My mother’s turmoil has returned. It’s the new house. I’m four. I’m standing in the corner of my bedroom, facing the wall. I’m being punished but I don’t know what I’ve done. The wallpaper in my room is very interesting. It has the alphabet on it, with pictures to match each letter. A is for apple; Z is for zebra; and then every letter in between. I don’t mind staring at my wall.

My mother comes into my room and says, “Your dad’s pulling up the driveway. You can come out of your room now. Don’t tell him what happened.” I don’t tell him what happened because I don’t know.

*     *     *

It’s afternoon and my mother’s friends are over, playing cards. It’s her Bridge Club. My mother walks me to my room at the end of the hall and then tells me to stay in it, that I’m being punished. I start to cry. “Mommy, I didn’t do anything!”

“I know,” she says quietly. “But I just need you to stay in here and be punished, otherwise I’ll look like a bad mommy to everyone else. Will you just do this for me? I’ll come get you when everyone’s gone home.”

I stay in my room and act punished, even though I know I’m not. My mother lets me out of my room once everyone’s gone home.

*     *     *

It’s late on a Saturday afternoon and my dad’s home. He and my mother are sitting close to together on the couch in our living room. I’m sitting next to my mother. They are kissing. A lot. I like sitting close to them when they’re kissing. It feels safe. I’m wearing pretty ankle socks; they are white cotton, with ruffles. I have an ink pen and I’m drawing on one of my socks.

I hear my dad laugh and say, “I need to cool down.” He gets up from the couch and sits in the chair next to the couch instead. Suddenly my mother screams at me, “What are you doing?!”

In a heartbeat, she has pulled me over her knee; she’s tugged down my pants and is spanking me. In front of my dad. It’s humiliating. My heart is breaking. I can’t believe she’s doing this to me in front of my dad. I’m sobbing.

He yells at her. “Why are you hitting her? Stop it.”

“She’s ruined her sock!”

“So what?” he yells. “Stop hitting her. Why do you always have to ruin everything?”

She stops hitting me as he gets up and leaves the room. “I’m not ruining anything,” she cries after him. “Come back – please.” She shoves me off her lap and gets up to follow him. “Pull up your pants,” she says to me angrily. “Stop crying and go to your room. I don’t want to see you anymore. Just leave me alone!”

*     *     *

My mother is in the kitchen, cooking. I’m sitting at the kitchen table, playing with my doll. My brother runs into the kitchen; he’s very upset. “Mommy,” he cries. “I had an accident! I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t get to the bathroom in time!”

My mother is on him like a shot. I’m stricken with fear; I can’t move. She’s screaming at him, pulling his pants down. “You’re going to wash these yourself, mister. Right now. I’m so sick of this. I’m so tired of doing all this laundry.”

She drags him half-naked into the bathroom across the hall from the kitchen. She throws a bar of soap at him. She tosses his underpants into the sink. “Wash them,” she says, wearing her very ugly face. Then she leaves him alone in the bathroom.

My brother is crying. “Mommy, I can’t do this! I don’t know how!” He runs out of the bathroom and comes back into the kitchen. “Mommy, please. Help me!” He starts biting his nails. When my brother is very upset, he bites his fingernails.

“Don’t!” my mother screams at him, going toward him. “Don’t bite your nails!” Still half-naked, he runs away from her. She chases him. Catches him easily. Drags him back into the kitchen.

“Mommy, don’t!” I scream. I’m crying now, too. I want to protect him from whatever’s coming. “Shut up,” she yells at me. “Just shut up and go sit in the chair, missy. Right now.”

I’m terrified. I go to the chair she’s talking about – one of the dining room chairs that’s next to the buffet. It’s a tiny house; each room flows into the next. I can see easily into the kitchen as she ties my brother’s hands together and then hits him over and over; very, very hard. He’s screaming and can’t get away from her. I’m sobbing my heart out, but trying not to make a sound.

When she’s done beating him, my mother puts my brother’s pants back on him, but she won’t untie his hands. She makes him sit in the chair next to mine. “Mommy, please!” he screams at her. “Untie my hands!”

“Shut up!” she screams back. “Just shut up!” Then she sees something outside the picture window that’s directly behind me and my brother. “Oh no,” she says. “Your dad’s home.”

She unties my brother’s hands. She says urgently, “Go to your rooms, both of you, and calm down, okay? Don’t either of you come out until you’ve calmed down.” She pulls both of us close to her; she’s begging us. “Please,” she says. “Don’t tell your dad what happened.”

– in progress –

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