Stop playing catch in the front yard.
Angry Older Brother threw caution to the wind (quite literally) just one more time.
The final defiant windup accidentally hurled the baseball on a collision course with a window.
When the broken window was attributed to saving our lives a few days later, his act of disobedience was forgiven.
It Sounds Like A Train –
Mom was buttoning her crisp cotton blouse while I pummeled her with my daily litany of questions. Her slender fingers reached the third button when I heard the sound. “Do you hear the train, Mommy? No, I don’t hear anything Wendy.” She never made it to the fourth button.
Without warning the lazy blue sky vanished as the swirling giant approached. Rendered motionless we stared in disbelief as the brown vortex of nothingness swallowed Miserable House. The cyclone of dirt quickly cloaked the existence of everything, except for eerie flying shadows. We were blind to the destruction, but not deaf to her chaotic sounds. Limbs snapped. Trees crashed. People screamed. Windows exploded. And countless unknown things collided with unknown things.
The Search for Safety –
Meek Mom became Ninja Mom once sufficient amounts of Adrenalin coursed through her veins. She hoisted Baby Sister and Sad Younger Brother into her arms, then flung out her hand grabbing my wrist like a vice grip. With her babies securely attached to her, she darted toward the front of the house. But when the living room windows exploded our route to safety was cut off. Now trapped in the hallway one of three closed bedroom doors became our only hope for safety.
Mom frantically pulled and yanked on the first doorknob in a valiant attempt to break the suction seal that held the door tightly in place. Once the door was successfully pried open a drastic change in air pressure occurred triggering a horrific explosion of glass. A glass less window granted anything airborne unobstructed entry into Miserable House. Again and again the same sequence of events produced identical results at each bedroom door.
Fight or Flight –
As quickly as a second yields to the next, three things occurred with barely a comma between them.
One – We stood fearfully before the last possibility of safety – the door to The Girls Bedroom.
Two – Outside the wind wreaked havoc while hurling objects violently against the exterior of the house.
Three – Overhead metal roof ties sheared then snapped as they separated from the cement block walls.
Some individuals have impeccable timing. Frightened five year-olds do not. Sensory overload was achieved and the count down to mental melt down was imminent. Adrenalin selected two options for me – fight or flight. There was no contest, flight won by a landslide.
Spoiler Alert – Even in the face of impossibility, never underestimate the resourcefulness of a terrified child. Escape is relatively simple when it’s unsuspected.
Mom was completely caught off guard when I suddenly launched Operation Let Me Go. It began with yelling and ended with pushing. And there was a bit of flailing thrown in for good measure – until I broke free. Freedom’s reward granted me permission to flee toward harm. Her terrified screams of “WENDY” were ineffective in curbing the impulse to run. Unbeknownst to me the final door had opened easily and the windows remained intact. Remember the disobedient act of Angry Older Brother? That baseball size hole created by a defiant wild pitch acted as a pressure regulator. The Girls Bedroom would be our hiding place from harm if only the escapee could be captured.
We Have Lift Off –
Overhead the roof groaned one last time as it finished the final stage of separation from the house. Ascending straight into the air it paused hovering intact as if confused about what to do next. With the roof barrier removed a strong vacuum was created. The contents of the house began to quiver then slide as if drawn upward by a giant magnet. Gazing skyward I was completely mesmerized by the sight of the floating roof. That’s until a door (yes a door) soared horizontally a few feet over my head. Let me say that nothing gets a five year-olds attention like a flying door. Forget fleeing – where was my MOMMY? I spun around, but she was already right behind me.
Once huddled in the safe room, the four of us knelt by the bed and prayed.
Miraculously our lives were spared that day, because of the gift of a broken window. Unfortunately the path of destruction created by the massive tornado was vast. Local farmers lost livestock, agriculture was destroyed and homes were reduced to unrecognizable rubble except for the tiled walls. Many lives were lost that day, including several on our street. To this day it’s considered one of the two deadliest tornadoes to hit central Florida.
A Need Not A Want –
The damage to Miserable House was extensive, yet repairable. In a twisted turn of events (no pun intended) the ridiculed and ostracized ones were now essential to our future. In spite of their gnawing mistrust and disapproval of John the family immediately rallied to our rescue. Much to his deep-seated consternation he needed them and hated that he needed them.
Eight months earlier following Mom’s birthday disaster, Project Isolation was branded a complete success. Afterward John enjoyed free rein to manipulate and control every life trapped within Miserable House without objection or interference from outsiders. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, that is until a tornadic intruder deposited banished family members back into our daily lives. Temporarily his power was diminished.
The Cost of Helping John –
At 8:00 a.m. the potential for intervention stood on the welcome mat of Miserable House and politely knocked. John seethed venom as the generous family workforce of painters, electricians and carpenters arrived in mass to begin repairs. His disdain was on display like the colorful fanned tail of a peacock.
