WARNING: ADULTS ONLY. Readers are strongly cautioned. “Broken” portrays sensitive subject matters including animal abuse, torture, and graphic sexual violence. There is strong language, drug reference and is not suitable for some audiences. Please proceed with caution.
Until the Accident, my mother had run a strict Baptist home. We had been dedicated church goers and attended a Christian private school through the church. To help pay for our schooling, my family spent Saturdays working in the church. We set up and took down tables, chairs, and faux walls. My mother vacuumed, we cleaned, my father mopped. We were a family of janitors working on Saturdays to pay for our education, attending the church on Sundays and Wednesdays, and attending the school from Monday through Friday.
I said school. It wasn’t a school. It was a one-room school house that accumulated children from 2nd to 5th grade in one room and 6th grade to 12th grade in another room. Kindergarten and 1st grade were paired up in a separate room.
The “teachers” were a handful of women ranging from thirty to sixty years old—widows or old maids—members of the congregation who volunteered for the position to get themselves out of the house. The work books were a Christian based magazine-like book that required a full day of independent reading and fill in the blank. No teacher, no lecture, no science, and no socialization. It was a home-schooling program for Christians that taught me to read to find answers.
I learned like this until I was twelve years old. The Bible was our primary text book and the only “real” book I was allowed was the allegorical classic Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. I must have read that book fourteen times. I adore Classical Literature like none other. Looking back, it is no wonder I devoured that book like I did. We had other books in the classroom. Children’s Christian literature and nothing more. I hated them. After reading Pilgrim’s Progress, the children’s books bored me. Within the church, the rule with books was simple, if God was not mentioned, it was not allowed. I should have asked about Dante or Milton. If only I had known they existed.
At home, my mother listened only to Christian radio and traditional Irish folk, mostly the Clancy Brothers. She collected Bibles and had a few children’s books…again, Christian Literature.
She splurged once and bought a dozen classics by Reader’s Digest, which Mum thought were pure gold. When I saw that we owned Little Women and Tom Sawyer, I tried to read them. I stopped once I learned that “Reader’s Digest” meant “abridged.”
You don’t chop the genitalia off a Michelangelo. You don’t burn a Rembrandt. You don’t cut the words out of Dickens, Dumas, or Hugo. Needless to say, I refuse to read abridged classics.
* * *
“You attended a school house?” William asked, peering up from his notes.
“Yes,” I answered. “In very much the same style as practiced in the nineteenth century.”
“And all you did was read?” he asked.
“Independent reading,” I said. “Sit down-silent read. That is how I learned. That system engrained what would become the center of my existence. Everything that I am, everything that I would become I learned from that one-room-school-house. I learned my most priceless lesson of all from that place. I learned how to teach myself.
“I need no teachers, no classrooms, no lectures, no people. I only need a book. Eventually, I learned how to get sources. Later, I would learn how to determined good sources from bad. When I got my hands on the internet…” I shook my head, smiling. “A mountain of gold had been dumped into my lap and I would need no people ever again. Hand me a book and I could do anything. That school didn’t teach me how to read. It taught me how to teach myself. Ironically, it isolated me further.
“If you think about it, every opportunity I may have had to be socially exposed was systematically removed from my early life. The church was terrified of sex and had one steadfast rule above all others: all physical contact was strictly banned. I remember in jest, one day, I pretended to dance with one of my girlfriends. We were reprimanded and broken up as if we had started dry humping each other right there in the auditorium. The look of horror on the deacon’s face…”
“What did you do?” William asked.
“We mimicked ball room dancing.”
There was a moment. William and I exchanged glances and together we laughed, just laughed at the sheer idiocy of that situation.
We calmed down after a moment and I continued with a smile on my face.
“I’m sure the other students were getting physical attention from their parents and siblings so the ‘no touching’ rule had little to no effect on them. Even my own siblings had something in their lives that drastically altered their experience from mine. Every night, my sister, Marie, snuggled with my father on the couch. My brothers would go on to have relationships that didn’t abuse them. Now that I think about, went through a stage where he clung to everyone for hugs. He couldn’t see one of our aunts without him hanging on them. I didn’t see it until now. He was starved for physical contact.
