They’ll Kick You Then They’ll Beat You Then They’ll Tell You It’s Fair

I was ‘Daddy’s Little Girl.’ I always felt bad for Larry because I thought Joyce was mean to him all the time. I guess I felt that he didn’t deserve it. But I feel now that he was weak and I want to understand why, how, when he became that way. Why was he so weak? Why did he marry Joyce who was so mean to him and Lynne who also walked all over him? Even though I always felt that Tonia was Joyce’s favorite it was okay because I was Larry’s favorite and he was my favorite. Sean was no one’s favorite except for Nora and that’s okay too because everyone needs to be somebody’s favorite.

Amanda supposedly had asthma.  She was allergic to dust. Another supposed thing that supposedly set off Manda’s supposed asthma was stress. Which mainly meant if she didn’t get her way she’d have an asthma attack. Which meant that I would have to call Lynne to come take Manda to the emergency room.  Which would be my fault of course.  So we all had to placate Manda at all costs. I still despise that little shit.

I’m wondering. If you had a seven-year-old child that could conceivably die of an asthma attack, would you leave her in the care of a fifteen-year-old every night? Would you trust removal of allergens to the kids? When the little shit had an asthma attack, would you drive her 45 minutes to the nearest base hospital so you wouldn’t have to pay for the emergency room in town, 5 minutes away?  …you know what? It was a long time ago, but I don’t recall ever seeing an inhaler in the house…

We also couldn’t cook while Larry and Lynne weren’t home, so we made a lot of sandwiches. Or we ate what was left for us in the oven. Everyone had to be bathed and in bed by their own specific time, and if we weren’t all asleep by the time they got home from the theater, there had better be a damn good reason why. We had moved into the new, cockroach-free house in Crestview. I was still going to Baker so I had my Baker friends, but only during the day. At night they were too far away. Sean and Tonia were having a hard time making friends because they weren’t allowed to go anywhere in the evenings–we couldn’t leave the yard and no one was allowed to come into the yard if Larry and Lynne weren’t home. Larry and Lynne were never home. We mostly just played with each other. I didn’t know any of the neighborhood kids and it seemed to me they didn’t care much for us.

But one evening some neighborhood kids finally came over and showed interest in us. Sean begged me to let him play with them, so I let them come into the yard. I went and sat in a far corner of the yard, where I could see Lynne’s green station wagon if it turned down our street. I told Tonia and Sean if I gave the signal, they had to get those kids out of the yard, even if it meant bodily dumping them over the fence.

One of the boys took Sean’s Evel Knieval doll and wouldn’t give it back. I told him to give Sean’s toy back and that’s when I found out they knew we couldn’t leave the yard. The kid jumped over the fence and stood just out of reach, holding the action figure up and asking what I was gonna do about it. Sean had so little in his life that made him happy and I was gonna get him his toy back. I told that brat I would indeed leave my damn yard and march myself right over to his house and tell his parents he was a thief.  So he threw Evel Knieval up onto our roof.

Now what?  Sean was afraid if he left it up there, a bird or a cat might kidnap it, or that little snot would come steal it back.  I tried to get it down with a rake, with a broom.  Couldn’t reach.  Finally after swearing everybody, including Shana, to secrecy, and sending Tonia to the front door to watch for the station wagon, I let Sean climb up onto the roof and get his toy down. It wasn’t that dangerous; Sean just had to climb on the air conditioner unit and from there, climb onto the roof.  He was up and down, didn’t fuck around. He knew there would be hell to pay if he was caught.

Nothing happened.  Everyone was safe. Everyone went to bed.

Thing is, somebody told. 

Amanda was so spoiled and used to getting her way. She basically dictated what happened in the house because of the way Lynne treated her and then treated us like the stepchildren that we were. Amanda wanted to play with my Honey Hill Bunch dolls, the ones that Lynne threw away without telling us, along with all of our Barbies and Sean’s cars because she decided we were too old for them. Amanda did not believe me when I told her the Honey Hill Bunch dolls were gone and she went and told Lynne that I let Sean on the roof.

