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ADELAIDE Independent Monthly Literary Magazine / Revista Literária Independente Mensal, New York / Lisboa, Online Edition  

 




 


 

 

 

 

 

KINDERWHORE
by Deanne M. Lehman
(an excerpt)

 

 

 

I was born into a world of darkness and my mother was the moon. Cold and unsmiling, she stood illuminated by her man of the moment, many faces changing throughout the passage of time. How I longed for your love! How I waited for your acceptance. All in vain. The stars around you are the tears I've shed, wavering brightly and already long dead by the time they're perceived. My mother. My Mary. My unrequited love. My betrayer.  

I remember the day they took me away. A caseworker arrived at my house. Her name was Diane Solembrino. I remembered social workers taking me to foster care before, so I was suspicious. The last time I was in foster care, it had been with a young, plump woman in a trailer who gave me a chewy hamburger on white bread that I didn't want to eat. I was scared of her because she spanked her daughter in front of me hard, making her cry. I stood in petrified horror and she looked at me and asked, what's wrong? Why are you hurting your daughter, I asked. My mother never spanked me. I'd never seen anyone spanked before. I thought the woman would maybe hurt me too. I wasn't even her daughter. She was being bad, the woman explained patiently. But I'd seen no wrong doing and stayed silent and far from the woman's grasp, which made her sigh. I was in this home not long. Maybe a few days or a week or two. I can't remember. I was too young to have a sense of time and didn't even know how old I was. Maybe three, maybe four. But I did remember the feeling of sadness and not belonging.

Why was the social worker here today? I didn't know that my mother was abusing and neglecting me and that her relatives kept turning her in to the State. I only knew that I loved my mom and didn't want to be taken away. While the adults were talking, I crept away and burrowed behind the curved back of the couch in the dark living room seeking the solace of shadows. I could hear my heartbeat as I half held my breath and tried not to move. I watched the bright circle at the end of the tunnel. Maybe they wouldn't find me. But the sofa was pulled away from the wall and I revealed with nowhere left to hide. The caseworker kept saying that I needed to leave with her. She had carrot red hair cut into a bob with a direct, serious gaze. I don't want to go, I said. She was calm but firm in her insistence. My mother wouldn't look at me. She spoke only to the caseworker in a steady, unintelligible stream of friendly words. A brown paper bag with my name, Deanna, written in black marker, was handed to the caseworker with a daisy drawn underneath my name like I was going somewhere fun, not away from my mother forever. I was handed my stuffed teddy bear Timmy, who I held tightly under my chin and over my heart. Diane took my hand. My mother didn't hug me as she said her final words to Diane. Why did she seem cheerful? It was like she was already serenely separate from me. I hesitated, waiting for her to say goodbye but she ignored me and directed Diane to watch out for the motorcycle, which was parked inside the enclosed porch, on her way out. Uncertainly I left with Diane. We passed Uncle Steve on the way out. He was just arriving to visit with my mother. He said goodbye as we passed each other on the porch.

It was winter, after Christmas sometime and already dark outside. There was no snow, only black skies with naked tree branches dancing. A strong wind blew, licking the cooling tears from my cheeks sideways in liquid streaks  as I squinted against it. I could see the Christmas lights strung up on houses in rainbow colors. They swelled to spiky, bright blossoms as tears welled and then contracted to their original pinpricks of light after they overflowed. Over and over again. I had no idea where we were going or why. I sat in Diane's cold, strange car as we drove off into darkness. I cried and asked why I needed to go with her. She said I had to come with her and nothing could change that. I was distracted by looking through the windshield because I'd been on very few car rides in my life. My mom and I mostly walked places, when we went anywhere at all. I couldn't stop the tears from slipping down my cheeks, as houses smeared by outside taking me farther and farther away. Diane said it was for the best.

