I have two sons, and the younger one just turned 13 last week. These
are the candles from his cake. I wanted his birthday to be something heÕd
always remember Ņ a really special occasion Ņ because Ō13Ķ is such an important
age. To my thinking, itÕs the milestone where you become a teenager and
stop being a little kid. His actual birthday wasnÕt till Sunday, but I
had a celebration for him at school the Friday before, so he could share
it with his friends. I stopped at the school before classes that morning
and decorated his locker with balloons and streamers and a big poster of
him in his football uniform. (He made the football team this year and he
just loves it. At first I had to fight the jock syndrome--where they think
they have to appear dumb all the time? So they donÕt want to do any homework
Ôcause they might accidentally let on that they learned something? Anyway,
once we got past that, heÕs been keeping up his schoolwork. He gets about
a B average.) So I decorated the locker before he got to school, and by
the time he showed up, all his friends had already seen it, and everyone
was wishing him a happy birthday, and he didnÕt know how theyÕd found out
about it. Then he saw the locker, and he was just thrilled! Of course,
as the day wore on, kids stole the balloons and stuff Ņ you know how that
goes Ņ but I guess itÕs to be expected. He saved the poster, though, and
brought it home. It was a great surprise.
And after school that day, I brought cupcakes and Hawaiian Punch for the whole team at football practice. He wasnÕt expecting that either. They all loved it, because they usually donÕt get any breaks or snacks at practice at all. They donÕt even get a drink of water until they run a bunch of laps around the track.
My sonÕs name is Byron. He knows heÕs named after a poet, and he thinks thatÕs really cool. He always tells the other kids, ŌThatÕs Lord Byron to you!Ķ They think itÕs funny. I should try and tell you why heÕs such a special kid to me. Of course, I love both my sons. My older boyÕs name is Brad, and heÕs a good kid, too. He never went through a jock phase like Byron; heÕs more of a brain, a nerdy science-type. So in a way, heÕs more like me, and weÕre very close. But Byron is my baby. HeÕs a pleaser Ņ just loves to make people happy. And even though heÕs a teenager now, he still thinks IÕm the Goddess Ņ the greatest thing that ever was! Like, for instance, heÕs not at all embarrassed to be seen with me: he wants me to come to all his football games, and he walks straight over to me as soon as he leaves the field. You know how older kids start feeling ashamed of their moms, or their parents in general. But heÕs not like that. HeÕs actually proud of me and tells all his friends that IÕm finishing college, and IÕm going to be an engineer. He wants to be an engineer, too, when he grows up. HeÕs just the sweetest kid and really a very deep personÉ
So like I said, I wanted his 13th birthday to be special. On Sunday we opened presents and had the cake. I baked it myself Ņ a 2-layer chocolate cake with cherry filling. But when Byron had blown out the candles, and we were passing the pieces around, I noticed he looked kind of sad. He tends to get depressed around holidays. So we had a heart-to-heart talk, and he said he wasnÕt sure he really wanted to be 13 years old. He still loves things like playing with legos and rolling around on the floor Ņ just like a little kid. Would he have to give up things like that and Ōact his ageĶ now that heÕs a teenager?
Well, you know, he sees his brother Brad, whoÕs just 16 months older but has gotten to be a foot taller in the past year and even has the beginnings of a mustache É Byron just doesnÕt feel ready to be like that. HeÕs only 4Õ11Ķ and kind of roly-poly, despite being a football player. The girls at school say heÕs really cute Ņ like a little 4th-grader.
So I told him he didnÕt have to be afraid and he didnÕt have to live up to adult standards right away. I told him he could be a kid as long as that felt right to him. What was I supposed to say? In our culture, males donÕt really have to mature at all, at least not emotionally! ItÕs almost expected that they wonÕt.
But Byron often gets depressed on birthdays and Christmas. I think itÕs because of remembering his father. Brett was abusive, and even though Byron was a happy baby Ņ hardly ever cried Ņ and an easy-going kid, his father would victimize him. He was abusive from the beginning, but at first it was only directed at me. Less than a week after our wedding, he started to hit me. At first it would only be, like, one blow, and afterwards heÕd pretend it hadnÕt happened. Or heÕd say I had caused it Ņ IÕd provoked him and should have known better. Or he only meant to give me a playful sock on the shoulder, but I moved at a Ōbad angleĶ and that made it land harder than he meant to. Right.
