Don’t Let The Devil In: Samantha’s Story

Blurry, Wooden Hangers

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Douglas Porter.

Editorial note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Samantha” is a pseudonym.

Memory 1

“My parents could have had your dad thrown in prison.”

She was licking the honey off her fingers. Biscuit number three with a pile of mashed potatoes and fried deer steak. It was Friday and we were eating at her house before going to Dad’s for two weeks.

“What business did he have with me? I was a fourteen year old little girl! He probably couldn’t get any girls his age. Your father is not really an attractive man,” she snickered on the last sentence.

Tess sat across from her in silence. I hung my head. We were ‘t allowed to like our father. After all,  Mom said he practically raped her because he was seventeen and she was fourteen. The law would see it that way, too, she said. Statutory rape. A shy country boy and his first time with a pretty little virgin Lolita.

“My parents didn’t do it because I begged them not to.” Ah, a saint.

“I had to hide it from my mama that I was pregnant because I was afraid she was gonna make me have an abortion. She saw me naked in the bathtub when I was six months pregnant and she asked me ‘Nichole, are you pregnant?’’’ A glance to gauge her audience; a pout.

“ I said ‘No.’ But, I mean, what kind of mother can’t tell that her fourteen-year-old daughter is six months pregnant? I was tiny, though. That’s what kind of mother she was. Never there, but she cried the day we got married.  Mmmm, mmph.” Gulping one last bite of buttered potatoes before pushing her plate in front of her.

“I’m full as a tick! You know, Sam, I always said you looked like I spit you right outta my mouth. You always looked just like me! Now poor Tess,” a smirk, “I’m so sorry you got his nose.”

“Well, breathe deep, baby, air’s free!” Terry chimed in with a cackle.

I let out a nervous laugh.

Years of mindless programming. 

Mom threw her head back and howled, slapping her thigh; tears in her eyes.  This was their favorite joke, second was telling Tess that she had enough oil on her head to fry Texas.

It was for her own good that Terry made fun of her, they said. At least she would have a ready answer for those kids at school when they made fun of her. Besides, he only teased the people he loved.

I asked her years later if anyone else really ever teased her like that. No one but them.

It was unforgivable to them that Tess favored my father.  Her mild Mitchell mannerisms and strong Creek nose that she inherited from some Muskogee grandmother on our father’s side were a personal affront to mom.

“I was so afraid of that when I was pregnant with ya’ll. Just praying you wouldn’t come out looking like him. I don’t know what I ever saw in him. He’s not very smart, either, and he’s such a liar. You know he told Cindy that I wasn’t really his first, ’cause she’s so jealous!”

Mom hates Cindy.

“She made him come and apologize to me when she found out the truth. I’m like: ‘Girl, I already knew the truth.’ She just couldn’t stand it that he was always in love with me. He would have left her for me again, and she knew it. All I had to do was snap my fingers.”

Mom snapped her fingers to demonstrate just how easily she could have convinced our father to take her back.

We always got a prep talk like this before our visits, just to make sure our loyalties lied with her.  If not, we might get sucked in by the laid-back atmosphere at our father’s house.

Dad and Cindy could afford to be nice to us since they didn’t have to worry about where we’d spend eternity.

They were of a different denomination and watched ‘worldly’’ movies. Idle devil time; how demons enter your soul.

Tess started clearing the table. Dishes were her duty. A welcome reprieve.

“So, Sam, if your dad asks you to go to that youth group lock-in at his church on Wednesday night, what are you gonna say?”

“That I can’t because I’m gonna still go to our church while I’m at his house.” I would betray God if I attended his church or any social function its members sponsored.

“What if he argues back to you and tells you you have to go to church with him since it’s his summer?”

She smiled; knew the answer already.

When we were kids she and Terry drilled us on how to argue religious points with him.

We regurgitated the dogma on topics such as Calvinism, baptism, and Old Testament law that was seared in our hearts. Dad gave up on asking me to go to church with him when I was ten.

“I’ll tell him that I don’t believe in his church and he can’t force me to.”

Dad would have never forced me to do anything, but imagining a conflict in which I dis-respected my father thrilled mom.  She would conjure up all sorts of hypothetical situations in the car on the way to his house when we were kids and ask us how we’d respond to him.

“What if Cindy yells at you?”

“I’d call her an ugly witch with a big nose!”

“Oh, that’s so funny!” Mom would shriek.