We arrived at 5721 Adams Avenue in Ashtabula, Ohio. A woman opened her porch screen door to let us in. Well hello there! She was middle aged, with her brown hair pulled atop her head. She led us into her living room where an older man was seated. He folded his newspaper, set it aside and smiled welcomingly. They were introduced to me as Arthur and Sophie Cave. The couple received me with concerned cheerfulness, voices strangely musical, as I stood in their living room eying them warily. Diane handed over my brown bag, told me I'd be fine and said her goodbyes, then left me with these strangers. The door shut and they both looked at me. Mrs. Cave asked if I'd be happy staying with them. I promptly said no, that I didn't want to stay, that I wanted to go home to my mother and baby brother. I held my teddy bear tightly. I trusted that Timmy would help me through all this. He was a living creature to me, silent and watchful with gray, matted fur and unblinking brown eyes. He was my sibling and confidant, soft and soothing to my cheek. Uncle Jimmy won the bear at a carnival and tried to gift it to my mom. She didn't want it though, saying it was cheap. Why don't you give it to Deanna? Uncle Jimmy handed him to me with a small smile. The bear was snowy white with a light blue ribbon tied round his neck. I knew he was a boy because of the baby blue ribbon, which I asked to be taken off because it had a stiff plastic look and feel I disliked. I didn't know any names, so I wanted to name him Jimmy after Uncle Jimmy in appreciation for the gift. But he said that was his name, so why not Timmy instead. I liked the way it sounded like his name and happily agreed. He was my only toy and very solemn looking because his tiny, tipped over red D of a mouth was unsmiling, his brown gaze ever direct. How many tears had his fur absorbed over the years, changing it into nappy, darker and dingier salt-encrusted shades of gray? Some areas worn bald from being loved overmuch. He never complained and his watchfulness was unwavering. At least he was with me. Mrs Cave opened the paper bag and removed a couple clothing items, a row of cookies in a sandwich bag and a black plastic comb. Is that it, she exclaimed questioningly. She couldn't believe my mother packed so little. These are junk, she said with a wrinkling of her nose, setting the cookies aside to throw away.  

Mrs. Cave told me I'd be a very pretty girl if only my hair were combed. I didn't want her to comb my hair because I worried that meant I'd have to stay. That's okay, I said, I have to go home soon, so you don't have to. I felt an exasperated despair, like I was unsuccessfully negotiating with kidnappers. Mrs. Cave asked to comb my hair again, but so nicely that I went along with it, not knowing what else to do. She tried working out the snarls in my shoulder-length hair. I endured her combing awhile. Mr. Cave watched beaming warmly at me. Mrs Cave finished up and then offered me some hot cocoa with marshmallows. I'd never had that before but she said I was in for a treat. She went off to heat the cocoa in the kitchen, leaving me alone with Mr. Cave in the living room.

Mr. Cave was sitting in his brown leather reclining chair, his feet up holding a newspaper. He had a big round belly and reminded me of a teddy bear. He wore glasses and a friendly smile, dark stubble standing stiffly on his cheeks. Come sit with me, he invited, moving his newspaper aside and patting his lap. This scared me and I stood frozen before him. I thought he wanted to play with me. Uncle Jimmy was the only man who'd ever touched me intimately, but he was thin and young and I knew him well. My uncle liked to do things naked with my body but he was my friend and I didn't mind. Nobody else ever really touched me. Not my mom or Big Donnie. Only that one time when Mrs. Munger bathed me. Mr Cave probably wanted to do things with me too but it was awkward because I didn't know him. Also, his tummy seemed so big to me. Maybe he'd crush me if he laid on top of me. I didn't have the words to express these thoughts, being four-and-a-half. So I just stood there hesitating, unsure of what to do. Mr. Cave's smile faltered and I didn't want to hurt this nice man's feelings, so I climbed onto his lap.

