The nightly assaults had slowed down to every couple of weeks, but every time it happened, it was like the first time. My grandfather had repeatedly told me to keep quiet, not say a word, and threatened bodily harm. I was too young to realize that the worst harm had been done.
Now, with Mother around, I felt safer. Papa had come by intermittently, using the money he was earning in San Pedro to build us a bigger, better, stronger home. I wondered how strong the doors were, and how effective they would be against my grandfather. With the house more or less done, Mother and I moved in, once again, sleeping together and living day to day.
Things were different with her. She seemed harder, more prone to lashing out at me, screaming and yelling and constantly in a rage. I could never do anything right. To top it off, I was steadily gaining weight – something she abhorred. It all started when they sent for me the first time, flying me over to San Pedro.
Mother worked as a housekeeper at one of the island hotels, “La Joya del Caribe” (Playador, and more recently, Exotic Caye Beach Resort). As a maid, she would clean up after the tourists, some of the strangest, yet nicest people I had seen. They were always so nice to me, always feeding me chocolates, and giving me cute hair clips, sometimes taking me with them on walks to the beach and into town, to the ice cream parlor. They taught me to swim in the shallow pool while my mother worked, and when it was time to go home, I’d come out of the pool, fat, full, and wrinkled, ready for bed. After three months of such gluttony, my old clothes hardly buttoned up.
At our small apartment, Papa would buy cokes for lunch and dinner. I was not used to drinking sodas as back home, in the village, cokes were reserved especially for Christmas and birthdays. And even then, children could only have a glassful with lots of ice. Now, for nearly 90 days, I was having at least two a day. I could not say no – I doubt anyone said no to Papa. He seemed so happy here, being able to give me things that perhaps he felt I wanted. I had chocolates every day, sodas, chips, candy, everything that I had been raised to believe were bad for me. There was a television in the room too, and it was on all the time. Cartoons, movies, Disney channel, my first time in San Pedro was a complete overload. I loved it and loathed it at the same time.
Every vacation from school meant weeks and weeks of such gluttony, to the point where my poor body could not decide. I’d leave at least 20 pounds overweight, and as soon as I got back home, where everywhere was a long walk up hills and food consisted of vegetables and water, I would lose the weight. With such a yo-yo diet, it was no wonder that when puberty hit, it was a disaster.
Mother found every thing I did irritating, from the way I sat to eat, to the way my clothes fit so snugly every few months, and even the way I held my pen to write. She held hers with two fingers, the thumb and index, leaning against the middle, writing beautiful cursive lettering. I held mine with my three fat fingers, writing round, cursive and print, all in one paragraph. There were many days when I had to re-do all my homework on fresh pages because she insisted that I do one thing consistently. For one miserable year, I hated my mother – despite being happy she was around to save me from evil.
Then the big event happened: my period. As soon as I woke up, I found her piling all kinds of skirts at the foot of the bed I slept in. “Get up. You need to clean up. Your period is here.” “My what?”
“Your period. You’re a young lady now. No more pants, only skirts.” Never mind that I knew nothing about what to expect, and that I once again was reliving my worst nightmare in secret. She handed me some folded up cloths and told me to take off my clothes and walk to the bathroom. She showed me how to tuck in the rags into my underwear and adjust until I could walk properly with it on. That’s when I understood the skirt situation. If I wore pants, the bulk would show. With a skirt, I could walk open-legged and it wouldn’t be too obvious. At least, that’s what my 10-year old mind worked out. Years later, I’d observe how, when girls reached a certain age, they stopped playing around with boys. Instead, wearing sedate “womanly” clothing, they started their training in cooking, cleaning, caring for babies – they were training to be mothers, housewives – women.
But back to me. Ha.
I walked back to the house, and Mother was preparing a tub of water to wash the soiled sheets. She scrubbed as I joined her to help rinse. While she furiously scrubbed on the scrubbing board, pouring more soap, rubbing the stain out with harsh soap, she spoke at a clipped pace.
“You know you’re a young lady now. So now you have to be extra careful about everything you do and how you behave.” I nodded, hands deep in the bucket waiting for the sheets to land so I could do what I was used to doing. I wanted something familiar. I did not want this mother who radiated anger and frustration. I was scared to some degree, but felt that there had already been worse things happening in my life before. If, according to her, this was supposed to happen, I could live with it.
I tried to tell her, but every time I opened my mouth, nothing came out. Then she said this, “Remember now, you can have babies. For the next thirty or more years, you will get this every month.” I shuddered. This was disgusting and nothing that I wanted. Just one more time would make me lose it, yet I was stuck with it for over thirty years?
“Boys are going to seem interesting to you. You’re going to think they’re handsome, and you’re going to want to do bad things with them.” I didn’t think so. The bad things I knew were not fun, and I couldn’t fathom wanting to do it willingly. “One day you will get married and your husband is going to expect a virgin. Do you know what a virgin is?” She proceeded to explain to me in detail what it meant. “If you get married and you aren’t a virgin then your husband is not going to love you. Maybe he will beat you, and you can’t do anything about it.” I listened in horror, imagining what would happen to me, considering that I was no longer one. I hesitated a bit, and then tried again to ask.
“What would you say if I said that, maybe something had happened to me?”
“Like what?” Her voice was sharp and she looked sternly at me. It seemed to be the only facial expression she had any more.
“Like you said, what if something happened and I was no longer, you know, a virgin?”
“I would say that you probably liked it since you didn’t tell me anything about it.” She scrubbed harder and harder at the sheet. My heart dropped.
“Why are you asking such a strange question? Did something happen?”
“No, no. I’m just saying, if something were to happen, well…nothing. It’s nothing.” I swirled the water in the bucket once again, refusing to look at her.
I decided there and then that I would not get married at all. Easy. No need to get married to a mean man who would beat me like Papa beat Mother just because my grandfather did something bad to me. Then I wondered, is that what happened to Mother? Is that why Papa was so mean to her?
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