Read an Excerpt
Based on a true story
By Cherie Doyen
Balboa PressCopyright © 2013 Cherie Doyen
All rights reserved.
Tree of family and relatives
My story begins in this sleepy little railroad town. It sits off the interstate in the foot hills. With no through traffic, the town hasn't had much influx of new people or new thoughts in decades. This is a town of secrets. From the outside, a cute little town that hasn't been touched much by change. The landscape is filled with rolling hills and streams. There's a creek, big enough to swim in, running right through town. Don't look too closely at the chipping paint and sagging porches. Everyone is related to everyone, a place no one ever leaves. A place where nothing is as it seems.
I live on a tiny little farm outside of town in a ramshackle house. I've lived there most of my life, except for a short stint in the city in the very beginning. The house is a constant work in progress. The family consists of me, two younger brothers and my parents ... or so they say. I'm not sure. Can I really be related to these people? Is it really their blood running through my veins? The younger of my two brothers, Sam, seems to be on the outside too. He doesn't seem like the rest. I keep him very close at all times, for safety. I don't want them to be able to get to him, his mind. The middle boy, Kenny, is meaner than a snake. They've gotten to him already.
Our small piece of property is surrounded by a larger farm owned by Mr. Stanford. He has about a hundred acres. The old man has taken a shine to me and my love for animals. He has a beautiful Irish setter named Joe. I love the way his shiny red coat feels sliding through my fingers. Seeing the old man out in the pasture, tall, lean, walking stick in one hand, his faithful companion on the other, makes me smile from the inside. I'm off and running. I cover the distance between us as fast as my legs will carry me. If I'm lucky, we get to spend the day in the garden. He loves to teach me as we go along, telling me about each plant and what it needs to be healthy and strong. This is my favorite time, maybe because he feels I'm worth teaching. Whatever the day turns into, chores are always more fun when they're someone else's.
Mr. Stanford lets me graze my horse Ginger in his pasture. The grounds are mine to roam whenever I want, my playground. The beautiful hills and cliffs are my refuge. By the time I reach the creek, the grime from home is washed away and forgotten. For the moment freedom and laughter replace reality.
Celtic symbol for mother.... Mother is her nurturing state, maiden in her innocence, crone in her wise experience
Grandma, my angel. When I'm at Grandma's, all of Dad's stupid rules go right out the window. I'm not allowed to be held or rocked. "Don't want some spoiled brat." When I'm with Grandma I get all the love and touching I want. She holds me and rocks me, singing me her funny little songs. How much is that doggie in the window? She loves me and she loves me right. When I'm at Grandma's I'm the favorite. She can barely turn around without stepping on me. I always want to be on her lap; women sitting around the table gabbing, and there I am looking up longingly.
"Go play and leave Grandma alone for a while, now," Mom tells me.
"No, no she's all right," Grandma says, "Come here, sweet Junebug."
I climb up and cuddle in her arms.
The connection most people have with their mother, that's the connection I have with Grandma. Grandma and Mom all rolled into one. The problem is, I don't live here. I only get her sometimes. She isn't my Mom. My support and safety is once removed.
I have one memory of when I was quite small. I'm left in the driveway, in an old Rambler station wagon, while Mom goes in to talk to Grandma. I'm told to wait. I have on a little yellow dress and white hat; my feet don't reach the edge of the seat. I'm in the front seat, can't see out and afraid to move. After a few minutes, I hear the squeak of the old screen door and the swing of the gate. Mom opens the back door of the old car and takes a little suitcase from the back seat. She then crosses around the front, opens the passenger door, scoops me up and carts me inside. I wasn't sad being dropped off there. I got a little vacation. Only, after a few days of being there, the anxiety would start, as if they were calling me.
Why would you want to go back there? my brain yells. It's safe here people don't hurt you, and you're the favorite. In my gut there is the feeling that I have to get back home, to make sure things are okay. The battle inside increases, until I'm asking to go home. Maybe it's the feeling of being dropped off there to get me out of the house? That became Mom's way of fighting for me after a while—dropping me off at Grandma's. The separation gives us all a rest for a second. Even though I love being here, it is a weird feeling to know why.
Chinese symbol for father
My first memory of my Dad is far from a pleasant one. The three of us lived in the city for a short while at the beginning of my life. Times were hard on my Mom; she was moved away from her family. She hadn't ever really been anywhere, much less lived anywhere other than her sleepy little town. She was far away with no car. Her pride got in the way of admitting what life was really like with her new husband and baby. The baby cried all the time, especially if her Daddy was around. Yes, I was already scared to death of him. They think kids don't remember things from this young of an age. I'm here to tell you they do. One particular day Mom had gone out to run errands. She was allowed this luxury within an allotted amount of time, whatever he deemed appropriate for the task, a curfew of sorts. I was left alone with my Dad.
