Monday, October 26, 2009

Survival Mode: Act I

Her smile was tight and her hands gripped the wheel while a weak "Bye, I'll see you in a few hours" squeaked from her lips. Few. Too long.

My babysitter let the screen door shut before I had the chance to enter. The morning news blared from her TV set, the smell of stale cigarettes and bacon grease filled the small living room.

"Take off you shoes. Damn it, don't you kids ever remember?" she barked. She hid away in the kitchen, behind her newspaper and a cold cup of coffee. Across the living room her daughter, two years older than me with a body of curves and bulges that belied her eight years, was curled up on the burnt orange couch. The thrown. Her thrown. Her half-cocked sneer and arched brow were a bellwether. I shifted into survival mode.

I made my way to the other side of the living room to sit. To wait. The daughter flipped through stations, stopping only to watch my expression. I knew not to react. If I showed even the slightest bit of interest she would quickly change the channel. I remember once grinning wildly at an old episode of Gunsmoke. She flipped the channel and then let out a dramatic laugh of pleasure. I hated Gunsmoke. I was thankful that the sneering girl parked on the burnt orange couch was not too smart.

It swam in a congealed lumpy brown liquid. I pushed it around on my plate, hoping that it would either disappear or jump off my plate and run away before I had to take a bite. "You'd better eat every single bite," my babysitter let the words fall slowly, each a twisted reminder that she was in charge. So I ate. Every. Bite.

"That's mine," her daughter would stare me down, grabbing whatever it was I had in my hands, hers or not. I handed it over. There were too many battles in one day I had to fight, this was not one of them. I remember finding a knotted chain on the sidewalk while we walked to school. She jerked it from my hands, "It's mine!" Twisted. Knotted. Broken. Yes, I thought, it is yours.

"What is that?" My mom squinted at me as I pulled at my hair. She reached across the seat and found the soft pink mass that was lodged among the strands of long black hair.

"Gum? Why did you put gum in your hair?" I had no response, my teeth came down on my lip until I tasted blood. She worked for hours trying to free my hair from what was once a harmless piece of Bubblicious. Finally, she pulled out the scissors.

"Oh my God. You look like a little boy," squealed my babysitter, her short stubby fingers working their way through my hair. With cool satisfaction, a slow grin crept upon her daughter's face.

"You owe me a piece of gum," she whispered.

Tucking my shoeless feet under me, I silently nodded and counted down the hours. Only a few more to go. Just a few . . .

Survival mode.


Angie @ KEEP BELIEVING said...

Bullying. It is really quite terrible.


Life As I Know It said...

I felt every word of this. Painful stuff, but beautifully written.

RJTrue said...

I want to give you a hug.

I miss you ...

Sue said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kori said...

Well, I find it a little harsh to believe that we have to be hurt and abused and shit on in order to learn a lesson. Come on; every 1 year old knows without being abused that some people just aren't nice.

Sorry-went off. Sending good thoughts your way and as always, you astound me.

Sue said...

You're absolutely right, Kori. I'm sorry if my comment upset anybody else.

Kamis Khlopchyk said...

Heartwrenching. And also, this person is incredibly strong, ridiculously strong not to have gone postal on the daughter and the babysitter. Seriously.

Laski, you are immensly talented. When's the book getting written?

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

You put me right there--the whole thing is palpable.

Unknown said...

I've seen babysitters of the genre you outline here. Never, EVER one that my kids experienced.

But the bully. I remember the bully. Tom P. and his sidekick Michael R. I remember the fear walking to school, and the relief on the days they didn't find me.

I also remember the day I finally hit back.

S said...

Ouch. I'm so sorry.

This line was wrenching:

I was thankful that the sneering girl parked on the burnt orange couch was not too smart.

Kat said...

I'm thinking that I will never leave my children with a babysitter. Ever. This is just heartbreaking.
You are so talented, Laski.

Jaina said...

This makes me very sad. I want to reach out and hug her, protect her.

painted maypole said...


Flea said...

30 Days to Your First Draft, or something along those lines. It will help you write this book in the making. because it needs to happen.

secret agent mama said...

Oh, what hurt. :( I'm sorry this is something you endured. :(

Kristen said...

Once again I am left with a WOW.

Just wanted to give you a kudos to say that you will be the one that the cycle stopped with. Your kids will not have these memories and they have you to thank for that.

sending hugs your way!

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