When I was three years old I started sitting in corners and chewing on my finger nails, this was a sign to my mother to leave my father. I have a vague memory of the corner where I sat, a musky white wall with a vinyl dining chair close by, I don’t know if this is a true memory or just a vision I absorbed from old, faded pictures. But I clearly feel myself sitting there. It has always been funny to me that this one act of mine, a nervous act, if you will alerted my mother it was time to leave. It wasn’t that he beat her face over and over, it wasn’t the fact that he injected heroin into his veins, those both being more selfish acts I suppose. It wasn’t even that his associates went by names like Dancing Bobby and Fast Eddie. It was me. I was the reason my mother left my father. Most children falsely believe that they are the cause of their parent’s divorce, I really was. This has always been my relationship with me and Mary Ann, my mother, her wanting the best for me but never quite knowing how to get it.
When I was growing up my mother never said a cruel word about my father even though she had every right and opportunity. She always just told me that he loved me and he did the best he could. As I got older the questions became more specific. I think I was around eight when I asked a real question “So did my Ellery really hit you?” “yes” my mom answered “but…he was not a mean person, he was just troubled” I remember going to school that next day and confessing to my friends on the swing set that my mother was a battered woman. I was so proud, not because she had the strength to leave but because I had something that set me apart from everyone else. I had power.
I have no memory of my father during my childhood, except one and I could never confirm if it was a dream or reality. I was standing on the sidewalk of an apartment building, where I think I lived and a tall, thin man walked up to me, blocking the sun from my face. For some reason I was drawn to him because I felt myself stop playing and walk over to him.
He asked me if I knew which apt. Tanisha lived. I said “I am Tanisha” his response was filled with shock and denial, “you can’t be Tanisha, she is still a baby”. My memory ends there. I have never been able to verify this memory with my mother because I don’t know where she was nor do I know where I was really. That seems to be the theme of my life, not being able to recognize a dream from reality. In my dreams, I envisioned a man, a police officer coming to rescue my mother from her abusive husband, then turning our lives into a nightmare. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that spectacular. I have never really been sure how my mother met Chuck because she has never really confirmed any story, so in my mind he rescued us to then hold us emotional captive. I believe they met at the Anchorage Police department, my mother was a clerk and he was a cop. As I said my mother is always hazy about the specifics so I have made up my own. I imagine he studied her. Cased her, like a cop would. Discovered information about her, asked if she had children, I would say, asked if she had a daughter but I learned later on that gender really didn’t matter to him.
I am sure he asked her on a date, even though he was married and he would not relent until she said yes, which if you know Mary Ann, was one or two times. My mother never wants to seem rude so of course she would say yes to a married man to spare his feelings. My first memory of Chuck was playing a game of Slug bug with him and I felt he cheated. Again I can’t remember the specifics but I knew he was at best a liar and at worst an asshole that didn’t let a five year win a game of Slug bug. As a young child I could not put in to words that I didn’t like Chuck but I knew there was something wrong with him. In my young mind, what kind of asshole doesn’t let an adorable kid win at least one fucking game of slug bug.
My life when I was younger always seems the very definition of irony. My mother left an abuser because I was terrified, then went on to date another abuser that terrified me. Go figure. After that horrific disaster of slug bug, I don’t really remember Chuck coming around much again until I was around eight. Maybe eight was his sweet spot for children, maybe eight year olds have the perfect mix of understanding enough not to tell and whimsy of belief. We were living in a light blue duplex with my mom’s sister. My aunt Linda she had one side, we had the other. She was my number two favorite person, she soon eclipsed my mom once Chuck started hanging around more and more. Linda and I hated Chuck or more specifically we hated the way my mom became a brainless wit around him, doing whatever he told her to do, serving him meals before everyone else. Treating him like he was a God among men. I never saw the big deal about Chuck and neither did Linda. He always smelled like Geri curl and he would always joke about things you shouldn’t joke about around children. I only discovered his jokes were inappropriate when Linda would scold him or my mother for keeping him around. Linda was my hero; she would say things that I didn’t have the courage to say as a child.
She was ballsy and fun-loving, everything I wanted to be. Linda was everything my mother wasn’t. My mother was quiet and nervous and worried about what people thought about her and about me. I didn’t know how to put anything into words but I knew Linda was my friend. I would often imagine the two sisters talking about me and wondering what I would be and do. Linda always reassuring Mary Ann that I would be fine, if she would just leave me alone. Mary Ann always countering with the rational that Linda didn’t have kids so she couldn’t possibly understand having a strong willed child, like Tanisha. I knew that my mother loved me but I also knew that she was scared to death to let me be in the world.