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"I write what I see, and it comes from the heart." .....Jon C. Randall
[A True Story]
I hated Saturdays. Instead of going out to play, it was one of my Saturday duties to scrub the upstairs floors, the wooden basement steps, and the dreaded basements' floor, with a bucket of ammonia water and brush. The open wooden back door at the top of those stairs beckoned me to leave. I watched, through the glass of the storm door, the large puffs of clouds floating in great majesty against the deep blue sky, that bright sunny day. Oh, I wanted to go, to feel the freedom of that day in my youth. But there was no freedom for fear sorrow, and my loneliness. The closest I would enjoy the fresh air in the warmth of the sun, would be when I could go out later, to pick up the pebbles and stones off our barren, dirt backyard. I would drop these into a bucket, then place them on a pile that separated our dirt from the deep, rich, black soil of a Wisconsin farm that bordered our yard.
As I scrubbed, my thoughts wandered down into that basement, where I recalled the countless times my younger brother Gary; or Gail and Janice, my two younger sisters; would be required to slap me in the face as I stood erect. One hundred times. Two hundred times. Five hundred times. Each stroke of that slap counted loudly by them to fulfill the punishment deemed necessary by my mother Kay, for whatever infraction I did to incur her anger. I tried not to cry, but saved that for when I sat on the stripped, barren metal bed down there, talking or humming a dirge in sorrow to the black cat. I was too young to remember where he came from, only that he was there when I needed him. I stroked him in my tears as I rocked in the pain of my soul. He was my best friend, the only one I had, and could talk to.
While scrubbing another step, I glanced out the storm door and saw a face made of a cloud. It stopped me. "Is that the face of God?" I wondered to myself. It neither smiled, nor appeared angry. It was just there. I felt pleasant about it, and watched it for a while, seeing it slowly break up as it drifted in the wind. My reverie was shattered by Kay's voice.
"Are you working?" Kay barked.
"Yes ma'am," I responded, and then continued with my scrubbing.
"Well I didn't hear you, you had better be working!"
It was only Kay, or George, never Mother, nor Father. I glanced once more, but never saw that face again.
My first memory of the violence took place several years back when Janice, the youngest, was in a playpen. For the first time I noticed a clear plastic ball, filled with a liquid and some objects. These brightly colored objects could be moved through holes in the different levels inside that sphere. It fascinated me. I reached into the playpen and got that ball to look at. I sat down right there, totally absorbed. I never saw anything like that before. The next moment I was jerked up to my feet, with Kay screaming in my face, telling me "never touch anything of the girls' toys again." Then she held my hands out as she beat the backs of them severely with the spike of a high heeled shoe, then sent me to my room. I sat on the edge of my bed rocking, with my hands under my armpits, hoping to ease the pain of my now swollen hands. I whimpered or hummed with tears streaming down my face. The intensity of the throbbing pain grew so unbearable that I had to pace the floor, trying to get my mind off the agony. As I paced, I would hum or sing softly, but it never helped, and sat back on the bed rocking. There would be many times I would repeat this walk of agony in my youth.
We moved quite frequently, there in Wisconsin, mostly around Milwaukee or the smaller towns around it. I never really made any friends, except the books. They helped me to escape the thoughts of the beatings by the boards, the belts, and broomstick handles; or the many walks in the snow in my bare feet to clean mud off the boots with snow with my bare hands; or other forms of torture in the guise of punishment. I got lost in these books, intensely becoming a part of the story I was reading, my whole total concentration absorbed in them. I read often. From Homer to Einstein; William L. Shirer; Exodus and Warsaw; Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone; The Alamo; or George Armstrong Custer; there was nothing I didn't want to, or couldn't read. In them, I learned of the many types of sieges against the spirit of man, and indomitable rise above that siege through that spirit in man, whether in life, or through death. These gave inspiration for the many times I led a charge, whether on the playground or in a massive snowball fight, by those things I learned, leading those around me to the glorious battle ahead.
This intensity of concentration extended to television, where I would shut out all sounds around me and became part of the program. I then daydreamed I was with Donna Reed, or Harriet Nelson, being held by them, as they caressed, and loved me, kissing me tenderly on the forehead with a mothers' gentle touch and love.
During that time I remember my brother Gary and I were on a playground in a schoolyard in Milwaukee. Some older boys came up and demanded that I climb the school roof to get their ball they had hit up there.
"I can't go up there, I'm too small," I refused. Then they grabbed Gary and put a knife to his throat.
"You go up there and get our ball, or I'm going to cut his throat," one of them said. "You'll find a ladder in the back of the building."
I went up, finding the access ladder in the back. I looked all around the roof, but never saw the ball.
"It's not up here," I yelled, as I looked over the edge at them. They appeared so small to me. They still had Gary.
"It's down on the roof on the other side," one of them shouted, pointing in a direction that was to my left. I went to the edge and looked down. I saw another roof below me, what was a canopy to the entrance. The height scared me. I saw the ball lying in the gravel of that roof, amidst the loose concrete blocks.