She’d also press us for stories after our visits with Dad and Cindy.  We were not allowed to report that we’d had a good time.  There was too much pressure to report a juicy story of how we outsmarted dumb Dad with the witty phrases Terry taught us. Or perhaps how we screamed at Cindy that she was an evil witch. Mom’s choice description of her.

“Your dad is so stupid. He really has no personality.”

“Nichole, I think that’s enough. He is their father.”

Terry would sometimes feel a twinge of guilt when she attacked our father too fiercely. He too had lost custody of his daughters to a cheating wife.  It never did sit right with Terry that Mom had cheated on Dad.  He had found out after they were already married. The pastor’s wife of that country church I’d been baptized in told him.

“Who wants cheesecake?”

Mom baked almost every day. Our growing waistlines were proof of her baking skills. She served up carrot cakes, yeast cinnamon rolls, and chocolate cakes almost every night. Everything was always re-toasted in  the morning and slathered on with butter.

We scrambled back to the table.

“Tess?” An accusatory tone.

“No, thanks.”

Mom sniffed disapprovingly, cocking her neck and turning her head away from her.

Tess had recently and abruptly lost about fifty pounds, which was a mystery to all of us. She was also succumbing to frightful  panic attacks and hair loss. I was mesmerized by how her hip and rib bones jutted out when she stretched like a cat. She was exotic, with huge crystal eyes framed by glossy lashes, high Cherokee cheek bones, and thick dirty blonde hair.

Mom knew just how to build up her confidence.

“I mean, you’re pretty, just not the most beautiful teenager I’ve ever met.  I’m not  going to lie to you like your Aunt Karen does to Amber. She always tells her she’s the most beautiful girl in the world. I mean, come on. That’s not realistic, and Amber’s not even pretty. Cute, okay; but not pretty.”

Our ginger cousin Amber loved her mom. They had conversations about tampons and everything.

The anxiety attacks were proof that Tess didn’t have enough faith in God.

Must have been the PG13 movies or stuff going on in that public school; probably let some boy hold her waist or kiss her on the lips. Satan had already hardened her heart by the time mom had discovered the joy and freedom in patriarchy. Tess refused to be homeschooled and under Mom’s umbrella of authority like me.

Memory 2

Do Better Next Time

“Samantha, get up.”

Hazy words I barely heard.

“Samantha, get up right now!”

Sharp words that brought me out of my sleep and upright on the bed. She paid a lot of money for that cherry bedroom set. Cherry wood was the best, most expensive, see.

They paid on it for months, sacrificed a lot. Blessed, blessed.

“Come to my room.”

Panic, fear. What ‘talk’ would this be? Oh, God. What was happening?  I glanced at her alarm clock. 12:30, the witching hour. She was up late again. Terry and the boys were all sleeping on the bed. The closet light was on.

“Go in there and tell me what’s wrong.”

Games. The games she played.

It took a minute, but I found it. Terry’s crimson dress shirt. I had buttoned the wrong buttons together and hung it up crooked. Three loads of laundry today.  I rolled my eyes as I turned to fix it.

“That’s not all, little Miss,” she hissed. Her eyes were glazed over, lips curled in a tight smile. She pulled a pair of her jeans down. Mom jeans. Whitewashed and tapered. High-rise.

“This is how you fold jeans and put them on the hanger.”

She ceremoniously flipped the jeans upside down and aligned the seams so that there’d be no crease,  put them on the hanger, then took them off again and tossed them to me.

“Now you do it.”

Smug satisfaction.

My eyes grew hot and wet. What did it matter if the shirt wasn’t hung perfectly? I had to iron it in the morning, anyway. Why was it so important that she had to wake me up after midnight? I carefully aligned the seams and hung the jeans up.

She had gleefully imagined breaking me down and it just couldn’t wait for morning.

“Now, maybe next time you will remember this and do it right.”

Prepared words.

I shot her a disgusted glare, as angry and hateful as my virgin cloistered eyes could muster.

Defiance always did get a rise out of her. Her eyes swelled red with tears. Trembling, she raised her hand.

I held direct eye contact.

Snap.

She slowly and awkwardly tried to slap me across the shoulders but miscalculated her force, only brushing me with her fingertips. Hesitating for just a moment, then meeting my contemptuous stare, she struck twice, much harder.  The look on her face was fear and acid. She clearly wanted to do more.

Triumph. Her holiness had lost herself in rage.

Unstable, unfit, unchristlike.

She had confronted her truth and I was witness.  It was power over her. The first time she’d ever hit me and I wasn’t upset. I was proud, the better woman.

“Go to your room!”

A telltale tear on her cheek.

I turned and left. She never woke me in the middle of the night again.

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