My mom’s hobby was sewing, and she would always sew with a pattern. She had cases of patterns and a large, custom-made sewing center in her sewing room in our basement.
When I was about 10 or 11 years old, she used one of those patterns to make me a pair of shorts and a matching top out of yellow-and-white gingham fabric. The outfit had white rick-rack trim around the entire border of the shorts and top. The top was sleeveless, and its straps crisscrossed in the back like an X, with 2 large yellow buttons holding the X in place. My mother made the outfit for me to wear to one of the Saturday Republican fundraisers that my family frequently attended.
I was in my third-floor bedroom reading a Nancy Drew mystery when my youngest brother, Marc, came in to tell me Mom wanted me to come to the sewing room now. I immediately put down my book and hurried down to the basement.
“Try this on so I’ll know where to place the buttons on the top and so I can measure your waist for the elastic band on the shorts,” Mom commanded.
I put on the outfit and stood still and silent while my mother marked where the buttons would go and measured my waist. Looking at myself in the mirror of the downstairs bathroom, I thought, This looks like it’s for a six-year-old. Even though I didn’t say a word, my mother could tell by the look on my face that I didn’t care for the outfit.
“What is wrong?” she yelled. “I made this for you to wear to the Republican picnic Saturday.”
“I don’t like it,” I said quietly. Why those words came out of my mouth, I will never understand and would live to regret.
My mother grabbed me by the bangs of my hair and slammed me into the wooden tabletop that her sewing machine sat on, screaming, “You ungrateful bitch! I have been working all morning to make you a nice outfit to wear to the picnic and you don’t like it?”
“I like it,” I said through my tears. “I just think I’m too old to wear that outfit.”
“Get the hell out of here! Go to your room and do not come out!” she yelled.
Crying, I ran up the two flights of stairs and into my room, and closed the door.
At the time, my bedroom was furnished with white French provincial furniture: a double canopy bed, a chest of drawers with a mirror, a night stand, a vanity with a skirt my mother had made, and a large armoire. There was also a bean bag chair in the corner, and over it hung a yellow swag light shaped like a tulip and with a long brass chain. My comforter, bed skirt, and canopy top were in the same floral pattern, which, of course, perfectly matched the green shag carpet and wallpaper.
I looked in my mirror and could already see a large goose egg forming in the middle of my forehead where my mother had slammed me into the sewing center. I dropped across the bed and sobbed.
A few minutes later, my sobs came to an abrupt halt when the worst possible thing that could happen happened. … I heard my mother yell at my brothers to go outside and play. Then I heard her slamming shut all the windows in the house. That meant I was about to get beaten badly. She always closed the windows when she beat me because she didn’t want the neighbors to hear me screaming.
I lay in my bed shaking, knowing that at any moment my door would fly open and she would beat me. I wondered how bad it would be this time. I heard her stomping up the stairs, and my heart raced faster and faster as she got closer and closer as I curled into the fetal position. I heard her go into her room, and then suddenly, my door flung open and there she was, her face contorted in rage, my stepfather Gene’s white leather belt in her hand. The belt had a big gold buckle and was covered with small holes rimmed with gold metal.
Lifting the belt backward and above her head, she hit me repeatedly with the buckle end of the belt, striking my head, my back, and my legs over and over again. I was screaming and flailing all over the bed. When she had me cornered up against the headboard, I covered my face with my hands, and the buckle hit my forefinger so hard it felt like it broke. The buckle hit me so hard in the ear that it started ringing and hurt so much it was as if the pain in the rest of my body disappeared. The blows just kept coming and coming.
She’s going to kill me this time, I thought.
The entire time my mother was beating me, she was screaming at me what an ungrateful brat I was and how much she detested me.
“I’m sorry,” I kept saying. “I’m sorry.”
“You are not sorry!” she snarled. “I’m the sorry one. I’m sorry you are alive. I’m sorry you were ever born!”
Then, I heard one of the wooded slats on the bottom of the bed frame break, and the mattress fell downward and tilted toward the wall.
Jumping off the bed, my mother said, “Now look what you’ve done!”
She was panting hard with exhaustion from beating me. I was sobbing, and my ear was bleeding onto my perfect comforter that was now in a shambled mess.
My mom grabbed my books and threw them into the hallway. Then, she grabbed my stereo speakers and my card games off my shelf. Carrying them with her as she left the room, she turned at the doorway and looked at me with pure hatred in her eyes.
“Do not come out of this room for the rest of the day — not for anything! Do not take one step out of this room; don’t even open this door. Do you understand me?”
“Yes,” I whimpered as she slammed my door shut.
I lay on the bed sobbing and berating myself for making her angry. Why did I say that? Why didn’t I just keep quiet? Why didn’t I smile in the mirror and pretend I liked that stupid baby outfit?
After a while, I stopped crying and lay there as still as possible. The slightest movement increased the pain. Finally, I got up and looked in my mirror again, and just broke into sobs. My head had huge knots all over it. My ear was purple and swollen, and my face, neck, and blouse were covered in blood. Cuts and welts covered my back, legs, arms, and neck. My forefinger was huge and badly bruised. I wiggled it, wincing in pain but glad I could move it. That meant it wasn’t broken, I knew. Must be jammed, I thought.