Brett and I met in the army. We were both sergeants in the MPs, stationed in Germany. We werenÕt supposed to fraternize with the local population, so it was easy to get involved within the limited American group. I worked in our correctional facility. I supervised rapists, murderers, and other dregs of humanity. I have to admit, I joined the army to prove something to my father, and I volunteered for the MPs so I could prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt. But all thatÕs another story. What the MP experience meant for me and Brett is that the dividing line between correctional officers and criminals was so sharp that it was impossible for me to see that Brett really belonged on the other side: he was one of them. But we were far from home, and I felt so isolated that I just kept trying to make him happy, to avoid problems by staying on his good side. Brett did his best to maintain that type of situation once we got back to the States.
We had a whirlwind courtship. IÕd been going out with this other GI, kind of casually but still steady, you know, when Brett came along and swept me off my feet. He wanted me so badly, couldnÕt bear to see me wasted on this other guy. He said it was destiny and love at first sight, and I fell for all that like a dead weight. I was 21 years old, he was 27. He wanted me to have a baby right away. So he started trying to get me pregnant. Well, I really loved him, and I thought heÕd be happy if we had a baby, so I guess I wasnÕt against it. And he was better while I was pregnant, but as soon as Brad was born, he got worse again.
One day when the baby was still tiny, Brett attacked me while I was in the shower. I had said something he didnÕt like, or I had laughed at the wrong thing--that was it. But he didnÕt say anything at first. I went and got in the shower, and suddenly he burst in and grabbed me around the knees so my head hit the wall, and he swung me around till I was knocked unconscious. Then he dragged me down the hall. I had a concussion. Afterwards, he said heÕd take the baby away if I told anyone how it happened. And he said no one would believe me anyway, because I was just a hysterical little shrew, but him--he was an upright, hard-working family man. Any court would know to listen to him instead of me.
And he was right. He could always make people believe anything. He could get any job, whether he had experience or not. It seemed like he honestly believed he was an expert at all these different things--quality control, human resources, you name it. He took people in with his self-confidence. As soon as it started to show that he really didnÕt know what he was doing, heÕd just pack up and move, like, overnight. In eight years of marriage, we moved 16 times. And you know, when you love someone and you keep thinking that a little more sacrifice will make things work out, you get sucked into all that. So I bought into his belief that it was always his bossÕs fault, or some jealous coworker whoÕd screwed things up so we had to leave town again. But after a while I stopped unpacking everything when we got to a new house, Ôcause I knew pretty soon it would happen again.
Anyway, a few months after I got the concussion, I was pregnant again. I called up and scheduled an abortion because I didnÕt want to bring another child into that horrible life. After we were a married couple in America, the superficial equality we had in the army became a thing of the past. Everything got so much worse. Brett wouldnÕt hear of me working, and he wouldnÕt let me drive the car. Now I realize it was all meant to keep me dependent. So when I found out I was pregnant, I made the appointment for an abortion. But two weeks later when the day came, I couldnÕt bring myself to go. Not because IÕm against abortion, but I just kept thinking, you know, itÕs not the babyÕs fault. And that was Byron Ņ the light of my life! Every year on his birthday, I think of what I would have missed . . .
My husband never tried to hurt Brad very much. I donÕt know why, but he favored him, the first-born. Or maybe Brad was just so quick and clever that he learned to lie and get away when he saw his father might get mad. Later, when we talked about getting divorced, Brett would say heÕd take Brad, and I could have Byron Ņ imagine how that made Byron feel! But I said, no way Ņ I get both kids, which is how it turned out in the end.
But when Byron was still small, Brett began to pick on him. Brett considered himself a great musician (he did play guitar pretty well), and once Byron accidentally stepped on his guitar case. Not even the guitar, just the guitar case. Brett didnÕt say anything, but thatÕs the way he was--heÕd keep really quiet and then heÕd attack, suddenly. Well, Byron must have sensed something, because he started to run. Brett chased him and caught him and threw him down the stairs. He ran down after him and started kicking him in the ribs. Imagine Ņ Byron was just a tiny boy. I jumped on BrettÕs back and hit him in the face and tried to grab his arms. I was screaming at him until he stopped. I told him IÕd leave him if he ever hurt the kids again.