John Disdain had classically hard facial features. A tightly clenched jaw sealed his thin lips together while his piercing eyes narrowed to slits under the weight of loathing. When he pushed past Grandpa and Uncles barely acknowledging them – he felt powerful. When they silently endured his demeaning behavior while continuing to work for his benefit – he felt powerful. He was fully aware their love would muzzle any complaints. They willingly sacrificed their pride for the sake of their purpose. John was oblivious to their strength and labeled them as weak, because strength was only measured in the ability to dominate and control.
You must remember that the pinnacle of success for a manipulative controlling abuser is the sickening thrill achieved when another submits to and participates in what they dislike with every fiber of their being.
The Work Before Work –
During the repair phase John daily force-fed us heaping portions of fear for breakfast by reiterating the repercussions for exposing his darkness. Then he methodically rehearsed our responses to potential questions in order to eliminate any suspicion. Although confident in his ability to completely control the inhabitants of Miserable House, he couldn’t control the inquiries of unwelcome visitors.
Surrounded by loved ones Mom had every opportunity to expose the truth of our existence. Rescue was so close. If only Mom had resurrected a smidgen of courage and pushed past fear’s voice, but she didn’t.
Grandpa, Patches, Uncles, Aunts and Dancing Cousins surrounded us again on the weekends. Their presence brought temporary joy and lightness to our hearts. Grandpa was reunited with his tiny shadow and I could squeeze my licorice puppy (who never wandered away) whenever I wanted. It’s ironic that a natural disaster brought a slight breeze of happiness? All too soon the repairs were completed and one by one friends and family disappeared from our lives – again.
Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures –
The abuser felt a few gnarled fingers of control loosen and the sense of diminished power unglued him. John realized that resuming our isolation from unwelcome outsiders while living in the same city would never work. He had come dangerously close to exposure. The potential threat for a family intervention/rescue would always exist just a few miles away. Isolation Success could only be achieved if the inhabitants of Miserable House moved far from any prying eyes. Proximity and interaction with loved ones are the archenemies for a controlling manipulator.
The Twisted Sound of Manipulation –
Elaine your family doesn’t like me and they never will. We need, no deserve a fresh start. Don’t you want to give our children and us a chance for happiness? If we move farther away your family they won’t be able to interrupt or interfere. I will be able to relax and won’t be so defensive. It will be so much better for us. We deserve this chance at happiness.
A few months later the inhabitants of Miserable House loaded their belongings into a U-Haul trailer and moved to a tiny island town in the Florida Keys. We knew nobody. We saw nobody. We were now truly all alone.
Abuse Truth –
An abuser’s appetite for control and manipulation always increases in frequency, ferocity and form.
An abuser’s methods for provoking compliance mutate when previous methods become ineffective.
An abuser rehearses responses to potential questions and comments of outsiders with their victims.
My Random Partial List –
I love the song of doves. I love curling up with a real book. I love the sparkle of Christmas tree lights. I love God.
Ending With Something Lovely – Trust Like a Child
I must confess that I am a lover of people, so it would stand to reason that I often become totally absorbed in watching them. Forget the movies, life unfolding in real-time is far more intriguing.
Staring out of the smudged taxi window it began – the slow misty drizzle that is the harbinger of rain. Thankfully the cab driver deposited me in front of the restaurant adorned with a deep canvas awning. It would function nicely as shield in preventing my soft locks from transforming into a crunchy mess. Once securely cemented against the wall foiling a hair disaster, I scanned the rushing sea of pedestrians on the sidewalk across the street. Quickly the mass of movement blurred – except for two. Stroller Dad and Adorable Daughter briskly weaved through the crowd sans umbrella attempting to win the rain race.
The rain refused to cooperate. As it quickened its pace surprisingly the stroller came to a screeching halt. Calmly Dad bent down and whispered something to his tiny passenger. She quickly flashed a smile that radiated loving trust. As he covered her mass of curly hair and face she leaned back totally relaxed, yet totally blind to what was happening around her. Their weaving journey began anew. And I secretly hoped for once in my lifetime that the buzzer in my hand wouldn’t vibrate announcing our table was ready. That tiny trusting child captured my imagination and I needed to know what Adorable Daughter would do.
Much to my astonishment she never lifted even a corner of her blanket to sneak an itty-bitty peak. When forward movement yielded to the red cross walk symbol she did nothing. In case you’re wondering if she fell asleep, nope. I could see her little hands and feet moving periodically. Never once did she wiggle, squirm or turn around in the stroller seeking additional confirmation from Dad that all was well.
She had no concern for the rain. She had no concern for her safety. She had no concern about his ability. She totally, completely, unquestionably trusted her Dad.
It was something lovely.
Until next time,