Friday, March 20, 2009

Maggy, 1st chapter

Gifts from Maggy

Lucy, my dog, sprawls across my bed and I'm nearly swallowed by a small mountain of down pillows. I'm waking up, sipping my second mug of espresso with two tablespoons of sugar and hot milk and having my first bong hit of the day. Not exactly the breakfast of champions but I like it. The Young and the Restless is on TV and Nick Newman is thinking of sleeping with his slutty secretary, Grace, when Lucy springs up.

She comes to full alert all at once, from a snoozing dog to a tall standing, hackles up, silent attack dog. There's a slight rocking of the bed and the delicate tinkle of her various dog tags. I lean over and look out the second story window of my bedroom to the yard, sidewalk, and street below. Nothing. No dog walking by, no mailman, car, or pedestrian. Then, before I settle back into the pillows and take my second bong hit, I hear the unmistakable sound of the UPS truck's slight screech as it rounds the corner and pulls to a stop in front of the house. The minute it rounds the corner, Lucy is off the bed, down the stairs, at the door and waiting when the UPS guy hits the porch. The second his hand touches the screen door she barks once--deep, loud and with authority. He still has to open the screen door, cross an enclosed porch, ring the bell, and all the time Lucy growls and barks ferociously. It's the confident barking of a very competent watchdog. Both participants know this ritual. She acts tough. He believes her, drops his package, hits the bell, and runs like hell. It's always the same.

I have a cold that's gone bad. I dial my doctor's office and get a busy signal. Hit off. Redial. A commercial comes on and I go down to retrieve the box. It's a big one. I heft it to my hip and grab a knife from the kitchen on the way back upstairs.

I know the package is from Maggy. She sends at least two a month. Thanks to Maggy, Lucy and the UPS guy get to play their ritualized game. Now I have to play the same sort of game with Maggy--different rules, different players, but no less ritualized. After I open the package and sort through the treasures I will have to call her and comment on each piece with interest and enthusiasm, but most importantly my gratitude will have to sound real to her finely tuned ear. I have the rest of the day to prepare my remarks. I'll definitely bathe and change clothes today.

Today's boxes are better than most. These are her rejects from this past weekend's garage sale purchases. It's her obsession. There are five cashmere sweaters. I probably have fifty or sixty cashmere sweaters. I keep the best and pass on the rest of them to friends. This box also contains a pair of Gianni Versace beige suede pants, size 4 (I'm currently an 8 but one of my model friends will be able to wear them) a beaver top hat, some glitzy clip-on earrings, and two pairs of shoes size 7 1⁄2, (her size, not mine). The top hat is my favorite item in this box. I can work up some genuine enthusiasm over a beaver top hat. Who knows, I might want to dress-up like Marlene Dietrich some night.

She's always had the power to wipe me out--mistress as she is of the eviscerating tongue-lash. I know she's just an old woman, opinionated and imperious, alone and hardly much of a threat to me, really. Without me she has no single, aging daughter. Without me she’ll have no one to take care of her when she can't take care of herself. Because of her I have no child of any sex to love me or hate me. Without her I'm home free.

A lifetime of expensive psychotherapy has taught me I can give her the power to hurt me, or not. All the rationality in the world can't make me not fear her, though I still wish it were so simple, since it's hard to love someone you fear. And I do love her. I love her most satisfactorily at a distance. The greater the distance, the more I love her. Once or twice a year I wish her dead with about as much success as I wish I could love her in an uncomplicated way. Not painfully dead, but dead nonetheless.

I'd like to outlive her long enough to know what it is to be free of the need to suppress my rage and be nice, bite my tongue, keep my feelings to myself. I’m so tired of being told I stink and I talk too loud. She has always expected me to share her passions and her prejudices. (She hates fat people and feels entitled to berate them for their food choices in line at the grocery store, while I try to pretend I don't know her.) In person, she requires my undivided, adoring attention. If I don't get that just right it ends in her extravagant crocodile tears and recriminations. I must endure her long rambling critique of everything wrong with me--from my fiscal irresponsibility to my poor housekeeping skills. When I object, whatever the tone of my voice, she says, "Please don't yell, your voice hurts my ears." It's often the only thing she says, but waiting, in case I open my mouth and suck in air, as if to speak, there is the next thrust, "Why must we always talk about the past? You'll never be a grown-up if you can't stop living in the past. Get over it. Move on."

Last time she came to Salt Lake to visit me, my first impulse was to kill myself. Instead I called the therapist I keep in touch with for just such emergencies. It cost four hundred dollars in therapy sessions, canceled bookings (and a pissed off agent), doctor's visits and a new anti-depressant. I spent a month in bed recovering after she left. Usually I can anticipate her impulse to drop in on me and beat her to the draw by scheduling a short visit to Santa Barbara. I can stay in Yankee Farm with my friend Jack.

I'm not proud of this pathetic fear of my own mother; it's such a loathsome admission, and not entirely the truth. What I feel for Maggy has never been simple fear and it's certainly not uncomplicated. Maggy has never been just my mother. We've been rivals since my conception. I worship and fear her as only a powerless rival can. To most people she's a fabulous creature. She was to me too before I got to know her.