I sat stiffly in the depths of the recliner chair, off to Mr. Cave's side, enfolded by the ink-scented, rustling newspaper that he continued reading. I sat waiting for him to do something. Nothing happened. Mr. Cave asked me if I knew how to read. I said yes, thinking that was a good thing to say but when he asked me to point to the words I knew, I realized I didn't know any. I'd never seen a magazine, newspaper or book before but knew about Quik from my strawberry milk. By the time Mrs. Cave came back with the cocoa, I was relaxed. While I was sipping melted marshmallows at the dining room table, I heard a low, whispered exchange between the Caves. Mr. Cave asked his wife if it was possible that I'd been interfered with. I didn't know what being interfered with meant but was paying carefully attention because I felt I wasn't supposed to hear what was said. Mrs. Cave replied, Children's Services didn't say anything about that. I didn't say anything about it either, not having the vocabulary words like penis or vagina or sexual abuse. It would take a gynecological exam at age seven to discover the physical evidence. When questioned about these findings, I broke my promise to Uncle Jimmy that I wouldn't tell our secret and said yes, somebody touched me there. But when pressed for details or emotional reactions to the sexual abuse, I became tongue-tied, embarrassed and silent. Uncle Jimmy was my friend and my feelings about the situation were complex. The psychologist said it was wrong for him to do that but didn't explain why. The subject of sexual abuse wasn't brought up again in the three years I lived with the Caves. Nor did Mr. Cave ever ask me to sit on his lap again. He was pretty astute, considering how little his intuition had to work with before asking his wife such a question. But to her, the question seemed out of the blue. She hadn't seen my frozen reluctant to sit on Mr. Cave's lap and she didn't mention his concern to my caseworker. I think all children who enter foster care, irregardless of age or gender, should receive complete medical and psychological examinations for signs of abuse, both physical and sexual, so that any therapy needed can be provided as early as possible.

My name's Deanna, it was pronounced Deen-a. That's how my mom said my name. Mrs. Cave kept calling me De-Anna, which wasn't how my name was said. I told Mrs. Cave my real name but she said, no, that's not your name. It's spelled here on the paperwork D-e-a-n-n-a. Deen-a only has one n, so your name's Deanna, she said in the new way. She said she liked the name Deanna because of an actress named Deanna Durbin. She concluded that it was a better name than Dean-a. Soon I accepted it as my own and even grew to prefer its superior phonetic beauty. I was Deanna Cave on my report cards for a couple years, although I was born Deanna Dunford because my mother was married to Dean Dunford when I was born.

I adjusted to my new life with the Caves. My mom hadn't supervised me much, so sometimes my feelings were hurt because I couldn't understand why Mrs Cave got angry at me for little reasons, like playing with the Windex, so beautifully blue and strangely scented with a fun squirt nozzle trigger to squeeze. Before, staying away from the adults was the main rule. I played and did what I felt like and if in the process I made a mess, broke something or hurt myself or others, I got reprimanded afterward and that's how I learned. Here, if I did something I wasn't supposed to do, I often got caught in the act or even right before doing what I desired, which felt strange and restrictive, although I respected it. It even felt like she knew exactly what I was thinking and told me not to do it even though it was still just a newborn thought. Mrs. Cave was amused at my amazement at her ability to predict what I was thinking. You can fool a lot of people but you can't fool mom, she recited. It made me feel she was near magical. I soon realized I could only do what I was instructed to do, not whatever I felt like until it caused a problem. Even specific activity were assigned, giving me more organized and focused play periods which were excellent for skill building. Play on the front porch with your pretend groceries. Here's a ball, go see how many times you can dribble it in a row. Why don't you go play on the swing for awhile? Then I'd go do it until Mrs. Cave told me to stop.

