groggy voice.
“I’m sssc– scared, ” I moaned still trying to sound strong. I touched her shoulder to shake her but there was no shoulder where a shoulder was supposed to have been. I ran my hand over her body but there was no body there either. And scary as that was, I snatched off the light blanket only to find that two cushions laid where Risa was supposed to have laid.

At that revelation, my eyes got forced open. These didn’t feel like my eyes. The area around my eyes was being held wide open by cold fingers that even my eyeballs felt cold. I couldn’t manage a blink. My mouth flew open as if the ligaments in my neck had been wound too tightly. I screamed but the scream was only coming from inside my head. My voice had deserted me. Almost without thinking I scurried over to the stairs and stomped down the dark stairs as if the ON button had just been turned-on inside me. No time for knocking. I flung the door open. I got to mother’s side of the bed and yanked the covers off of her. I still couldn’t get my eyes to blink or my neck to release the pull it had on my open mouth. I started slapping mother. This woke my father too. He jumped out of bed and turned on the big light in the room. As if this was the cue that I had been waiting for, a loud insistent wailing bubbled from within me. I started to shake uncontrollably and burning tears splattered from my eyes all at once. My voice was incoherent and husky so with exaggerated hand gestures I tried telling them about Risa. But my parents couldn’t understand. I dragged them to the stairs and pushed them towards the attic. Mom got to the top first.
“Risa,” called my mother in that voice she used to let us know that we were in trouble.
“Risa get out here this minute. Risaaaaa! 

But there was no Risa…

How do you put up with allergies?

Not asking for sympathy; just sharing.

And yes, it’s ok to laugh…

How are you today?

As for me, I’m getting ready to face the new season with a little trepidation of sorts. It’s funny (actually, there’s nothing funny about it really) how you can be excited about the arrival of a new season and at the same time dread the same.

I worked hard on my garden last year and the thought of spring visiting me and my garden has had me in a yippee-ki-yay mood. Yeah, it deserves reiterating for optimum impact: I’ve been ever so excited about Spring this year even disregarding the memory of allergies that accompany it until the pang that is rampant in my chest (I mistook it for excitement at first) explodes into uncontrollable sneezing. But unlike the relief one feels after a sneeze, this time the relief never comes. And worst still is the hazy lethargic feeling in my head that though silent, sounds so noisy and itchy inside.

So yes, I have a real love/hate; hate/love (?) relationship with spring.

Not my most dignified-self to want to be around with but yet still my most authentic self!! I have no other.

I hope you’re spared. I honestly hope that allergies aren’t part of your day in day out routine. I certainly don’t wish this on anyone.

With a head that feels like an apartment where the guy upstairs walks up and down on creaky floors all day long, a red nose that resembles a leaky faucet and sensitive ears directly connected with your nostrils and palate, (we know they’re all connected but bet you’ve never “felt” it). Today even the antics of my beloved Don Quixote can’t bring me relief. Can’t get any reading done right now. Darn!

In hopes of conquering spring allergies, last year I started a couple of regimens, so add disbelief to the pang I feel in my chest and you’ll have a better idea of how delirious this feels.

But now I’m wondering if the exertion that comes with every sneeze qualifies as exercise. Perhaps I should ask Dr. Oz? I’d argue that it qualifies. Because at the end of the day my muscles are sore. So let me sit here and spend the day exercising… I’ll emerge healthier for it!!

Skies are cloudless again today. Quite picturesque but a curse for those like me. I think I’ll go gulp down some hot tea. Perhaps that will numb my nostrils somehow and bring some quiet in my head.

Incidentally, in this part of the world, mouth masks are an accepted item with no diminishing qualities to the dress code. So I’ll make sure to get me an ample supply.

Writing to you today was the highlight of my day. Thanks for allowing me to release this way.

Hope yours is a pleasant one. Count your blessings. Good Night.