Maggy 2nd chapter

In the Beginning

It had to be a weekend day because Maggy was home. The boys had come and gone during the morning and early afternoon. It was warm enough that I was wearing a short-sleeved dress. It was before my fourth birthday. I was playing on the front porch when a man came up the stairs and rang the doorbell. The door was open but the screen was closed. Maggy yelled from the kitchen, "Come on in, the door's open."

He was looking at me and smiling. "Hi. Remember me? I'm a friend of your big brother's. My name’s Clark, remember? I used to live up the street with my family, remember? What's your name? I forgot."

Maggy had come to the screen and was listening to him. "Clark, how are you? I heard you enlisted in the Air Force. How're you liking it?"

"Fine, just fine, Ma'am. Is J.R. around? I've got a couple of days in town to visit family, and then who knows where?"

"J.R. should be back any minute. I was just going to run to the market, would you mind watching Judy while you wait for J.R.? I won't be long." She turned to me. "You remember Clark, don't you? I'll be right back."
"Can I go?"
"No, you slow me down."
"I can carry."
"No you can't. I'll just have to end up carrying you. Stop this! Clark will stay with you until J.R. gets home and besides I won't be gone more than a half an hour. That's nothing."

Clark looked at me and said, "I can do magic tricks." He kneeled down and looked over his shoulder at Maggy as she started down the steps. I watched her, too. Her hair was in a ponytail, and she wore a white sleeveless blouse. She had a small white purse in her hand. She didn't look back.

Then he stood up and walked to the southeast corner of the porch. He leaned against the stone and concrete pillar supporting the roof and said. "Wanna see something?"

I backed up toward the house and leaned against its river-stone wall and rolled from shoulder to shoulder feeling the bumpy surface. I stuck my thumb in my mouth and stared at him.
"I've got a surprise in my pocket and if you can reach it, it's all yours."
"A penny?"
"You'll have to reach in to find out."
I looked from his pants pocket to his face. He was smiling and his arms were spread wide, palms turned up. He whistled tunelessly and looked around. He shrugged his shoulders and looked down from pocket to pocket.

I inched my way around the porch from the front window to the east side of the house, edging closer until I faced him in the corner. I reached my hand up but could barely grab hold of his pocket with my fingers.

He said, "Here, let me give you a boost." He put his hands around my waist and slid me up his leg until I could slip my arm down into the depths of his pocket. I felt around. There was a crusty wadded up hankie, a piece of paper, and a coin. I closed my fingers on the coin and pulled out my fist. He said, "Let's see what you got," and set me down. I opened my hand and found a coin smaller than a penny and a few bits of lint. The coin was shiny and silver. I looked up and said, "It's not a penny."
"No, it's better than a penny, it's worth ten pennies."
"I want a penny."
"I've got something else that's better than a penny."
"It's a little animal."
"A kitty?"
"Better than a kitty. Come on and I'll show you."
"A duck?"
I took a couple of steps toward him and he reached out and pulled me closer. Then he picked me up and moved a little to the right until his butt was resting on the ledge, one foot on the floor and the other dangling. He sat me on his lap and held me with his right arm. With his left hand he stroked his left leg, high up on the thigh. A bump wiggled there. He said, "That's my little animal, wanna touch it?"
I shook my head no.
He said, "Look, I can make it jump. He ran the flat of his hand down the length of it and it jumped.
I leaned back in his right arm and laughed.
He said, "It won't hurt you. Honestly, you can touch it. Here, I'll put you down. You get right in front of me and reach up. It won't bite."
He gently slid me down so that I was positioned right in front of him. That lumpy, jumpy animal was above my face. He said, "Go ahead and touch it."
I reached out my finger and poked it gently. Nothing happened. "Why don't you try petting it like you would a kitty?"
I patted it softly and it jumped. I pulled my hand back and he said, "That's okay, you can pet it, he likes that." So I reached up and rubbed it. It moved again and it was warm. He said. "Wanna see it?"

I looked up at his smiling face, his eyebrows raised in anticipation of showing me his animal. I shook my head up and down. He said, "I can't take it out on the porch, I'm afraid it'll run away. Let's go inside." He took me by the hand and led me to the screen door, opened it and gently pushed me in before him.

He told me to lie down on the rug in front of the sofa. Then he kneeled down at my feet and unzipped his pants. He said, "Here, move your legs a little so I can get him closer to you. I don't want him to get lost in here. Now close your eyes. He's shy." He moved forward on his knees, bent down, reached up and pulled my panties down around my ankles where they got hung up on my shoes. He got them off one leg, and then he put something very warm and smooth on my tummy and wiggled it back and forth. I was nervous with my eyes closed, but it didn't hurt. Then he pushed it at my peepee and it hurt. I opened my eyes and said, "Ow, that hurt!" I tried to scoot away from him, but he pulled me toward his animal and tried to push it in my peepee. I screamed, and he put his hand over my mouth and tried to put his animal in my bum. Then the back door screen slammed. And he was running. And the front door screen slammed. And he was gone.