"I can't get down there," I yelled back.
"Jump," someone shouted, and I saw Gary's head being raised higher by the knife.
I climbed over the edge, then hung to that edge by my hands. I saw below me the concrete blocks, and I tried to pull myself back up. I couldn't. So I let go. The impact sent searing pain in my right foot as I screamed out in agony.
"Throw the ball down," someone shouted, "throw the ball to us now!"
I crawled to the ball and threw it, then watched the three kids take off running, leaving my brother behind. I don't remember much after that, I guessed I blacked out several times. I remember talking once to a policeman and told him the story. I do not know how I got home or in bed. I woke up and found my foot wrapped in an ace bandage, and hurting like hell. I stayed there alone in bed for about a week, drifting in and out of sleep. The only person I saw was Kay. Then a voice of a strange lady comes into the house. I heard the words "County Social Worker," but didn't know what that meant. I heard Kay and her talking, but I never saw the woman. Once I heard Kay say, "He's faking." After that, the lady left. Kay came into the room and told me I needed to start walking. I protested, telling her it hurt and I couldn't.
"Get up and walk!" she screamed, "or I'll give you something you'll be hurting about!" meaning a beating.
I eased out of bed, and promptly collapsed to the floor in severe pain as soon as she commanded me to put weight on that foot. It was several more weeks before I was able to walk with a limp and pain I could handle.
In between the moves, Kay and George split up several times; Kay taking Gail and Janice, George taking Gary and I. When we were back together, usually in another place, one of the standing rules were that Gary and I would have to finish what we were eating exactly one hour after my sisters were finished. If we finished sooner, Kay would beat us. Another rule was Gary and I would always be required to walk several feet behind the girls, and couldn't talk to them. My sisters were on a pedestal, and never were touched. Gary caught some of the grief, but I bore the brunt of it. There wasn't much we could do, because our sisters were instructed to tell on us, by Kay. They did a good job at it too.
I wanted so badly for her to like me, but it never seemed that anything I could do would please her. So I changed my tactics. Once I stole a teacher's watch from school, bringing it home. I told Kay I found it, and was giving it to her for a present. That didn't work out, as the teacher called her. I caught hell that night. I brought home from school a wax candle in the form of a duck. It was store bought, in yellow and white. Yet I told her I made it for her. That didn't work either.
One day, I took one of my sisters' dresses and hid it under my bed. My aunt and uncle were over that night, and we kids went to bed early. I listened carefully to the sounds of the talking and laughing, and my brother snoring in his bed. I slipped on the dress in the dark, and felt both giddy and highly fearful. My mouth was extremely dry, and I could hear the beating of my heart loudly in my ears. I heard Kay walking in her high heels towards the room, and I rapidly pulled off the dress. I was trying to shove it down under the covers with my feet, when the door opened and the light came on.
"What is going on here? Kay asked, "why aren't you asleep?"
I heard my brother slowly waking up. I didn't answer, but pretended I was asleep. All of a sudden, I felt the covers yanked off of me, and I pretended to just wake up.
"What is this dress doing here?" Kay demanded.
I couldn't answer.
"Put it on and wear it tonight," she commanded, "and I'll deal with you in the morning!"
I didn't want to get up the next morning, and stayed in bed as long as I could. The sun was up for hours. Kay came in and told me to get up, and leave the sailor dress on. She also threw a pair of pink, rosebud panties at me, instructing me to put them on as well. I didn't do it, but stayed in the room after she left.
"Are you ready?" she asked.
I didn't answer.
"Come out here now!" with a sharp command in her voice.
"Have you got your panties on?"
"Where are they?" she queried.
"They are still in the bedroom ma'am."
"Go get them and bring them to me."
I went back to the bedroom and pulled them from under the covers and brought them to her.
"Since you want to be a little girl, you're going to have to wear these," as she kneeled and held them open.
"Put them on!"
I hesitated and took a step back.
"Either you put them on now, or I'll give you a beating you'll remember for the rest of your life," Kay quietly threatened.
I stepped forward and put my left hand on her shoulder to steady myself, and stepped into the held open pair of panties. Kay pulled them up, then pulled down and adjusted the skirt of that dress.
As Kay stood up, "Now turn around fully in a circle, I want to see the little girl," she said in sweet sarcasm.
Kay mocked me all that morning, and made me curtsy before my sisters and her. Then she told my sisters to parade me in the back yard, walking between them as they held my arms. I didn't want to go out, and started crying and hollering. I remember the neighbor opening his back door and staring at me, as I was paraded back and forth, still crying. I was ashamed. Later, we were called back into the house. After changing my clothes, Kay threatened me one more time.
"Do you want your sisters to tell everyone in school that you are wearing pink, rosebud panties?"
They did anyway. I had a hard time explaining to the other kids that I was wearing regular underwear; and saying my sisters were making the story up.