They tried teaching me life skills, like how to spell my name, how to recite our address and how to tie shoes. I didn't always understand why they were doing this. When they presented me with a pile of ugly, worn out, stinky adult shoes to practice shoe tying with, I was bewildered. I didn't want to play with yucky shoes. There was a shapeless tan pair which truly offended my aesthetic sensibilities. Even their eyelets looked stupidly staring with the toes all cracked in creases and tiredly curling tips. I hated them. It took effort to understand how to tie the laces exactly and I didn't want to touch the frayed ends, sometimes gray with dirt. I didn't understand why the Caves were forcing me to sit there until the entire pile had their laces tied. Worse, they stood there watching me and correcting me the whole time. I cried throughout the entire ordeal and hitched a watery, anxious sigh of relief when it was finally over, leaving them both wondering aloud to each other why I was so  upset. Won't it be nice to be able to tie your shoes now, they asked placatingly. I just gave them a dirty look and said nothing. But eventually I learned to appreciate the fact that they were trying to equip me with the training that I needed, even if I treated them like they did me an outrageous indignity at the time.

They had me do jigsaw puzzles at the dining room table on rainy afternoons. My favorite featured Robinson Crusoe and had five hundred pieces. It was easy to do the frame using the corners to start out, but my attention wandered filling in the center. I would sit there impatiently, elbow on table, head in hand, waggling my feet back and forth as they dangled well above the floor, scanning to see where my held puzzle piece went. Mrs. Cave read me two stories from the Little Golden Book series, Jack and the Beanstalk and Mickey Mouse's Picnic, which always made me hungry. I enjoyed the colorful illustrations and the stories soon became familiar favorites.

Mrs. Cave tried to teach me to color in a Scooby Doo coloring book but I had no experience coloring. She was disappointed by my messy first efforts with orange, wild zig zags going well outside the lines. I pressed with heavy intensity, which resulted in a sudden snap and I stared at the two untidy halves. I tried to push them back together bu it wouldn't stay. I wanted a whole crayon but now it was ugly, broken and felt too short. It made me feel disappointed, guilty and sad. Mrs. Cave watched in growing disapproval. I colored with my left hand but she scolded me and put the crayon in my right hand. Why not, I asked. I just wanted to see what it felt like and if I would do better on that side. She gave no real explanation. It's the wrong hand, use the other one. I felt gnawing dissatisfaction because I couldn't figure out why it was wrong. Later in life, I would integrate left-handedness into my repertoire in direct defiance to this memory, becoming partially ambidextrous. But back then, I just used my right hand as instructed. I tried coloring Shaggy again with less pressure, but the color wasn't bright enough that way. I pushed a little harder and snap! Another broken crayon. Two of eight were now broken. Crayons seemed ridiculously fragile. I felt dismayed as Mrs. Cave took the coloring book away saying she'd save it for when I was old enough to use it properly. I felt like I failed.

I only colored at school thereafter, well behind my kindergarten peers in terms of experience. I didn't know how to cut with scissors and had problems using pencils because the lead kept crisply snapping. The teacher wondered why I was going up to the pencil sharpener so many times and my explanation they just keep breaking  sounded lame. I wrote such dark markings that if I went to erase a mistake, no amount of rubbing at it seemed to work. I could still see the ghost of it. I tried licking my fingertip and washing the pencil marks away, but it only wet the paper and I ended up rubbing a hole through it when I tried again to erase it. My vigorous erasing made pink smears and usually wrinkled the entire page if it snagged. I was startled to discover that if you erase too briskly, you could burn your fingertip touching the hot spot. I sucked on my finger, near tears from frustration and surprise but the burning sensation quickly faded. My markings were so fiercely pressed that the lead point sometimes tore through the paper, each deliberate stroke left little grated granules of lead which smeared when I went to tidy the page or transferred to gray smudges on my face and clothing. But I was concentrating and trying to control myself with such focus that pressing hard felt natural. The added stress from the bad results increased my anxiety and determination to do better, which in turn caused me to press even harder. I had all these emotional ups and downs. Not that the teacher observed my methods, just the horrible, wrinkled, smeared and holey results which she complained about before my classmates. I wanted to please her so badly. Or at least escape criticism for my clumsy efforts.