Larry and Lynne found out that Sean had been on the roof and not only had I known about it, I had helped him get up and watched him and helped him get down. There was going to be a reckoning. I was a cheerleader.  It was a problem because on game nights, Lynne and Larry didn’t have a babysitter.  They could leave Tonia in charge, and they did, but Lynne hated Tonia. My punishment for letting Sean climb up on the roof was that I was going to be pulled out of Baker School, I wasn’t going to be a cheerleader anymore and I wouldn’t be allowed to contact my friends to let them know what was going on. I fell to the floor, wailing as only a 15 year old girl can wail. These were the things that I thought meant the most to me: my friends, my school, being a cheerleader. I had felt for the first time in my life that I was maybe not popular but at least not scared of being left out. I was on the ground crying and begging,  “if you don’t do this, I will do anything, anything at all.” Sean and Tonia had already been pulled out of Baker School because, I don’t know why, because they hadn’t already had enough upheaval in their lives?

I was crying on the floor. Lynne was telling me to stop crying, to grow up, that the decision had been made. I don’t know where Amanda, Bubba and Shana were. I know that Sean was in his room and Tonia was in our room so I picked myself up and I went to throw myself on my bed as you do when you’re 15 years old and your life is crumbling around you. When I got to my room my purse was emptied out on my bed, which was weird because nobody really ever went through my purse. I mean there was nothing in there except my bottle of aspirin because I had headaches every single fucking day, pens, my book to read when I was waiting, and I don’t know what else, but what’s important is that the bottle of Excedrin was empty. A regular sized bottle, you know, not your travel size, but a big bottle of Excedrin. I didn’t know how many were in there because as I said I had a headache every single day and I don’t even know where I got the aspirin from. How would I buy them? But the bottle was empty, laying there on my bed, open and empty. And I asked Tonia if she had taken the pills and she said no. Then I wondered if one of the babies had gotten into the pills but I didn’t know how they would open it. So I didn’t go into Amanda and Shana’s room. I went into Bubba and Sean’s room and Sean was laying on the top bunk with his hands crossed over his chest, staring up at the ceiling.

I asked Sean if he knew what had happened to my Excedrin and he said he had taken them. I asked how many he took and he told me he took them all. Tonia had followed me into the room and she asked “what do you mean all you took all of them? How many were there?” He said he took every pill that was in the bottle, so she asked me how many were in there and I told her I didn’t know. Then she asked me what would happen if someone overdosed on aspirin and I told her I didn’t know. We looked at each other. Sean just kept laying there looking up at the ceiling.

I completely freaked out.  I had no idea what an overdose of aspirin does or how many it would take to overdose, or how many had actually been in the bottle.  But it was clear to me that something bad had happened and one way or another Sean needed help. The next bits of the story I remember in fragments.  Some I don’t know, but was told later. It’s like bad movie effects.

I went to Larry and Lynne, told them Sean needed to go to the hospital. They didn’t want to take him. They had him in the bathroom, yelling at him, “how many did you take?” Trying to get him to vomit. I begged them to take him to the ER, to at least call poison control. I was  trying to look up the number for poison control and someone took the phone book away.  So I just started to dial 0 for operator. The phone was taken away, disconnected from the wall.  Lynne and Larry were absolutely not going to drive Sean 45 minutes to the ER because he took a few aspirin. 

Tonia lost her mind.

She told Larry that he didn’t know that Sean was going to be ok; that at the very least he needed to take Sean to the emergency room. Larry and Lynne said that they were not going to travel all that way just because Sean took a few aspirin. Tonia said that they didn’t know how many Sean had taken and they didn’t know what the effects were, like what would it do to him? Lynne said she was sure that overdosing on Excedrin wouldn’t kill him but he certainly wouldn’t have a headache for several days and she giggled. If Tonia was angry before she completely flipped now. 

Tonia said that every time that Amanda so much as crossed her eyes, Larry and Lynne ran the little brat 45 minutes to the base hospital at Eglin. Tonia said that we had to vacuum and dust and mop and all this other shit every single day so that precious little Amanda wouldn’t have an asthma attack and now every time Amanda didn’t get her way she had an asthma attack and every time she had an asthma attack, Larry and Lynne ran home from work and took the poor dear child to the emergency room 45 minutes away. But when Sean had actually taken nobody knows how many aspirin they refused to do anything. Lynne said again that she was sure he wouldn’t die of it. Tonia said “well has it occurred to you to ask him why he would do such a thing? Beyond just the fact that he took a whole bottle of aspirin not knowing what it would do to him, what was his intent? and WHY WON’T YOU TAKE HIM TO THE DAMN HOSPITAL?” She told Larry and Lynne it was obvious that we were secondhand children and didn’t matter as much as Amanda and Bubba and Shana. The babies were more important and Larry and Lynne proved it every day. Why the fuck would they not just take him to the emergency room? It wouldn’t cost any more than it cost them to take Amanda to the emergency room. He could be dying RIGHT NOW.

