Picture it: somewhere in a middle class suburb, circa 1964. A mother and 11 year old daughter are seated as far apart as possible on the bed in the master bedroom. There is no eye contact, which the daughter finds both a relief and a puzzle.
As she sits hunched over, waiting for her mother to speak, an eternity revolves in her sinking heart. Bones grow brittle, threatening to break at the least movement, flesh sags and loses its child’s bloom of health. A moth flutters against the window pane, its movements futile and somehow soothing, and still the girl waits.
The mother speaks into the modern room with its sleek furniture. She informs the girl that her stepfather was under a lot of pressure at work, and that this is why he did such despicable things to her behind the mother’s back.
(Oh, I didn’t know that’s what stepfathers did when they were overworked. Poor thing, must be horrible to be driven to such foul acts because of work related stress.)
The mother speaks again. She seems to be asking about prison. The daughter gives the slightest shake of her head to clear it of its static, and now the voice comes through crystal clear. The mother is offering to have the stepfather arrested and sent to prison. The daughter is cautious, not trusting this easy solution to the abuses of her world. Better not to hope, for if this is the mother’s intention—-to have him arrested—-why hasn’t she already done so? And why does she seem so angry at the daughter?
The voice drones on, toneless with suppressed rage. She tells her daughter that she needs to know that if she chooses to have her abuser imprisoned, they will have to go on welfare, lose the house, and her half-siblings will grow up without a dad.
(Oh, I didn’t know it was better to have a pedophile as a dad than no dad at all.)
The mother wipes angry tears from her eyes. The daughter keeps her head lowered so that she will not inadvertently catch a glimpse of herself in the long mirror attached to the mahogany low slung dresser. She does this much in the same way that she will not glance into the mirror when events of a different nature take place upon this bed. She knows instinctively that those events are shamefully wrong and abusive, but right now with her mother’s glare and refusal to look her in the eye, she’s not sure which situation feels worse.
He swore it would never happen again, the mother continues. (She could very possibly be a defense attorney, begging a plea bargain for a scum client.) It’s not such a big deal, the girl can imagine her mother saying next. Let’s not make mountains out of molehills. Besides it was only one time.
Well yes, if that one time consists of 4 years of abuse. The daughter decides not to mention this, for it would seem as if she were being antagonistic, purposely siding against the two of them. They’re obviously in cahoots, for some unfathomable reason. She searches her mind in an attempt to hone in on just what it is the mother wants her to say. What is the proper response? This is not a play whose lines she’s studied and memorized.
If he ever does this to you again and you don’t tell me, I’ll beat you until you can’t sit down for a week.
And so, abruptly ends their little conference. The girl walks stiff-legged back to the dubious sancturary of her room and, plopping onto the bed, stares unseeingly at glossy posters on her wall. She seems to have been given an encoded message tonight which evades her comprehension. The only conclusion she can draw from her mother’s words and threat is that she hates to be left in the dark when evil prances through her immaculate household. She is not so much disturbed by her husband’s offences as she is furious to have not been in the loop.
There is no response the daughter can make, either verbally or within her heart. The mother is not the only one capable of making threats. She will choose whose threats to fear most and, knows instinctively that she chooses The King of the Mountain. (He is king in his own mind, but she will never bow down to him.)
(My heart was a loop-de-loop roller coaster ride of emotions.)