“Around this time, my father brought home a rare treat. Someone at the church had thrown out an encyclopedia set. I don’t know why my father wanted it. Perhaps because it was a two thousand dollar set he was getting for free, but he brought those books home and I devoured them.
“I read every article on religion, mythology, Rome, Greece, Europe, philosophy, art and the artists, music and the musicians, and Ireland. Oh, how I fell in love with Ireland. I saw pictures of her…She reminded me so much of the forest in New York. I could look out my bedroom window and see such similarities. The rivers and streams I played in, I saw gazing back at me through pictures of Eire.”
William gazed at me over his notes. “If you saw so much of Ireland in the mountains and forests of New York, then why did you leave New York?”
“The people,” I said. “New Yorkers are New Yorkers. The Irish are the Irish. And the culture, this culture is only found in Ireland. If ever there is still magic in this world, it is in Ireland. She calls to me and I listen. I can’t help but love her. Even the lilt in their brogue is like music.”
I sighed and knew a shameless smile spanned my face.
“I don’t know how long ago my family sailed to the States, but through the blood line, my Irish roots carried over to me. I grew up forever homesick for a land I had never seen. I felt out of place in the States, a black sheep that never quite belonged anywhere. I ached for the land of my ancestors and didn’t even know it. When I found Ireland, I found something that felt so right. I found where I belong.
“My mother was Irish and on occasion, would trade up her stale, synthesized music for Irish folk. Oh, but to be carried away on the strings of the fiddle and the winds of the flute while dancing away on a gig of my own making. I lived for those moments of Irish folk and dance. I breathed freely when I heard Danny Boy and Lannigan’s Ball. I named my son for Danny Boy. When Ireland called, I answered. Every time.
“My mother would smile and dance. It was the rare occasion when she was happy and exclaim with such pride, ‘we’re Irish.’”
I gazed down at my hands.
“My mum,” I said. “She played the piano every day for hours. I think on those rare occasions when my mother danced—through the piano playing and the Irish music—she could forget what had happened to her. I think for a short moment, despite all that she had become, Mum could remember who she was and found herself again. In a way, Ireland gave me back my mum as she was meant to be.
“Watching her for the next five years was like watching a time bomb slowly count down to its own demise and we didn’t know it.”
Tears swelled up and I wiped them away before they could fall.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t mean to cry over this.”
“What happened to your mother?” William asked.
I paused in thought while I recalled the years of data I had collected. Some of which required phone calls to distant relatives.
“All I have are my own hypothesis based on evidence I accrued over the years. My mother grew up in a chain of foster homes. This I confirmed with three of her family members. The following is information I gathered from my own observation.
“She had a severe fear of closed doors. She removed the bathroom door from her private bath. When I went around the house closing the doors, something I did often, my mother would panic. She would screamed like a bean si and go around opening them again. She refused to close her own door even to get dressed.
“My mother never touched, never comforted, never consoled. She never spoke of her problems, her father, or her past. If questioned about her youth, she would slip into a catatonic state and stay there hours after the questions ended. I met her father once and on that day, she pulled my sister and I aside and said, ‘under no circumstances are you to be alone with that man. Ever.’ I never saw him again. I do not know his name.
“To this day she is a chronic liar who flies into a tirade at the mere mention of a therapist. I was the child who got to walk in and see my parents having sex. I remember the blank look on my mother’s face as if she was battling back a lifetime of nightmares willing for it to be over. What do you think happened to my mother?”
I watched William nod quietly and I knew, he was drawing the same conclusions that I had years ago.
“Despite everything my mother did, I am the only one of her children who has forgiven her. I am the only one who understood her reasons. I am the only one to really know the extent of her mental problems.”
“The year after the Accident, family politics picked up and, through the lines of gossip and my mother, information not meant for children, was provided. My late uncle had been a minister of his own church. With his death and that of his children, it was believed among the congregation that he had sinned, and the Accident was punishment from God. Seeing as how this information came from my mother, I strongly question the truth of it. Nevertheless, this was the reason we were given as to why my parents switched us to the public school the following year.