Lynne went up and grabbed Tonia by the back of the neck and the shoulders and was shaking her and said that is IT! She said she’d had enough of this back talk; she’d had enough of the nastiness and Tonia’s meanness. Lynne said that it was time for Tonia to learn to control her mouth and to learn who was in charge here. As she was saying all this she was dragging Tonia from the kitchen and down the hall back to our room that used to be the master bedroom and had the master bath in it. She was dragging Tonia back there and I was trying to hold on to Tonia. We were holding onto each other. Lynne grabbed Tonia around the waist and lifted her up and away from me and I was still trying to hold on to my sister. Larry grabbed me around the waist and pulled me back into the living room and made me sit on Lynne’s hideous orange loveseat. He blocked the hall but I could still see Tonia and I could see Lynne walking backwards carrying Tonia and Tonia was fighting and screaming and her face was red and her legs were kicking the air and she was trying to grab doorways to stop Lynne. She was swearing and telling Lynne to stop it; she was going to kill Lynne and she hated her and she hated Larry. Lynne hauled Tonia into our room and slammed the door and I was left sitting there on that hideous orange couch on the wonderfully 70s green shag carpet. 

The next thing I remember is coming to awareness in the middle of a sentence, standing at the foot of Lynne and Larry’s bed. Larry was leaning with his backside against their dresser with his hands up over his mouth. I remember the afternoon sunlight streaming in through Lynne’s orange curtains that I had so admired that she’d made out of bed sheets. I was telling Larry that he had to stop this. He had to make Lynne stop. In my brain I asked myself, “What’s going on?” I didn’t know what was happening but I could hear some kid screaming faintly in the backyard. I could  hear thumping and I couldn’t figure out what it was. I could see the dust motes dancing down the sunbeams coming in through the curtains and I heard myself tell Larry “make her stop or I will call Elnora.” 

When I came back to awareness again I was back sitting on that stupid ass couch and Larry was hugging his wife and Lynne was crying and he was comforting her like she was the one who’d been hurt. I could hear Tonia in the bedroom pounding on the door, screaming to be let out. Out the front window I saw a police car pull into our driveway and I had the fleeting thought that we were saved. But Lynne and Larry saw that cop car too and Lynne went flying back to our room.  I don’t know what Lynne told Tonia but Tonia went silent. In the meantime Larry had yanked me into the boys’ room. Amanda and Shana were already in there and Larry told us that we were going to tell the police that Tonia was still living with Jerome and Joyce; that she hadn’t been in Florida for months and any screaming that they heard was us kids playing chase in the house. He told the girls to go to their room. He told me to go get my book and sit on the couch and read. He answered the door and with all his Southern gentleman charm he told the cops that he was really sorry for the noise. The little kids were chasing each other around the room and Lynne was yelling at them to stop. He told the cops that his wife Lynne had gone back to put the little girls in their room for making so much noise and he called her. Lynne had been standing just out of sight around the corner in the hallway so she could hear what he said. When Larry called Lynne she paused a moment, stepped backward, tiptoed backward just a few steps, and then purposefully walked into the room, telling Larry the girls are sorry. Then she stopped like, “oh there’s cops here; I’m so shocked!” The cops asked her what happened, what the noise was about and she said that the children were running around the house playing chase even though she had yelled at them to go out in the yard. She said she had just put the girls in their room and sent the boys to their own room.

The police asked if they could talk to us kids. Larry turned to me and gave me the worst, fiercest, meanest warning look that I’d ever seen. When he was pulling me down the hall to that hideous loveseat he had threatened that if I told the cops that Tonia was here and Lynne was beating her up, I would get a beating and Sean would get a beating and everybody in the house would get a beating. If I told them what Lynne had done toTonia that they wouldn’t let Tonia return to Joyce and Jerome’s; they’d make her come to Germany with us. I assume that Lynne threatened Manda and Shana or told them it was some kind of fun game or whatever and that Sean had heard what Larry said to me because Sean told me later when I couldn’t remember what happened that Larry made us lie and say that Tonia wasn’t there. So we told the police that my sister was not there, that she was in Minot with Joyce and the noise that they had heard was the little kids being rambunctious. The police left without checking the house. They just believed us because why wouldn’t they? 