Well, heÕd go through these phases of normalcy. HeÕd get better for maybe 6 months at a time, and heÕd act really sweet and charming and try to make it all up to you (but without ever admitting heÕd done anything to make up for). But then heÕd get worse again. I would take the boys to movies or the park or the library, just to keep them out of his way as much as possible. I dreamed of getting my own apartment where Byron could spread his legos all over without worrying about the mess, where we could relax together and have a normal life. Meanwhile, we lived in fear. We watched ourselves like hawks so we wouldnÕt do anything that might irritate Brett. Or if we did something, weÕd try and smooth it over right away because you just canÕt watch yourself every minute. And heÕd be waiting for those slip-ups.
Finally, when we moved to Bowling Green, I told myself, ŌEnough is enough,Ķ and I decided to enroll at the university. Brett had started grad school, but he always claimed we couldnÕt afford for me to take classes, too. Well, I managed to save some money, and I just went and signed up, despite all. Around that same time, I started to be able to step back and see Brett for what he was: a sick sociopath who could fool everybody with his phony self-control. But inside, I knew heÕd never change.
One day, when he hadnÕt touched Byron in months, he suddenly flew off the handle and grabbed him by the hair. I filed for divorce that same afternoon. Still, Brett wouldnÕt move out of the apartment, even though he was having an affair with this woman heÕd met at the university. (She even called me one time to ask how much money Brett really had. I asked her to please let him move in with her.)
Then one day, about a week after I filed for divorce, Brett suddenly started ripping up my textbooks that IÕd paid a lot of money for, and he grabbed me and smashed my face into the door frame. I hate to say it, but it finally knocked some sense into me. I called the police. He kept saying crap like, ŌYouÕre so clumsy, you tripped against the door,Ķ and ŌTheyÕll never believe you. Anyone can see youÕre a flake.Ķ But when the police saw me and I showed them the marks on my face and legs, they arrested Brett on the spot! And he wasnÕt allowed back in the house! I piled all his stuff out on the porch, and when he came to pick it up, the police were there to supervise him. Byron and Brad and I went and jumped on the bed Ņ we were so happy when they took him away.
When we went to court, BrettÕs entire family showed up to give him moral support: both his parents were there and several of his brothers and sisters. TheyÕre very wealthy people from the west coast, and everyone was well-dressed and composed. They testified that he couldnÕt possibly have done those terrible things. And there I was all by myself, but the policeman who arrested Brett told the judge what heÕd seen, and the judge turned to me and asked, should he sentence Brett to jail or to court-ordered therapy? He actually left it up to me to decide! Of course, it was tempting to send him to jail, but in the end, I said he should have therapy, in hopes it might do him some good.
So as soon as our divorce was final, Brett married that woman heÕd been having the affair with. To top it off, he called me up one day about six months later, wanting sympathy because his new wife Ņ her name is Ilsa, sheÕs from Germany Ņ anyway, Ilsa had gotten mad and thrown a hammer at him. He was all upset and wanted me to take him back. Can you imagine? He wanted me to protect him! I just said, ŌGosh, I should send her a book on target practice.Ķ But at moments like that, I know there is justice in the world, at least sometimes. To think he landed up with a woman who abuses him.
Brad and Byron are doing pretty well now. TheyÕre good students and have lots of friends. Byron does get depressed sometimes, but playing football helps. And when I told him he doesnÕt have to quit being a kid all at once, he seemed satisfied with turning 13. Since Brett finished his therapy, heÕs allowed to have visitation with the boys. But then he moved back to California, so they only see him a couple of times a year, thank God. You know, regardless of what happened, they still love their dad. In a way thatÕs the hardest part of all Ņ because they love him without being able to forgive him completely. But thatÕs another thing thatÕs so great about my kids. They came through all of this, and theyÕre still good people.
Cl 116 A rag
This pink and white strip of terry cloth, ripped from a worn bath towel, became an essential play object for a five-year-old child. She enjoyed dipping it in a bucket of water along with various items of doll clothing, then hanging them all out to dry on the fence around her backyard. She called this procedure Ōplaying pioneers.Ķ The rag helped to create a mood of optimistic deprivation and making do with limited resources. It also served in a variety of games as a neck scarf, dollÕs cloak, pot holder, hobo satchel, and bandage. It remained in the childÕs toy box for many years.