As the years passed, I learned well the lesson to become very quiet about what I knew and saw. Even if it was tangible. My father had taken a job on the East Coast, and was spending more time in New York than at home with us in preparation for moving the family there. One night, late, I heard a man’s voice in the kitchen talking with my mother. Assuming that Dad was home, I went downstairs and swung around the doorway in to the kitchen to find my mother sitting on the kitchen counter in an embrace with a very large man who I recognized was the real estate agent. I turned without a word and went back to my room where I stared in to the darkness above my bed. I was too young and innocent to grasp the full understanding of what was happening, but I knew it was wrong and I knew my father had been betrayed. In that moment the dynamic was set between my mother and I that would bring me to hate her while she set about doing everything she could to destroy my nature.
Soon she was up in my room offering me a glass of water and telling me that sometimes people see things in the dark that aren’t really there, completely denying my experience. She never again addressed this with me, never explained herself, or her actions. When I brought it up, she was in complete denial about it. She used it to substantiate her feelings that I was lurking around where I had no business being, and that’s how I was able to know things. She used it to prove to everyone that I was delusional and that what I saw was never really there. I went to my older brother and sister for help and solace but they refused to even entertain the idea. It was the final step in my being outcast from my family. This was something that had actually occurred, that I had seen and heard it with all my senses, but there was no separation for them between this situation and anything else I had been talking about. For them, all of it was the ranting of an imagination. For me, there were all real; it was only that this instance was completely tangible and the others were not. My mother helped them develop contempt for me. She began to be fiercer with her accusations against me and not only joined in the ridicule of me, but set me up for it. Many years later, I would realize that this was the beginning of her campaign to get the spotlight off of her by having everyone believe that I was crazy.
I had no standing in the family from that point on. I was the target for ridicule and blame for whatever was amiss. It didn’t take very long for things to escalate to violence. With Dad away in New York for two weeks at a time, the house became swirling chaos made of my brother’s violent behavior towards us all, my mother’s inability to, or disinterest in, curbing his behavior and the domino effect of the violence from sibling to sibling. The two older ones would be at each other and the loser would take their aggression out on me. Each time I tried to stand up for or defend myself, my mother offered no support. In one instance she actually egged my brother on as he kneeled over me, punching me repeatedly as I was lying on the floor. I was sobbing that I couldn’t breathe, and she calmly stated that if I couldn’t breathe, I wouldn’t be able to talk and then turned and walked back in to the kitchen.
As soon as I was able to get up, I ran from the house and wandered along the beach. I ended up near the school yard where I met up with some friends. I convinced one of them to let me hide in her room that night. They found me sometime in the wee hours of the morning and my poor friend was punished for helping me. I was driven home where my mother was on the telephone with Dad. She wouldn’t let me talk to him, but he did come home a week early and I was able to see him that weekend. It tore my heart out when he left again and it also put me in fear of what could happen next.
Things took a hard turn from worse to horrible over the next few weeks. I was assaulted and molested by my brother and was saved by a neighbor who heard my cries and came running. I lived in fear and it was all I could do to keep out of everyone’s way. I couldn’t eat and was made to sit at the table until I had finished my dinner. I sat there until the kitchen had been cleaned up and the darkness was only broken by the little light on the stove. Maybe it was that I wouldn’t eat, that it was the one place that I could control what happened to my body. That and avoiding the enema by taking a large swallow of the Castoria every morning. I didn’t starve because my mother took to setting the kitchen timer and saying that I had to be finished eating before it went off. She never told me how long she was giving me, nor did she say what would happen if it went off and I hadn’t finished. It didn’t matter, because it worked. The fear of what was possible made me eat.
In my aloneness and my fear, I took solace in the rhythm of the Lake. I watched the waves roll and the spring come and go and turn to summer. Over the summer the decision was made that my brother would be sent away for school high school. I’ve often scoffed at their logic: the perpetrator got a free ride to one of the country’s top prep schools and the victim got no notice at all.
One day I awakened to the sound of the foghorn crooning in the distance; inviting me down to the water’s edge. Lying there in the semi-dark, I listened to the quiet rush of the waves. Over the years I had used their sound to lull me to sleep, and had listened to them each morning before their sound was obscured by the noises of the day. As soon as there was enough light to guide me on that June morning in 1962, I dressed quietly, and left the house. I descended the stairs leading from the patio to the street and crossed without looking, for I knew there would be no cars at that early hour. Another flight of stairs led me down to the seawall. It was then a quick slide down and my feet hit the sand. The fog was dense enough to limit visibility. Across the beach, the waves gently lapping upon the shore looked like water seeping under the threshold of some giant door. Enveloped in the quiet, I turned at the water’s edge and walked on, letting my mind make its own way through my thoughts.
The fog began to lift, and I headed home. I had just walked my last walk on the beach. My sister and brother had been off with friends for a final sleep over the night before. Dad had taken me to the children’s amusement park and out for ice cream, just the two of us. I felt special and cared for and safe for the first time in months. As I climbed up the stairs from the beach to the road, I saw the Mayflower truck parked in front of the house like some great barrier to everything I had known. The house was swarming with movers as they packed all our belongings into the huge truck. It was the summer before I entered the sixth grade, and Dad had come home to shepherd us all to Columbia County, New York.