Right Hand and Evil Hand

Some things are harder to write about than others.  The following is one of them.

I am not sure how long I was with Cleo when this took place.  The first meal I remember being served by Cleo was Chicken Noodle soup.  Cleo became very angry because I was holding my spoon in my “evil” hand.

She was yelling at me about the hand I used to eat with was ‘evil.’

I didn’t know what ‘evil’ meant, but by looking the look on her face, evil must mean really bad.

She set me down and told me to use my RIGHT hand!

I didn’t know what my RIGHT hand was.

I picked up my spoon.

Cleo was screaming about the RIGHT hand!

Lou reached across the table and put the spoon in my other hand.

Cleo stopped screaming.

That must be what Cleo means by the RIGHT hand.

I tried to eat my soup with the spoon in the RIGHT  hand.  It didn’t feel right.  I didn’t know how to use this hand.

When I tried to eat the soup with the RIGHT hand, I spilled soup down the front of myself.

Cleo flew into a rage.  Picked up an extension cord, yanked me out of the chair and struck my back, bottom, and legs with it.

I didn’t know what I was doing wrong.  I was trying to do what she wanted.

I was trying to use the RIGHT hand, but it didn’t feel natural.  I was clumsy when I used the RIGHT hand. Cleo said using the other hand was “evil.”  I didn’t understand, I had always used the “evil” hand.

She told me to eat my soup.  Lou again put my spoon in my RIGHT hand.  I held the spoon really, really tight.  I was trying not to spill any soup.

I spilled some soup.

Cleo was screaming about an ‘evil’ hand.  She  snatched the spoon away and smacked my “evil” fingers with its handle–really hard.

Cleo picked up the extension cord.  Instead of beating me with it, Cleo tied my RIGHT hand and ‘evil’ hand together behind my back.

Cleo told me to lap my soup like a dog.

I did.  I was crying.

Cleo was smiling.

My back and fingers hurt.  They hurt bad.

Cleo and Lou watched.

After I finished lapping my soup, Cleo told me that I would be using the RIGHT hand.  Every-time she saw me trying to reach for something or using my wrong hand, my ‘evil’ hand would get hit with the heavy handle of the spoon.

Cleo dropped the spoon in her apron pocket.

Eventually, I did learn to use the RIGHT hand. I don’t know how long it took.  I do have scars on my “evil” fingers from the times Cleo caught me.

Spiders and A Stuffed White Kitten

The car finally arrived at the farm where I was kept  for the next 9 years. I was taken out of the trunk by a man. I remember meeting Lou for the first time. He leaned over. He was smiling as he smelled my hair. I didn’t understand why I felt icky when he did that, but would find out none too soon.

My new home was to be the root cellar of the old farmhouse. I don’t know where Cleo thought a three-year old was going to run away to. The farmhouse set far back from the road. The farm was located in the middle of nowhere.

My new name was Salina.  Mommy was Cleo.  Daddy was Lou.

It doesn’t take long to break a three-year old.

The cellar had cement block walls and a dirt floor. There was an old ringer washing machine and oil furnace on a cement slab in one corner.  The size of the basement was small, about the size of a typical bathroom.  There was a small very dirty window that  had bars on the outside.  The window did not open.

There were basement stairs.  The stairs were steep.

At the top of the stairs, there was one lone bare lightbulb with a pull string that I couldn’t reach. Cleo turned it on when she came down. Lou also turned it on when he came to “visit.” Other then when they allowed the bare bulb to stay on that it was off.

She let me know she controlled everything.

It was dark. It was so very dark at night. The only light came from the crack under the door at the top of the stairs. Even during the day, it was dark. The small barred dirty window let in very little light.

There was a bucket in the other corner. That was my toilet.

My bed was the floor.

Lou made sure to bring me a Disney princess sleeping bag. It had Cinderella on it. He made a table. The table was actually was six cinder bricks, with an old wooden door laid across the gap in the bricks.  He  put a dirty table-cloth over the old wood door.

The heavy door at the top of the stairs the basement stairs had four locks.  The door led out to the hall.  The room directly ahead was the dining room.  If you turned left instead, and then up the stairs of Cleo’s old farmhouse there was another door with four locks. This door opened to another enclosed room Lou called the ‘play room’. The walls in that room were covered with neon pink. There was a canopy bed with white sheets with little pink hearts.  There were dolls.  Lots of dolls. Cleo brought “guests” who paid for time with me.

I’m not going to describe anything that happened in that room, that is enough. One thing I will tell you,  is the pink wasn’t  for me, it was because Lou and the other men liked pink.

