Have you ever walked on eggshells? Ever woke up one day to find that everybody in the household was in a mood that spelled ‘trouble’ for you? For me, it wasn’t an overnight transition. No, I started seeing things when I was as young as four years old. It was right around the time that my father left, as a matter of fact.
It didn’t help that Harry was already 13 years old and could see everything happening before him on a level that I couldn’t yet understand. For instance, when Dad left, for me it was more, “When will he be coming home?” until, slowly, his existence hindered off and I stopped asking. For Harry, it was more like, “Dad’s gone because he doesn’t want us anymore and this life was too hard for him. Yeah, well nobody needs Dad. Fuck Dad.”
And to be honest with you, it showed. It showed in ways that my mother never understood. Harry didn’t like people walking out of his life anymore and he would do anything in his best interest to keep you around. He made sure that I knew I would never be walking out of his life. He left scars on me when he babysat me after school before Mom got home from work.
You learn not to say certain things when you grow up in an abusive household. When I was five, Mom came home from work one day, slammed her purse onto the counter, and curled up into a ball on the kitchen floor. When I materialized in the archway to the kitchen, she spotted me instantly and burst out in tears.
Heavy, sobbing tears that I typically didn’t see of my mother. At five, I wasn’t sure how to handle these emotions and what questions to ask. My mother was a quiet type who wanted us to always be on our best behavior as well. She was prone to migraines and liked the peace.
“No,” I said in my questioning five-year-old voice, waiting for her to tell me more.
“Well, I got fired from my job today.” I remember it as clear as day. She wanted us to be scared. “You and Harry won’t be able to eat anymore. Especially since your fucker of a dad never sends the support he owes me, we won’t be eating. I don’t know how long we won’t be eating.”
She said “we” that day, but as time went on, she was the one eating. My Mom had money stashed away somewhere and, little by little, she was bringing home scraps of groceries. She would make a bowl of soup one night, a meatloaf another. She would sit and eat the meatloaf in its entirety, take a plateful to Harry, and come back out to wrap the rest of it up in plastic wrap. Threw it in the refrigerator and snapped the lock back on the door so I wouldn’t go “squandering” as she called it. The next day, I’d see her throwing away things that went bad and she would dump the whole piece of meatloaf directly in the trash. From the den, stomach rumbling, I would wonder why she hadn’t offered it to me.
I had stopped going to kindergarten. From my point of view, it seemed like nobody was calling after me. That, mixed with the fact that I wasn’t eating aside from the few things I was able to pick out of the trash, and I myself felt like that very trash.
So one day I walk into the den and my mother has her feet kicked up on the coffee table, she’s watching the television that she still somehow pays for every month, and Harry is sitting on the floor off to the side with a bowl of grapes in his lap. They both look at me as if they’re expecting me to say something, but I say nothing at all. I just stand there and stare as I usually do, never understanding why any of this is happening to me. Wondering why, at five, I’m a target.
“Is there something I can do for you?” my Mom asks in this snarky tone that leads me to believe things will only escalate from there.
I shake my head from side to side and just keep standing there. By now, at five, I’m eyeing up the grapes in my brother’s lap and my internal drooling system is full force.
“Are… you hungry?” she continues to ask, a small smile forming on the creases of her face. “Is that what it is? You’re hungry?”
“Yes,” I barely whisper, stomach growling away at a rate I hadn’t known was possible.
“Well, Mommy hasn’t gotten another job just yet and, until I do, I don’t see that happening.”