On cue, I begin to cry and when he enters my room, I begin to howl. He checks my diaper, and with his touch my cries grow louder and even more intense.
There's nothing to do but lift her and give her a little shake; see if that shuts her up. No, that didn't work. How about a good smack? What do you know? That didn't work either. What now? He lays me down and leaves the room. My howls are deafening at this point.
He shuts the door, pops a beer, and paces in circles around the tiny apartment, the cries wearing on his every nerve. How long can she possibly last? He's not able to bear it another moment—oh, wait, first another beer, that always helps—he then decides he's going to have to teach me a lesson. He lifts me from the crib saying, "You better shut up if you know what's good for you."
Another good shake.... More crying. A few more smacks. Finally, exhausted and in shock, I gasp for air. Then, the quiet. Only the heavy breathing from crying so hard, for so long. He leaves the room, proud of himself.
Mom returns right on time. "I taught that screaming kid a lesson", he tells her, gloating,
"Finally got her to shut up. You just have her spoiled rotten."
She quickly takes the few steps to the baby's room. She's horrified. The bruises are already beginning to appear on her little baby's body, and she's quiet, eerily quiet. Tears stream down Mom's face. Holding me in close to her body, she makes a beeline for the door. If she can just get to the door, maybe she can get to the neighbors.
She never made it.
Screaming, hitting, crying. She was still fighting for me then.
The settlement was to move back home, back to the safety and comfort of her family. Of course, there were promises of no more hitting. I watched this from my safe spot, in the corner from above. I watched it all. It was before I was called to the other place. I was about six months old at the time. We remember. Eventually we always remember.
Chinese symbol for younger brother
The boys and I are all three years and some months apart. I'm the oldest, then Kenny...Sam's the baby and my pride and joy. I feel as if I have birthed him myself. He is so weak and so tiny. My goal is for him to be a kid, to believe in fairy tales, Santa Claus, and the Easter bunny. I want him to have the part of life I'm missing, the magic. He had a hard time in the beginning and had to stay in the hospital for a really long time after he was born. The waiting: it was bad enough to wait that whole time he was in her belly, but now this. She's back home, and he has to stay there all by himself, and here we are like nothing's happening. It feels like it's never going to end. Then finally the day comes when they get to bring him home. There is no sleeping the night before. I have been waiting for so long. The crib was set up outside my parents' room, in a little alcove. I'm not allowed to go with them into the city to the hospital, so I wait, and wait, and wait. Grandma does her best to keep me distracted, but I can't pay attention to her stories today. I hear the tires on the gravel drive and bolt from the house. I'm about to pee my pants I'm so excited. Mom has him pulled in close to her chest.
"Wait, I can't see."
I have to be patient until they get him inside, I'm told. More waiting. It's like Christmas, the anticipation and all the waiting. After getting settled inside, the blankets are pulled away, and I finally get a look at him. I'm stunned, speechless. He's the scrawniest, ugliest little thing I have ever seen. He kind of looks like an alien ... boney head, big eyes and really skinny body.
My attention turns to my mother's voice as she explains to Grandma, "They won't know about his brain function until he's older. It could go one way or the other, either genius IQ or learning disabilities. They just don't know."
My heart begins to grow with compassion for the pitiful looking little thing. I decide then and there that he's going to be just fine. I kneel by his crib through the night praying. I promise God that I will keep Sam safe if He'll let this funny little creature be okay. Mom finds me in the morning, still perched on the stool, knees swollen. I'm stuck between the rails of the crib. It takes a pretty good size jar of Vaseline to get me free.
Before long I began to see the results of my prayers. The little thing begins to grow stronger. I hold true to my word, try to anyway. The boy is rarely out of my sight. He is a ball of light. Once he finally gets going, he never stops moving and he never stops talking. By age three or four he has bleeding ulcers. He's never touched. He's a sensitive boy. I can't protect him from the feelings. With my prayers answered, I have a job to do.
Kenny and I had it the toughest. Now Kenny's a big boy. He passed me up by about the age of five. Dad worked hard to make a mini-me out of Kenny. They even have the same name. I can remember Dad giving him sips of beer as a toddler just to watch him stumble around. He thought it was hilarious. It didn't seem too funny to me. Everyone would chuckle, watching. He was just a little boy. I guess it was one of the many battles Mom decided not to fight. Kenny was taught that if someone hurt you, you hurt them back and hurt them worse. The accident part was left out. If Kenny got hurt, someone paid. He was a very handsome little boy, with a smile that sparkled ... in the beginning.