After the police were gone Lynne and Larry went into their room.  I went back to my room to find that the doorknob had been tied with a robe belt to the little girls’ room doorknob across the hall and that was why Tonia couldn’t open it. I wonder what Lynne would have said if the police had insisted on going down that hall and found those two doors tied shut like that? At the time I didn’t ask that question; I just let myself into the room and found Tonia laying on the floor beside the dresser. She wasn’t even crying. She had been crying, I could see that her eyes were red and tears were dried on her face, mingled with the blood. She had a split lip, the beginning of a black eye, one of her fingernails was bleeding and one of her feet was bleeding on the top like, I don’t know, like Lynne stomped on it or it’d been scraped against something? She told me Lynne had told her to clean up the mess in the bathroom, so I went in to look to see what she was talking about.

The screen was out of the bathroom window and the window was a few inches open. There was nothing left on the sink or any of the shelves in the bathroom; it was all on the floor. There were blood splatters everywhere. I got a washcloth and started cleaning with just the water from the sink. I didn’t want to leave the room to go get cleaner. Tonia laid on the floor and watched me. She said that Lynne had dragged her down the hall and threw her on the bed. Tonia had gotten up and ran to the bathroom and tried to lock herself in, but Lynne got there first and pushed through the door. I need you to understand that Tonia was a small 13 year old. We were all small children. I think I weighed about 90 lbs and Tonia weighed a little bit less. Lynne was as tall as Larry and he’s 5’10”. She was a big, sturdy woman with a large rear end and wide hips. She had to weigh at least double what Tonia did, probably more.

Tonia said that Lynne pushed her way through the door and grabbed Tonia and threw her across the bathroom. She threw her against the closet door and Tonia slid down to the floor. Tonia said every time she tried to get up Lynne threw her again. She couldn’t get past Lynne to get out of the bathroom so she tried to crawl out the bathroom window. She got the window pushed up and the screen pushed out before Lynne dragged her back in. Tonia said she was holding on to the window frame, trying not to let herself be pulled back in and screaming out into the backyard for someone to please help her. Lynne pushed her down onto the floor and stepped on her with one foot while she shut the window. I guess that was when Larry came in. He didn’t say anything, he just pulled Lynne out of the room and shut the door behind him. That’s when someone tied the doorknobs together with the robe belt. Lynne told Tonia if she didn’t stop screaming and beating at the door that she was going to come in and finish the job.

I cleaned the bathroom. I cleaned Tonia up and I put her to bed. I wanted to give her some aspirin but they were all still in Sean’s gut. Sean was never taken to the hospital. I was not pulled out of school or made to quit cheerleading. The whole incident was never talked about, as if it had never happened. Every time I walked in that bathroom after that I cleaned up more blood.

Plans continued to be made to go to Germany as Larry had been ordered. Tonia was going to stay with Joyce and Jerome. Nora asked Larry if Sean could stay with her and Richie. But Lynne wouldn’t allow that. I don’t think there was a good reason for her not allowing it; I don’t think that she liked Sean or cared what happened to him, but she wasn’t going to have him taken away from Larry unless it was her idea. The plan was that Tonia, Sean and I were going to go visit Joyce and Jerome one more time before transferring to Germany and Tonia would stay with them.

I wasn’t allowed to go to any end of school parties because it was explained to me that it would just make me miss my friends more. I needed to have a clean cut of it. I believe it was more nastiness on Lynne’s part, just one more way to hurt me. Sean, Tonia, and I went to stay with Nora and Richie for a week before we were to go to Joyce and Jerome’s. There’s a picture of the three of us taken during that time. It’s funny. I’m 15, Tonia’s 13,  and Sean is 11. We’re all the same height. It looks like we all weigh the same thing, which is to say not much– we’re all very thin. We’re standing outside Nora’s house and not one of us is looking at the camera. My right shoulder is already curled up toward my ear in the protective gesture that in my later life has caused me so much pain. Sean’s pigeon toes are well in evidence and there’s a huge fake smile on Tonia’s face. It’s the last candid shot of the three of us kids together ever taken.

At some point Sean had told Nora what happened, how Lynne beat up Tonia, and I guess Nora spoke to Ruby Mae and Nita or maybe even to Joyce herself and they came up with a plan. Sometime after this picture was taken, at the end of our week with Nora and Richie, we were loaded into Ruby Mae’s car and she drove us to Minot, North Dakota all by herself. Poor Ruby Mae. She was no taller than I am–4’10”.  You couldn’t even see her head over the back of the car seat. There was no one to take turns driving with her. I still wonder why she was the one chosen, why Joyce and Jerome didn’t come get us or why no one just flew us up to Minot. I do remember that drive and how long and sad it was. 