Maggy came into the living room after setting her package on the kitchen table. She said, "Judy, what the hell are you bawling about?"

I was curled up facing the sofa, blubbering. Snot and tears streaked my face. My dress was bunched up under my arms and my panties wadded around one ankle. I just kept sobbing. She came around the sofa, sat down and looked at me for a minute. Then she said, "I know what will make you feel better. We'll go on a picnic at Lindsey Gardens. I'll make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Now put your panties on and come help me. We'll wash your hands and face and you can put the jelly on."

I don't remember fixing sandwiches or walking to Lindsey Gardens, but I do remember having to pee. She said, "Just go over there behind that bush, no one will see you. Don't pee on your shoes."

I don't remember the bush or the picnic blanket, or anything else, but I do remember the burning. There was fire in my pee. I screamed and hobbled over to her, pulling my panties up and crying. She said, "That's what happens when you let boys do things like that. Don't ever let a boy do that to you again!"

I don't think Maggy told anyone about what happened to me. I do remember listening to screaming arguments between Maggy and Chuck about my behavior. I was afraid to be left alone, unless I was securely locked in the upstairs bathroom, and even though I could unlock the door, I wouldn't. Not for anyone. They kept a ladder on the west side of the house and left the bathroom window unlocked, which was too high for me to reach. Then my brothers told me that the Boogieman lived in the toilet. I found another hiding place, and started to wet my bed.

This bad behavior of mine ignited tempers in the adults. I became a problem for everyone. All I wanted to do was hide. But even late at night there was no hiding from fighting. It would simmer at the dinner table until I made some kind of mess. I might drop peas in my lap, or knock over my milk, and my father would swear, shout, and send me from the table. This dinner event would set the tone for the rest of the evening, until finally, exhausted, they all gave up bickering, went to bed, and silence would descend on the house. It was then, in the quiet of the night, with everyone at home, that I felt safe. But it was a rare night when we were all at home together at the same time. Most times JR and Pat went out after dinner.

Things got quiet for a little while after the big boys left. John spent his evenings at home in his room working on airplane models, and I was not allowed to bother him, but I wouldn't have anyway. All the boys had made it clear to me I wasn't welcome in their rooms. They had been mean to me in so many ways; I had long since stopped pestering them for attention. Chuck went out almost every night. His leaving was almost always accompanied by a lot of yelling. And if Maggy went out too, I was, in the core of my small self, alone in the house. John might actually be in the house with me, but even so, I was alone. It scared me so much to be alone in that big house with the boogieman in the toilet, and mean men outside who could just walk in the door and hurt me with their animals any way they wanted to, and it would be my fault.

One night, late, after all the boys had gone to bed, and the house was calm and quiet, Chuck came home and started shouting the minute he opened the front door. He yelled, "Maggy! Get your ass down here and fix me something to eat." In the silence that followed it sounded like everyone was holding their breath. Then he shouted, "Bitch!" And I heard his heavy clomping as he stomped up the stairs. I could hear his voice, but not the words. Then I heard her voice, loud and angry. "Shut up! You'll wake everybody." There was more indistinct shouting and then the sound of scuffling as they progressed down the hall, with curses back and forth. Then the noise of them coming down the stairs--his shoes loud on the hardwood, her voice saying, "No, stop it! You bastard! You're hurting me! Stop it!" Then a crashing sound and he said, "Get up, you stupid bitch!" By the time they entered the kitchen, one thin wall from my bed, I was trembling, thumb jammed into my mouth, eyes shut tight. I could hear her bare feet like little slaps walk to the table, a chair scrape across the floor. I heard him walk to the fridge and the door yanked open, then the sound of one bowl after another hit the floor. I heard breaking glass and a wet, squishy sound as the contents of the fridge were emptied onto the kitchen floor. She would say, "Shit," or "Stop this," but I was sure she was just sitting at the kitchen table smoking, while he dumped everything on the floor. He screamed, "Get up, you fucking bitch," and I heard the chair topple and her knees hit the floor. There were sounds of wrestling on the floor, like something the boys would do. She says, "No" over and over. He calls her names like, "Stupid fucking cow," and "bitch" over and over. Then he shouts, "Clean up this mess you worthless cunt!" and I hear his hard shoes stomp out of the kitchen and across the dinning room and then clomp, clomp, up the stairs, down the hall, and their bedroom door slams.

Then the only sounds are the quiet ones Maggy makes as she runs water in a bucket. The soft grating sounds as she scrapes the gobs of wet food off the floor and slops it in the trash. The soft muffled sound of a cloth swishing back and forth. Water gurgles down the drain. She picks up the chair and sits down. I hear her Zippo click, hear her intake of breath, a pause, her exhale. I hear my own heart beating. If she were not so fierce, I would want to comfort her. I know how to comfort. You put your arms around the one you love and say, "There, there. It'll be okay. I love you." I cannot tell you how I know this. It has never happened in our house.

In the fall of 1948, Maggy found me a nursery school for disturbed children.