I learned every inch of the basement. I knew what the cracks in the block walls felt like. I knew the taste and smell of the dirt floor and I knew the spiders that lived in the windowsill, they were friends. With the dim light coming through that tiny basement window, I’d count their legs, inspect their webs, examining them, trying to understand why they were there.  I even named them.
Although it may be hard for you to understand, the basement terrified and comforted me at the same time. I was terrified of where Cleo and Lou might be. As long as that door was locked I felt safe. I learned to listen to every sound of the footfalls from the house above. I learned the creeks and noises of the house and how many seconds I had from the moment the first lock snapped to the crack the door made when it was opened.  As long as I didn’t hear that crack then I was safe. If I heard voices that was even worse because it could mean I would be entertaining soon.Silence meant no one was moving and no one was headed down to me.
I had my secret too.My soft stuffed white kitten.  Her name was Snowball.  I had her in the store.  I held her in the car and trunk too. Lou had taken Snowball out of the trunk.  He threw her on the ground. .  Lou was too busy smelling my hair and smiling.  I felt icky,  I picked her up.  Lou didn’t  notice me hugging a little white stuffed kitten.  Somehow I knew to hide Snowball in the cinder block holes in the table when Cleo was around.  Lou didn’t care about stuffed kittens.  
Snowball was the only thing they would never take away from me.  

Christmas Eve in the Barn

Since I am starting this blog on Christmas Eve, I am going to tell a memory I have of one Christmas Eve.

I don’t know how old I was when I was first banished to the barn, but I know I was already in school because the kids at school would tease me about smelling like the barn animals and poop.                                                                              

I remember one Christmas Eve in particular.  I was between 6 and 8 years old. My teacher in school had read a story to my class about how the animals were able to talk at Midnight on Christmas Eve because the animals in the stable where Jesus was born kept Him warm with their breaths. The story said, That God remembered this, and every Christmas Eve at the stroke of mid-night animals were able to talk. It was God saying thank you to the animals.

I wanted to hear my barn friends speak to me on Christmas Eve like the story said. I believed they would too.

I remember waiting for the stroke of midnight. I would know it was midnight by the sound of the Church bell which rang every hour somewhere in the distance. I remember this particular Christmas Eve sitting on a hay-bale, wrapped up in my Cinderella sleeping bag , watching, the barn animals. All the stuffing was long gone from the sleeping bag. It was ragged, torn and stained. I had learned that getting under the hay was very warm, and that the sleeping bag kept the hay from causing my skin to itch.

It was cold in the barn.  It’s cold in Pennsylvania in December.  But, I couldn’t get under the hay. Not yet. I couldn’t miss one word of what my barn friends had to say.

As I sat listening for the church bell in the distance to tell us it was midnight, I wondered what my friends, the barn animals would say. Unlike Cleo the animals were never cruel to me. Unlike Lou, the animals didn’t want things from me that hurt me. I day dreamed about what the horse I liked to ride, Candy, would say.  Candy was a brown and white paint. Then there was Chestnut stallion named Storm, the milk cow name Sally, the Bull named Joseph, and all the other cows and horses in the barn. What about that old Sheep dog in the curled up in the corner?  His name was Blackie. I pictured, Blackie having a deep voice like his bark. I wondered what he would talk about. There was a little brown, black and white mutt, I called Baby. Baby was a quiet, sweet dog.  She loved being petted and slept with me.  I imagined her voice would be quiet.  I wondered what the barn-full of feral cats would have to say. I had made friends with the kittens, and they were tame.  The older cats, and Mama cat, in particular, still didn’t trust me. I would tell mama cat, that she was pretty, and that I wouldn’t hurt her. Then she would trust me.  I just knew it.

I couldn’t wait for that church bell to ring. I was so very excited. I started asking the animals questions. I told them they could answer me when the church bell rang.

Suddenly, I heard the bell ringing in the distance. I jumped to my feet, ran to the horse stalls. The horse stalls were on my side of the barn.  If I did miss what my barn friends said, I would have to wait a whole year, until the next Christmas Eve before we could speak to each other again.
The bell tones faded away.

Silence.

The horses didn’t speak.

I ran over to Sally. She was chewing her cud.

Like always.

Certainly, Joseph the bull would have a lot to say. He was always snorting in his pen. I ran to his pen. He was chomping on hay.

Joseph wasn’t speaking either.

Tears were streaming down my cheeks by then. Hot tears.  Brokenhearted. None of my friends spoke.

Then I felt something soft against my leg. It was one of the cats I had tamed by playing with when she was a kitten. I had named her Missy. Missy was looking up at me.

I thought she was going to talk to me. She did but instead of a human voice, she mewed and rubbed against my other leg. Crying with disappointment, I went back and sat down hard on the same hay bale I had used as a chair earlier.

Missy hopped up, purring she took her place on my lap. I knew I should get under the warm hay, because it was cold, but I just couldn’t do that. Not yet. I sat there, straining to hear my friends speak. Maybe they just needed more time since they could only talk once a year.   

The barn was very quiet. No one spoke.  The only sound was Sally chewing her cud, Joseph snorting from time to time, the occasional sound of a horses  hoof as they changed positions in their stalls, and Missy’s soft purr.

I shivered as the night became colder. Wrapping myself tighter in the worn out sleeping bag, I finally made my bed under the hay.

The sun rose Christmas morning.

My barn friends never spoke.

I’m a grown now. Well past the age of childhood fairy-tales and dreams. But yet, I catch myself each Christmas Eve looking at my cats and hoping this is the Christmas they speak. Hoping that this is the Christmas that the world will be set right.