Nora and Nita helped pack us into the car. They both hugged the three of us goodbye, then stood and looked at each other for a moment. Without a word, Nora turned and walked back into her house while Nita turned and walked back to her car. I don’t know if they ever spoke again.

We left behind everything that was left of our childhood that Lynn hadn’t already thrown out or given away.  My Star Trek and Oz books. Tonia’s shoes and all her makeup and hair stuff. And Evel Knieval. Sean didn’t like him anymore.

So we stayed with Joyce and Jerome all that summer and I guess the plan was that we were supposed to end up back at Nora’s where Lynne and Larry could pick us up and we would all leave for Germany. But Nora and Joyce and Ruby Mae and Nita had come with a plan. If we kids were not returned to Larry at that late date, he would have to report to his station in Germany before he could come back and get us. In the meantime, a hearing was set up in Minot with the judge and lawyers. The hearing was about giving Joyce full custody of us kids. Since Larry was only informed of it on that last day before he had to leave for Germany, he couldn’t make it. Since he didn’t make the hearing, he forfeited his right to us. This was all explained to Larry when he showed up at Nora’s to pick us up. Lynne and Larry and the three replacement children went over there after everything was packed up and moved. They showed up at Nora’s to get us and we weren’t there. Larry called me in Minot in the middle of the day. I guess he’s lucky that he got us, that we were there to answer the phone. I wasn’t lucky. 

Our AMA friends from before we moved to Florida, Nancy and Babette, were with us in the trailer and for some reason the phone was answered in Joyce and Jerome’s bedroom. Joyce and Jerome were at work and Bonnie and Jerome Michael hadn’t moved in with us yet. I don’t know if Larry spoke to Sean or Tonia. I know that when he spoke to me I could hear Lynne shrieking in the background and Nora shouting back at her. Larry told me he expected us on the next plane out. Us being me and Sean; he said he didn’t care what happened to Tonia but Sean and I were coming with him. I don’t think he has ever understood that all the decisions I made during that time were made with the sole purpose of keeping my siblings safe. BOTH of them.

I can only imagine how disappointed Lynne and Larry were about going to Germany without a free live-in babysitter. Richie told me later that phone call happened in his living room and when it was over, Lynn threw a fit. She told Larry all the things he was going to do immediately to get us back.  She told Nora and Richie all the lies they were going to tell to get the judge to take us away from Joyce.  She cut and ripped up our quilts that Joyce had made for us. Richie said Nora chased Lynne out of the house with a fly swatter. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to see that.

I told Larry that if he would let Sean stay with Nora and Richie I would come to Germany with him and he said no. He said Sean was his son and belonged with him. I told him “those are my terms, if you won’t let Sean stay with Nora then we aren’t coming back.” He told me I was no longer his daughter. I started crying, begging him not to say such a thing. I told him I loved him. I told him I had to keep Sean and Tonia safe. Larry told me if Sean and I weren’t in Germany by the end of the month I was no longer his daughter and he hung up without saying goodbye.

That was the first time in my life I fainted. I remember walking down the narrow hall of the trailer, wondering in a detached way what was happening. My head felt like it was no longer connected to my body. My vision was darkening into an actual tunnel. I fell or stumbled or leaned against the wall and began to slide down it. Nancy grabbed me and helped me to the couch. She laid me down and got a wet washcloth to put on my head. Sean was sitting beside me on the floor crying and saying it was all his fault. Tonia was raging, pacing all over and yelling that she hated Larry and she hated that bitch Lynne. Then Tonia called Joyce. Joyce and Jerome came home. And we all lived happily ever after.

Except that didn’t happen. When Lynne beat Tonia, she beat all three of us. As Tonia had done all her life, she took the punishment. We couldn’t protect her; in fact we were made to deny her existence. The guilt and shame never left us.  When Larry let Lynne beat Tonia, he proved to us what we’d long suspected: we were on our own and no one was coming to save us. He showed us that we were also the last choice. Joyce left us for Jerome, Larry chose Lynne over us. We never got over it.

I’ve never seen Manda, Bubba, or Shane ever again.  I imagine them tearing up my beloved books, ruining Tonia’s makeup, breaking off the arms and legs of Evel Knieval.  A few years later Larry adopted them. Two girls and a boy. Replacement children.

It’s hard sometimes for me to explain how very much I hate Lynne. I’ve been told forgiveness makes life easier, but there is no forgiveness in my heart for her. When Larry called me a few years ago to tell me Lynne had cancer, it took all of my strength to not say, “Good. I hope it hurts and I hope she dies.” Larry is not forgiven either. EVER.


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