Kenny rarely spoke. He didn't say a word until he was three years old. Everyone thought something was the matter with him. He just didn't have anything to say. He watched. When he finally spoke, it came out in complete sentences. He was taught that women were stupid, and that included Mom. He challenged her at every turn, in his silence. He appeared to listen while doing whatever he wanted. I remember one time—Mom's after him about something and asks him if he wants a spanking, His reply, "Well if it'll make you feel better." They had little, if any, expectation for Kenny. He could have F's and D's without a word, while I'll be in trouble over a B. I noticed a look that would enter his eyes. I think he did it on purpose just to see if anyone cared. They didn't. More fuel for his fire.
Dad got him sweet on the liquid gold with all those sips. They would head out to cut firewood with a twelve pack, well before Kenny was old enough to drive.
Dad wanted Kenny to be tough. He enrolled him in boxing. Kenny wasn't mean on the inside. He just had to act like it. He didn't really like hitting people; he was made to. I guess it became a way of life. By high school he was smoking, drinking and fighting. The boy everyone was afraid of—following right in Daddy's footsteps. "Mini-me" accomplished.
By the time he was thirteen, he and Dad were about the same size. Then the games really started. The rest of his time there, Dad spent making him feel little. It was hard to watch, really hard to stand by and watch someone get hurt.
We only had one television, until Kenny got one. Dad put an old television in Kenny's room on the wall that we share. He was allowed to keep it on all night....
Kenny would try and coach me on being invisible. He had it down. Stay out of his way and be quiet. Stay close to the edges of the room and stop talking. Stop with the questions. It was the talking part I never could seem to master. It didn't seem to matter anyway. Kenny knew; Dad was just waiting.
Tree of family and relatives
My two best friends, here, were Ginger and my little dog Chi-Chi. Ginger's original owner purchased a fox trotting mare with foal. The mare had bred with a quarter horse, which made the foal worthless ... to them. I fell in love; we were a perfect match, both out of the loop. She had just been weaned from her mother when she came to live with us. She has this beautiful apricot coat with a crooked white blaze down her nose. I got to name her. I don't care what they say, she's perfect and worth everything to me. We've grown up together.
My friend Chi-Chi was acquired through a trade. Much to my poor little brother Sam's horror, Dad left that morning with his pony and came home with a Chihuahua. While loading the pony in the trailer, Dad explained to Sam that he was trading his pony for a dog. Sam had in his head a dog—a real dog of his very own, one that he could run and play with. He was so excited.
Hours later, here comes Dad, trailer empty. We meet him in the drive, all four piled around the cab of the truck waiting. He can't get out fast enough. He's already chuckling, anticipating the look on Sam's face.
Sam impatiently asks, "Where's my dog?"
Dad points to his shirt pocket. Laughing, he takes this teeny-little-thing from his pocket and holds her out to Sam. "She rode the whole way home, right here in my pocket," Dad says, patting his chest.
Sam looks at her in total disbelief, the tears welling up in his eyes. "You traded my pony for that? You said a dog."
The tiny creature fits in the palm of my father's hand. Dad is explaining, "When she gets all grown up, she is only gonna be about three pounds."
At this point, Sam's tears begin in earnest. "How could you leave with my pony and come home with a mouse?"
I feel sorry for him but intrigued at the same time by the tiny little creature.
"This little thing is worth a hell of a lot more than that pony," Dad tells him.
Sam doesn't care about that. All he knows is his pony was traded for a puppy no bigger than a mouse. Storming off to his room, Sam feels totally betrayed.
For me it's love at first sight. She's so tiny, "Can I hold her?"
Handing her to me, Dad talks about breeding her. How could something this small have babies? Three pounds? I can feel her tiny heart beat in the palm of my hand. I nuzzle her to my cheek. She's perfect. Chi-Chi becomes my baby. I carry that little dog everywhere. Wherever Ginger and I go, she goes. The three of us become inseparable.
Rangoli is a symbol from India.... It reminds us to not value the works of man and possessions over God and the world of the spirits
Until high school, I went to a small Catholic school right up the street from Grandma's. It was perfect, my not being so good with people and all. I went to school with the same twenty five kids through the eighth grade. We went to church every morning and confession every Friday afternoon. Church twice on Friday, counting confession. The only day I didn't go to church was Saturday. The school was situated next to the grand old church. We were marched to church each morning in a line taking our places in the pews, little kids in the front. We were seated according to grade. The church was magnificent. I would lose myself in the paintings of the angels and stars on the ceilings, everything trimmed out in gold. The priest would stand with his back to us, uttering words in Latin that no one could understand.
On confession day, I would sit waiting for my turn to go into the little closet to tell the priest my sins for the past week. I would think and think, knowing I did terrible things. Dad thought so, anyway. I just couldn't remember what they were. So I would conjure up something and hope the Hail Mary's would help me stay out of trouble.
Excerpted from JUNEBUG by Cherie Doyen. Copyright © 2013 Cherie Doyen. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.