“In fall of ’91, I began sixth grade. I will be the first to tell you, I was sheltered when it came to sex, music, and the world. The only physical contact I can recall by age eleven was my ass being groped by a boy.”
“Groped?” William said.
“I was eight or nine. I was on the bus and one of the boys about five years older than me grabbed my ass. I was mortified and sat there listening to the girl next to him giggle that he had grabbed my ass. Eh. I would get used to it.”
“Used to it?”
I raised a darkened stare to William.
“Yes,” I said. “Used to it.
“The males I have been around help themselves when they see something they like. Ass, breasts, legs, thighs, doesn’t matter. Dating five minutes…first kiss…doesn’t matter. If they like it, they’ll grab it. If they want it, they take it from you. If they had plans to rape me, they didn’t hold back the details. Going into a bar is a nightmare in itself. Drunk men don’t hold back. In a crowded room, they could grab a feel and slip away without being seen. I was often mortified, humiliated, violated, and would get used to it.
“Walking into the public school was like stepping from a sanctuary into the gates of hell. As a mother, I see the appeal of a Christian home. I had never heard a swear word in my life up until then. I had never heard anything sexual, and I certainly had never been around anyone who would show such disregard to others.
“In the Christian school, people were polite. Manners began and ended every sentence, and we were oblivious to our sexual development. It was something that lurked behind the walls of innocence and our parents had safely secured it there. Nothing had prepared me for the filth and vulgarity of the public school.
“Looking back, I can honestly say I experienced a severe culture shock. Girls openly spoke of sex. I watched twelve year old girls grope males who did their best to block the grab while both laughed at their game. There was a collection of trees on the playground where children learned they could indulge during recess. Within the first week, I was asked if I was a virgin. Aside from the Virgin Mary, I had never heard such a word and certainly had no idea what it meant. When I said yes, they laughed at me. When I said no, they guffawed and giggled like a gaggle of lascivious snakes basking in the filth of Babylon’s whores.”
I looked at William.
“There may be some venom in that statement,” I said.
He laughed. “You think?”
“I was scared and lost, new and alone. I hated them all. The males were different. Very different. They looked at me like I was an exotic jewel. They made me feel like an exotic jewel. Where the girls were vindictive and cruel, the boys were sweet and kind. They approached me with caution as if they knew I preferred the quiet and gentle touch.
“I remember my first kiss so well. I said nothing. I did nothing. I froze up and waited for the moment to pass. I hated it. Loathed it. He treated me well, moved in, massaged the breasts I had just started developing. He felt me up, sliding his hands over every part of me. I said nothing. I shut down as my mother did, and I let him have his way with me.
“He approached me as if I was a wild horse. He didn’t speak my language, but knew if he moved too quickly he would spook me and I would run. After three days, he knew I wasn’t happy. He tried talking to me. I didn’t dare speak. I couldn’t open up. I simply had no idea what to do with human contact. I knew I didn’t want it and that I hated it. I dreaded when he was around. Up until then, the only physical contact I had was my cat and the ass grab. I had no idea what to do with his eager affections.
“I do remember the moments between our one-sided make-out sessions, where I reveled in his absence. Those moments filled me with such relief. It felt good being independent and I loved it. Space. That was something familiar to me. That was something I could understand. Before my first kiss, I prized my solitude and had learned to associate safety and security in isolation.
“We broke it off after three days. He understood through a series of questions and my mute head nods that I wasn’t okay with the relationship.
“The situation at home was moving from bad to worse. Charles had moved on from the frogs and snakes to the cats. He would pull their tails and bite their ears. I would come running and do my best to take the cats from his grip without hurting them. He’d hold them, bite the ends of their tails. When they screamed, he’d hold them tighter and slapped them if they scratched him.
“One day, I walked into the kitchen to find my cat with a sandwich bag around her head. His hands were clamped around her neck to hold the bag in place. Her tongue was out. She was panting while he sat there, slowly watching her suffocate. I ripped the plastic from her head and as she ran, he called me a bitch and chased her down.
But I was changing. I was starting to fight back.