I felt like a horrible student compared to the cheerful confidence of my classmates. They didn't seem anxious. They seemed like they were relaxed and having fun. They even talked with each other while I stayed separate not knowing what to say. Why was it so hard for me and so easy for the others? I felt different from them, made worse by the fact that I was the only foster child in the class. They talked of moms and dads and siblings. Their jobs, nice things they said or did or little gifts that they gave them. I had no such details to offer. The Caves said my mother was a bad woman who didn't take good care of me and abused me. I only knew that I loved and missed her and being told she was bad made me miserable. I shrank behind the person sitting in front of me, trying not to be noticed.

But before the stress of starting school, my days from spring to the beginning of fall that year were filled with freedom and play. I'd be busy pulling a little red wagon up and down Adams Avenue with many a noisy clatter. Or kneeling inside the wagon on one knee and scooting along with the other leg singing, little red wagon painted blue, skip to my lou my darling! I wasn't allowed to go around the block or across the street. Just back and forth along Adams Avenue. We lived near Bunker Hill. Sometimes Mrs Cave took me on a walk to the Stop-N-Shop at the top of the hill, filching mulberries off a large bush along the way. I played outside every day that it wasn't raining. A fresh pile of dirt was purchased and tipped ceremoniously from a wheelbarrow into a rich, loamy pile in the backyard by Mr. Cave. I made mud pies and gingerbread boys, carefully decorated with pebble buttons and dry dirt for sprinkled sugar. I enjoyed getting absolutely filthy. There was a garden with sun-warm tomatoes and a variety of flowers in a rich range of colors. I liked the sweetly scented snapdragons with their purple and white snouts roaring silently at the press of a delicate jaw hinge. There were pussy willows in the spring, light gray and velvety soft to the lips and nose. In the summer a grapevine hung heavy with green and purpling globes of slipskin grapes. There was a sour green apple tree which made me salivate to even look at and a lone raspberry bush growing along the very edge of the back yard keeping the tall peach tree company. There was a tree with a wooden board swing which had a cool, moist clay furrow curved beneath from bare feet. I'd swing as high as I could, protected from the burning sun by the shade singing songs to myself taught by Mrs. Cave. I was happily busy during the day.

At night, I had trouble sleeping. I just wasn't able to. I would play with Timmy, either rodeo rider where my foot was Timmy's bucking broncho or I'd have him do a series of flips, catching him in my hands. Then I would just think and think and think to pass the time. I was starting to love the Caves but still missed my mom and wanted to be with her. I missed my baby brother with his blonde, tousled hair and silly smiles. I'd lay in my bed on the bottom bunk staring at the overhead mattress and tracing the metal lattice diamonds. I just didn't feel sleepy and was put to bed at eight, which felt especially cruel in summertime when it was still light outside. I'd watch the bleeding sunset fade to black, mourning the loss of precious playtime. The nightlight in the hall made everything golden sepia-tinged surrounded by shadow. A Chewbacca piggy bank stood guard by the door, anchored with countless pennies within. I would hear different TV shows turn to nightly news downstairs. Then Mrs. Cave would look in on me before turning in for the night with Mr. Cave in their bedroom across the hall. I was sometimes the last person in the house to fall asleep.

In the dark for many hours, I'd play all the memories of my mom that I could remember. I'd do this nightly because it made me feel closer to her and I didn't want to forget her. I felt if I forgot her then I'd never see her again. I hoped one day she'd take me back home. My mother was thin, with long, straight brown hair past her waist and dark brown eyes. She had a deep tan, so different from my own strawberry-blonde paleness. The 1/4th Cherokee blood was very apparent in her. She was beautiful to me, especially in the soft focus of my memories. Mr. and Mrs. Cave were in their fifties, more like grandparents than parents. My grandmother was younger than Mrs. Cave. I missed my mother so.

 

 

 

 

About the Author:

Deanna

Deanna M. Lehman is an author, poet and artist  currently residing in Des Moines, Iowa. She is currently represented by the James Fitzgerald Agency of New York City and is the author of Kinderwhore, available through Amazon.

 







 

 

 

     
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