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"There's no beginning. I don't know as there was ever a time in my house when there wasn't trouble between my momma and daddy," I started. "I saw them be sweet to each other sometimes, but as my granny says, it was like waiting on rainbows after storms. Sometimes the rainbows came, but most of the time not. I think I got so I was surprised to hear them talk to each other without one or the other shouting before they were finished.
"I heard Misty say yesterday that sometimes people get divorced because of money problems. Well, that wasn't the only reason my parents broke up, but it sure didn't help any that my daddy didn't make good money and was out of work often. He was a painter and a carpenter mostly but did other types of work. He could be handy everywhere except around his own house. When he did work, he worked hard, long hours. I think he had a good reputation as far as that goes, but he didn't belong to any unions and he wasn't part of any company that guaranteed him regular work. So there were long periods when times were hard for us and my momma wasn't what you'd call an efficient housewife. I don't know if Daddy would even call her a housewife. He had other names for her and none of them were nice.
"My daddy's a good-looking man, a strapping six-feet four. Anyone would take one look at him and think he must have been a ballplayer in high school, but he always told me he was just too slow to be a good athlete. He said his problem was he thinks too long before he does something. He says he likes being precise and that helps him in all the work he's done as a painter and a carpenter.
"Momma's completely different. She doesn't think so much before she decides to do something. Most of the time, I don't believe she thinks at all. She just does what she wants when she wants. They got into lots of arguments because of that. Daddy said she had a brain that was like a house without any doors. Stuff just went in and out. She'd say she was bound to be on old age Social Security before he did anything worthwhile. Granny used to call them Oil and Water.
"They probably shouldn't have gotten married in the first place, but my momma was pregnant with me before they got married and the way Daddy talked sometimes, I thought he blamed her for all their hard times because of it. If she complained about anything, he would sure always be reminding her that she was the one who had gotten pregnant, as if men could also get pregnant, but had the good sense not to."
Misty laughed and Jade smiled. Cathy smiled too.
"That would be good. That would be fair," Misty said. "At least they would know what it's really like. I know my mother would like that. She'd love to see my father have morning sickness and labor pains."
"Men are babies," Jade declared as if she was standing on the top of some mountain. "If they were the ones who had to get pregnant, the human race would be listed as an endangered species."
We all laughed, including Doctor Marlowe. It made me feel easier about talking, but I still hesitated and looked at Doctor Marlowe for encouragement before I started to talk in great detail about Momma.
It wasn't just because I was ashamed of her, which I had every tight to be. Momma had done so many things to make me want to stick my head in the sand. I used to hate to meet up with any friends of mine from school whenever I was with Momma. Not only was there no telling what she would say or do, she usually had bloodshot eyes and smelled like One-Eyed Bill's Bar and Grill down on the southeast corner from our apartment in West Los Angeles. There was a barstool in the place that practically had Momma's name on it. I heard that if she came in and there was someone sitting on it, he or she would just move off and look for another stool -- or stand.
When I was just seven, Daddy used to send me to fetch her when he had come home and found she wasn't there making dinner for us. I hated going there, but even then I knew Daddy was sending me because if he had gone instead, they would have had an all-out fight that would turn physical. Daddy would even get into a fight with some other bar customer who felt he had to protect Momma or might even have been flirting with her and wanted to show off.
Sometimes it took so long for me to get her to leave and go home with me, I would start to cry. That usually made her mad because all the other barflies would make fun of her and tell her to go. There was nothing Momma hated more when she drank than anyone telling her what to do. It was like lighting a wick on a dynamite stick. She'd fume and fume and she'd get real nasty and explode into curses and maybe even throw something or swing at someone, especially Daddy, or me for that matter. When Rodney was a baby, I'd have to worry about him crawling around on the kitchen floor because there still might be pieces of plates she had smashed against the wall.
But my hestitation over telling things about her came from another place inside me. Despite what I always told Granny, I hated hating Momma. Mixed with all the bad memories were lots of good ones. There were many times when she had held me and had sung to me and had fixed my hair and kissed me. She used to call me her Precious and she used to dream big dreams for me. All those memories were planted in someplace special in my heart too, and I couldn't help feeling like I was betraying them when I told about all the bad things.
For now, though, that seemed to be what Doctor Marlowe wanted me to do. From the way she talked about it, holding the bad down was like trying to keep poison in your body.
"I can't remember exactly when my momma, started drinking," I began, "but it was always a lot and it was always bad, especially for me and my brother Rodney."
They all lost their smiles and their eyes became hard and cold like the eyes of those who had seen terrible things happen and knew what I was going through in just talking about it, for there was no way to talk about it without reliving it. Remembering made me a five-year-old girl again, brought back all the demons, all the dark shadows that haunted my bedroom after something awful had happened between Momma and Daddy.
The monsters were a part of me now, dormant, lying around and waiting to be nudged by the sound of someone shouting, by the sight of some poor child playing in the gutter because his mother was neglecting him, by the wail of ambulance sirens or police sirens, or merely by the sounds of someone crying in the darkness, someone as alone and afraid as I had been and maybe forever would be.
"When I think back on it now, it seems to me that there was always a lot of drinking going on. Momma smelled from it so much, I used to think it was a kind of perfume she wore," I said.
"Of course, I wasn't very old when I thought that.
"Sometimes, she would just let me stand there by the door and pretend she didn't know who I was. I was afraid to call to her. I knew how mad that made her. Finally, she would look at Bill and say, 'My ball and chain is home from work,' and they would all cackle and tease her, and she would blame me.
"'Why did he have to send you here?' she would snap at me.
"'He wants you to come home and make us supper, Momma,' I would tell her and she would shake her head and mimic me.
"She'd stare at herself in the mirror behind the bar for a few moments and then finish her beer in a gulp and get up a little wobbly.
"'What's for dinner, Aretha?' someone would shout.
"'My heart,' she'd scream back and whoever was there would laugh and laugh. 'Go on,' Momma would tell me. 'Get outta here. You made enough trouble for me.'
"I'd wait for her on the sidewalk. Sometimes she'd come right out and sometimes, she'd start up again and I'd have to go back inside and then she'd come.