Wednesday, April 18, 2007

While Trudy was Away

While Trudy was living in Sacramento, another kind of chaos took hold at home. This was mostly due to the fact that although John was a reliable and kind father, and even enjoyed our company, he was also an absent-minded intellectual, often lost in his own world. He had no idea how to raise children, and certainly never expected to do it mostly by himself. He laid down no rules that I can recall; he just treated us like other adults he happened to share a house with. Because of my father, I could read before I started preschool, but I could also mix an Old Fashioned.

During the day, while John was at work, there was usually a housekeeper around to keep an eye on us. First, there was Charity, who treated us like her grandchildren. She made us meatloaf and let me sit with her after school to watch her favorite stories: "General Hospital," "Marcus Welby, MD," and "Medical Center." After Charity retired, my parents hired Willie Mae, who had white hair and ignored us entirely while she listened to Dodgers games on her transistor radio and vacuumed. Lucille came next. She was tall and skinny, smoked cigarettes, taught me how to tell time and, according to Trudy, had a "bad attitude." One time when Lucille was kneeling on the floor in front of the tub, giving me a bath, I referred to her as, "the maid." She sat up, yanked the Salem out of her mouth, narrowed her eyes at me and said, "I am not your maid. I am your House. Keeper." I felt ashamed and terrified and I was in absolute awe of her.

But none of those women, or any who followed, could manage my brother’s temper. Leo was, understandably, a very pissed off kid. I get the impression foster care didn't turn out to be the summer camp experience Trudy probably sold it as. Leo was loud, obnoxious and violent (but also funny in a Three Stooges, pull-my-finger sort of way). Occasionally, he would pretend to be interested in playing together, but that typically meant a rousing game of 52 pick-up, sitting on top of me and tickling me until I couldn't breathe, or locking me in the pantry with the lights off until I begged him to let me out. (Fun!)

Everything in Leo’s wake was usually left broken, injured or on fire. Once during a disagreement, my sister swatted him on the butt with a hairbrush, so in retaliation he broke her arm with a golf club. He was aiming at her head. Encountering Leo in the hallway always meant trouble. Our two Yorkshire Terriers had learned to scoot along the wall whenever they came upon him because he liked to snatch one up, swing her between his legs and send her sliding down the terrazzo floor until she crashed into the refrigerator at the opposite end of the hall. Whenever I ran into my brother, I would face the wall and try to slide past before he could grab hold of my yet-to-exist boobs, twist them and yell, "ska-weeez !!" He found this hilarious. I wanted him dead.

Finally, at
six o'clock, John would arrive home, usually carrying take-out from McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken or Campari's, the Italian restaurant down the street. But by this time the drama would be over. Leo would have retreated to his room to blast Black Sabbath and smoke the dope he kept stashed in the ceramic skull on his bookshelf.

Normally, if Karla or I told on Leo, nothing much would happen. As far as I can remember, he was never officially punished for anything he did. Not after he beat us up, not after he set his room on fire, and not after the cops brought him home for throwing hangers over the electrical wires and blacking out the neighborhood. John didn't believe in punishment, and Trudy wouldn't want to get that involved. John might yell at Leo if he caught him red handed, but Trudy would turn it on us, advising, "If you don't want Leo to bo
ther you, stop provoking him!"

1 comment:

sarah said...

i'm going to slash leo's tires.