Where we meet the archetypal savior, move from the pedophile’s house, and then everything goes to shit again.
2. An Angel the Size of a Mountain Dad’s Place (2-4 Houston, Texas)
I’m told I was two and a half, Mom and I were living in the Apple Apartments, away from Skip, when Karl was first introduced to me. I have a memory of someone coming in through the front door of our apartment, and my running intimidated into the hallway. There I hid behind the entry frame peeking out at this hulking figure of a man. He came up to me, crouching his gigantic mass down to approximate my size and said:
“Howdy there, Slick, I’m Karl, your mama’s new friend.
I see you got some pretty red hair.
Maybe we can be friends too, what you think about that?”
From that hallway encounter my life was forever overlain with a thin protective layer. It was in that moment I met my true father, until his death in 1993. I have never considered Skip to be my Dad in any way, nor called him that after those early years of childhood. Years later, Skip continues to be rather adamant about the fact that he only supplied the sperm for my life, not the love or nurturance, when asked. My mother divorced Skip when I was three, but the sexual abuse allegations weren’t filed until I was 6. I was between their houses, due to visitation privileges, until then.
My Dad, Karl, had his own apartment that my mom and I moved into shortly after I met him. I felt sad about the move since I never recall she and I being happier than the brief time we were alone in our Apple Apartment. There we used to wait excitedly for the red Jell-O mixed with fruit cocktail to congeal; after it was ready we would sit together sharing the cool red-flavored treat. Bites of happiness and her face like pure-heart-joy, just for me.
Once there was a fire that burned half of an apartment building in our complex down. My mother told me that we could do something instead of standing around scared. She and I went through our little place. I gathered toys and clothes, and she grabbed more practical items to give to the families who had suddenly been left homeless by the flames. My mother, to this day, gives clothes, furniture, and her old defunct cars to local charities. Her house has been a dubious “safe haven” for exchange students, single moms in between situations, veterans, and she even once welcomed a family of 10 travelers who had no where to go. She was fond of saying that if she had no money (throughout our life there would be many skint days) we would always have the deep freezer stocked with food. A frightening sarcophagus of cold encased meal memories that my siblings and I ruminate about in humored horror. As long as she lives, that woman will fight tooth and nail to keep or more often “find” her a house so that her “family and others always have a place to come to.” It’s an odd dichotomy my mother has going, I’ll be the first to admit. There ain’t no saint without sin, but there are no saints to be found in this story.
Karl’s apartment had its own magic I came to discover. The eating nook walls were floor to ceiling mirrors where I conducted regular performances for myself, and anyone willing to tolerate my improvised songs and imaginary worlds. I had a pallet on the floor in the living-room where I slept. It was there that my first dragon was born from an egg that I bought, with my parents, at the Texas Renaissance Festival. The secret of its birth my Dad took to the grave. I slept with that egg every night, keeping it warm, for weeks. One morning I woke up and a large green dragon stuffed animal with pieces of eggshell around it was there nestled under my pillow. How could I not believe in magic? After all, I have been a prancing wood nymph twirling my way through annual Renaissance Festivals from the age of 2…it’s in my blood. I learned to be alluring from a young age.
Dad’s place was where I learned the important rule that Taco Bell tacos and chocolate milk should never meet in my stomach. Otherwise a virtual geyser of vomit explodes from my nose and mouth, leaving carpets, mirrors, and parents laden with the undigested remnants of questionable Tex-Mex fast-food takeout. It’s also where I was taught that although my mother was cool about eating whatever was in the house whenever I wanted to, wasting food wasn’t an option – even by accident. I once opened the refrigerator door, on my own, to grab a glass jar of applesauce from the shelf, however I couldn’t keep a tight grip on the container, either due to small hands or condensation. I dropped the jar. Glass shattered, applesauce went everywhere onto the linoleum and cabinets, since it was of one of those tiny shotgun apartment kitchens it was easy for a mess to spread quickly. My mother lifted me by my arms, going absolutely ballistic, screaming, and spanking me, “You have to be more careful! What were you thinking? You can’t waste food like that! This is so bad! You are a bad bad girl for doing this, Mandy!”
That is the first time I remember my mom berating or spanking me for something I had done. It must have set off a tectonic shift, causing her inner dormant volcano to awaken from its burning lava slumber. Maybe if I just hadn’t tried to get that damn applesauce down from the shelf everything afterwards would’ve been different, do you think?
This was the second chapter in a multi-part series titled Memories of a Red Flagged Kid.
© Amanda Lee 2016