I don't know when I crossed the line from wanting her love and affection, to hating her, which also bled over to my sisters. There were countless times that I ran away from home to escape her fury and her wrath. I was always brought back in fear, terror, and trembling. Later in life, I would cross the line once again, this time to forgive her. I could say the same thing about George. What little I saw of him, was when he was drunk, which was most of the time; or I would have to rub his back when he watched baseball games. He rarely hit me, because he wasn't home most of the time since he was a union painter and traveled a lot; so Kay never worked, staying home to take care of us. The one time he did hit me during one of his drunken stupors, he almost took my right ear off. I was sticking his hunting knife into the floor, and stuck it in my toe. He found out about it when he got home. What got him mad was that a brass screw came out and I lost it. So did he.
The last final act of anger Kay did to me was when I stopped the housecleaning I was doing, and started bouncing a volleyball in our upstairs apartment. The ball sailed through an open window, just before she come home, and the screen fell out. When she came upstairs, she saw the open window with no screen, and my sisters told on me. She was furious. After slapping me around for long while, I was to go back scrubbing baseboards. Kay came back into the living room where I was hunched over the baseboard while cleaning them. She then proceeded to pour the full, freshly made, pot of hot coffee down my back. When I tried to get my pajama top off the next morning, it was stuck to my back. She ripped it off for me.
The last time I saw Kay was when she told Gary and I to stay in our room. If we left it, we would be severely beaten. I heard the sounds of cars pulling in and doors slamming, with people going back and forth. Then it got real quiet. Gary and I waited several hours, then I peeked out into the darkened house after slowly opening the bedroom door. Turning on the lights, I saw that Kay and my sisters were gone. Looking around room to room, most of their things were gone. Several hours later George came home, demanding to know what happened.
The next few months were a blur of the making of candles to see in the dark because of no electricity; the cooking of mashed potatoes and steaks as required by George; the moving to another home; the naked woman in bed, a friend of George, who wanted Gary and I to touch and fondle her in the dark under the covers; the several court scenes; my having to testify against my father to some social workers; the brief time we lived with our aunt and uncle where my cousins and I fought, and where Gary and I nearly killed each other; we both being sent back to George; and the day they took Gary and I away from our father and split us up.
Gary went to a foster home. I went on a long drive in silence with a lady social worker to central Wisconsin, to be placed in the Winnebago Childrens' Home, a type of orphanage. There I entered high school and the years passed. Near the final years of high school, I was placed in a foster home. It was my first exposure to love. I didn't know how to handle it, so I ran from it, though wanting it so desperately. They found me in Florida. After a year and a half with them, they put me out on my own. I graduated high school, and was starting college. One day two F.B.I. agents showed up and gave me a choice. Because I bounced a small check, they told me I would have to go to jail, or in the service; making a big investigation out of an innocent mistake in judgment. They took advantage of my ignorance. I volunteered for the latter, and went to war in Vietnam. During that time, I legally changed my name.
In my third tour of duty in the war zone, my Commanding Officer called me into his office.
"Son," he said, "the Red Cross has been trying to reach you for some time now. It seems that they had a problem finding and tracking you down because you had changed your name," as he gave me a telegram. I could see his questions in his eyes, but I chose not to answer. I carefully read the words printed on it, several times. "If you are our brother, call collect! Signed; Gail, Janice, and Gary."
It had been many long years since I've seen them. I didn't know what to feel. I was excited, yet disturbed within. I made the call and arraigned for leave, flying to Milwaukee to see them. Gail let me stay in her apartment while Mike, her police officer husband, stayed pretty much in the background. We talked. Janice flew in and out, telling me of her impending marriage to a nightclub owner. I saw her but briefly. Gary and I went once on a long walk. He told me that Kay was living in town, but she wouldn't let him come over to see her. She did not want to see me as well. The last time he saw George years ago, when George left to hitchhike to California, looking for work. Gary said George was in bad shape when he saw him last. Gary had also been to 'Nam for a tour of duty, at a place called Monkey Mountain. He now was selling insurance at that time and had to go back to work. So we said our good-byes.
During the few days I had there, though Gail and I talked quietly and extensively, there was no closeness there, mostly politeness. She asked me about my plans, and told me hers. During one conversation, she looked at me seriously.
"If I tell you something, will you promise not to tell anyone? And if you do, I'll swear I never said it."
Gail started; "Have you wondered why Kay was so hard to you, and hated you?" She paused.
"You were born out of wedlock, and she didn't want you around."
"Is that why I'm the only one to have green eyes and sandy brown hair, while everyone else in the family has dark hair and dark brown eyes?" I asked.
She nodded her head.
I guess I was grateful to understand the why, which confirmed something I felt inside. For some reason, I didn't feel attachment or closeness to my brother or sisters. I always stay aloof, ever watchful, never letting my guard down, making no friends. Somehow I felt pity for the woman named Kay who was my mother; and the man named George who had given me his name. My time was up. I had to go back to my war. As I left there, I never looked back, and have never seen them again.
.....to be continued.
© Copyright Jon C. Randall 1994
-All Rights Reserved-
(NOTE: This is a true story of my youth.)
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