I looked horrible and felt horrible. I wondered how long it would take for me to heal. I needed ice or a cold wet washcloth, but I knew I couldn’t leave my bedroom or ask my mother or brothers to get me either. I tried to lift up my mattress to see whether I could fix the broken slat underneath, but it was too heavy and my arms hurt too badly from the beating. So I grabbed my pillow, turned on my fan, snuggled into my beanbag chair, and went to sleep.
My mother’s yelling woke me up. “Do not go into Becki’s room!” she bellowed at my two brothers, both younger than me. “She is sick, and I don’t want you boys getting sick, too.”
“Is she throwing up?” Jimmy asked.
“Yes. She has the flu,” Mom lied.
It sounded like they were in their bedroom, which was next to mine. I got off the beanbag chair and went and placed my ear against my door so I could hear what else she was telling my brothers.
“Come downstairs where it is cool, boys, and have a popsicle and watch TV,” she said.
“Yay!” my brothers yelled in unison. Then, I heard them running down the stairs and saying what color popsicles they wanted.
I went back to the mirror to assess my injuries again and to see whether I could brush my mangled hair. I tried, but it hurt too much. The welts on my body were even more pronounced now, and some had cuts through them. My head, ear, and forefinger were throbbing with pain. I needed a cold washcloth and aspirin, which I knew was in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom across the hall from my room. I also needed to use the toilet. But my mother had ordered me not to leave my room — for anything. And I was terrified of what would happen if I did. But I really had to go to the bathroom.
How can I sneak out of my room and across the hall without Mom hearing me? I wondered, knowing the floor squeaked. If I could somehow get out of my room and into the bathroom without her hearing, I thought, I would use the toilet and leave the seat up and not flush or use toilet paper. That way, she would think one of my brothers had used the toilet, because they never flushed and always left the seat up. Then, maybe I could quietly run cold water over a washcloth, quickly grab a couple aspirins, and scoot back to my room. For at least 30 minutes, I plotted how to make a bathroom room undetected.
The doorbell rang, and I pressed my uninjured ear against my bedroom door. I heard my mother laughing and talking to her friend and our neighbor, June.
My chance to escape!
I went for it, knowing I had only a few minutes, at most. I used the toilet, didn’t use toilet paper, left the lid up. Turned on the water, grabbed 2 wash cloths, soaked them; not very cold, but it would have to do. Dumped a bunch of aspirins into the pocket of my shorts. Dashed back to my room. Closed the door ever so gently. Crept back to my bean bag chair and sat down. Phew. I made it. My heart was pounding like crazy the whole time. But I’d made it.
Suddenly, it hit me: How am I going to take the aspirin with no water to drink? I couldn’t risk another try for the bathroom. So I placed 2 aspirins in the back of my throat and sucked the water out of one of the washcloths.
By then, it was close to dinner time, and my stomach was growling. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Gene always worked late in the summer, so he would not be coming home anytime soon. I heard my mother call for my brothers to eat dinner; I knew I would not get any. She probably told my brothers that I couldn’t eat because I had the “flu” so they wouldn’t question anything. I was used to this; it was nothing new in my world of beatings.
Remembering I had some Ranger Rick magazines in my closet that I hadn’t read for a while, I grabbed a stack of those and lay back in my bean bag chair to read. It helped distract me from how hungry and sore I was.
A little while later, I heard my brothers in the bathtub, playing together and laughing. I listened while they moved around in their bedroom, probably putting on their pajamas, and went back downstairs.
It was close to dusk when I heard laughter outside. I peeked out of the corner of my window where the curtains swagged and saw my neighbor friends playing red light, green light — a game we all played outside on summer evenings, until it got dark and our parents would call us all in for the night. Sometimes, if it was a nice evening, they would let us stay out a little longer and catch fireflies. Watching my friends playing and laughing together, enjoying being kids on a warm summer evening while I was sequestered indefinitely in my room, made me feel really sad.
When I heard my mother tell my brothers it was time for them to go to bed, I quickly stepped away from the window. I had just sat back down in my bean bag chair when the door opened. I held my breath and my heart pounded wildly as my mother walked into my room and toward me.
Leaning menacingly over me and pointing her finger directly on my nose, she hissed, “Do not come out of this room tonight. At all. For anything.”
“Okay,” I whispered.
After she walked out, slamming the door behind her, my heart continued to pound for several minutes.
Soon after, I heard Gene’s car pull into the driveway. I got up and pressed my ear against my door again so I could hear what they would talk about when he came into the house. I couldn’t make out what they were saying until the steps creaked and Gene yelled, “I am going to take a shower!” and my mother said, “I will make you a plate of food.”
Feeling some sense of relief and safety that she probably would not be back that night, I took a deep breath and felt my muscles relax a little.
Since my bed frame was broken and the mattress was at an angle that would be hard to sleep on, I decided to put my pillow and blankets on the floor and sleep there — with my doll.
My doll’s name was Broken, because her arms were missing. Broken was my favorite doll; actually, she was my only doll. I wasn’t fond of dolls, as I was kind of a tomboy. But Broken was different. I’d had her since I was a small child, and my Grandmother Mary had given her to me. Later, I would find out the doll had belonged to my mother. Broken was made of soft rubber stuffed with cotton, and she had black hair and blue eyes that opened and closed.
Broken was my closet confidante. That night — like so many others before and after that unforgettable day when I was sure my mother was going to kill me — I talked to Broken about how much I hated living in my house and how one day I would escape and have a wonderful life with a successful career, a safe home, and a loving family.