Love and kindness growing up
“Nice lady,” I said as we pulled away from the curb, and made a quick u-turn so I could turn right onto Ray Street, lost in Peggy’s childhood world again until more familiar streets appeared as we closed in on Outwater Lane.
“You like her?” Peggy asked, her tone unnaturally subdued, which made me glance at her. She had changed again, losing some of the toughness I knew from the bar, looking a lot like a small girl who had just been punished..
“I was being sarcastic,” I said. “Do you like her? She is your mother.”
“I can take her better now. When I was a little girl, I hated her.”
“I’m curious why you bring men to see her if you know she’s going to abuse us.”
“To hurt her.”
“I want her to see what she’s driven me to.”
“Thanks a lot.”
“It has nothing to do with you, Alfred,” Peggy said. “She hates me picking up men at the bar. So I rub her nose in it.”
“Then you DO hate her.”
“I suppose,” Peggy mumbled.
I could feel the tension growing in her like a dam building up too much water. Perhaps she’s never opened those flood gates with anyone, but now it needed to come out of her, whether she wanted it to or not.”
“Why do you hate her so much?” I asked.
“Because she hates me,” Peggy said. “She’s hated me since I was a small girl.”
“I can’t believe that.”
“I don’t care if you believe it or not. It’s true. I was an unexpected intrusion in her life. I came along just when my mother and father were breaking up. Mother didn’t want me around and let me know it. She said I should have been born dead and saved us all a lot of trouble. So she tried her best to make it come true by beating the shit out of me.”
“You have a sister. Does your mother hate her, too?”
“An older sister who had the good fortune of being born when my parents still loved each other. She was already fending for herself when the ugliness started and she settled with my father after the divorce. My mother wanted me to go with my father, too, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He said a young girl needed to be with her mother. So mother saw me as a millstone around her neck, and often told me over the breakfast table she wished I was dead and that the only reason I got born was because abortion was illegal at the time.”
“She could have put you up for adoptions.”
“And have to admit that everything was her fault, that she was a failure as a mother? No, she had something to prove with me.”
“So she beat you?”
“You don’t know the half of it,” Peggy said.. “She once kicked me down a flight of stairs because I wasn’t moving fast enough. Her arms were full of laundry. I didn’t break any bones, but it hurt and the more I cried the more she beat me, trying to shut me up. She didn’t want the neighbors to hear.”
Peggy looked over at me, her eyes showed the depth of her pain, like deep bruises even time could not heal, bleeding beneath the surface for the rest of her life, she reliving each beating in her dreams night after night.
Then she looked away again, back out at the passing scenery, the all too familiar landscape of an otherwise peaceful Garfield.
“Another time, I slammed my hand in the car door,” she said. “I couldn’t get it out and it hurt and all my other would do is hit me, yelling at me to shut the fuck up or she could slam my other hand in the door, too.”
A prolonged silence followed this pain remembered, the wheels of the car rumbling over the potholed surface of Outwater Lane Bridge into Clifton. Then in a low voice, she went on.
“I didn’t make anything easy for her,” Peggy said. “I fought back in my own way. I ate only what I wanted to eat. I went to sleep only when I felt tired. I refused to dress up like a fairy princess for her, forcing her to keep beating the shit out of me.”
“Didn’t your father try to stop any of this?”
“I didn’t tell him. I was too ashamed. After all, I was young and stupid, and deep down I thought I deserved to be punished.”
“And no one else noticed?”
“My mother was clever. She always hit me where the marks wouldn’t show, hiding those few black and blue marks that did with a scarf or a handkerchief. Sometimes, in summer, she had me where high collars and long sleeves.”
“When did it all stop?” I asked.
“Just after my 15th birthday. We were having a party and my mother told me to cut the cake. I told her it was too pretty to cut. So she came around the table and yanked me up by the hair her face flushed red and her eyes bulging with rage. She nearly bit through her lower lip beating me. She was so angry she forgot herself, forgot all about the other people there.”
“At first everybody was too shocked to stop it, then finally my father pulled her off, telling her if she didn’t let go of my hair he would kill her. I remember how slowly my mother’s fingers took to release me – then my father warned her never to do that again.”
“Did it stop?”
“No way – at least not just then. No sooner had the last guest gone, she was at me again, beating at my face with both hands, kicking at my ankles and legs. She managed to kick me down the stairs when I came to hall calling for my father. Then, she came down the stairs beating me for not getting off the floor, kicking me so more as I crawled towards the front door. She kicked me harder when we got outside because she said I was making a scene and the neighbors would complain. Then, it occurred to her that I might really be hurt. So she dragged me to her car, dumped me in the front seat and drove me to the hospital.”
“What did she tell the doctors?”
“That I had been hit by a car.”
“And they believed it?”
“It was convenient.”
“Was that the end of it?”
“Oh yes,” Peggy said. “I was in the hospital for two weeks and the whole time El thought I would die – even though the doctors told her I wouldn’t, even with my broken neck. It was enough to put the fear of God in her. After that she left me alone until I was too big for her to beat. By then, she had developed other, perhaps crueler ways to torture me.”
“Like nothing,” Peggy said. “Don’t you ever get tired of acting questions?”
“That’s how I learn things.”
“You might learn more than what’s good for you,” Peggy said. “You’d better step on it or we’ll miss our movie.”