We move to Pleasant Street parallel to the Blackstone River. My Aunt, Uncle, and cousins live 2 houses down from us, on the first floor of a white triple decker with black shutters and a large yard with a swing set. I spend a lot of time hanging out there. I idolize my aunt and bask in her motherly skills helping her bath my baby cousin in a galvanized steel tub on the kitchen table. My uncle is a hard worker and when home is always sleeping in his chair even when my aunt’s high pitched voice is yelling at the girls. My mother has that same tone of voice frequently, its normal background sounds that I am use to and comfortable with, I find myself using my own high screechy voice when I baby sit or fight with my sisters.
My uncle belongs to the Portuguese Social Club and he rents it for my sweet 16th birthday party, it’s a big hall for the small group that show up. Being introverted and new to the neighborhood, I have a few close friends and do not run with the popular crowd. My poor self esteem and anxiety does a number on my head with lots of negative thoughts; during the process of getting ready, during the activity and long after the celebration is over. I get extremely anxious at social gathering with my peers; I do not remember ever being comfortable in a crowd of kids; making all kinds of judgments about myself, being concerned about what others think about me, and always wanting to please them.
We live in a very small three bedroom, two story white Cape Cod styled cottage, 600 x 450, set way back from the street, a chain linked fence surrounds the property, a concrete pad for parking, with a humongous front yard and right down the middle is a concrete walkway. The grass requires mowing every week, using the hand mower I run while pushing it the large distance it must go, back and forth at least 6 times on each side. I love the smell of freshly mowed grass. The back yard has just enough room to walk and space for the metal garbage cans. The snow always pile up there, as it falls from the roof, so ma make taffy, throwing it on the snow and we pull it with all our might till it is done.
Since I am 16 years old my mother sends me to driving school, saying “I wouldn’t be able to teach you”. It seems like forever, I have been waiting for the day I would get my drivers’ license. The first time I take the new 1964 yellow Impala out I drive Downtown. I find my-self freaking out, the driver in front of me stops suddenly, I react by swerving up onto the sidewalk to avoid hitting the car, heading straight for a shop window with the owner holding her hands up to stop me, I put my foot on the gas rather than the break, and get stopped by the large light pole, protecting all from injury, which the city bills my family for. The right fender is completely demolished but drivable. I am extremely scared to go home, fearful of the consequences, which are nonexistent. I do not understand the rational that adults live by, I find it confusing.
Opening the front screen door, then the wooden door, which has just enough room to swing half way, and stand at the base of the stairs directly in front of me. Going to the left is a small room, which is the entry way for all the traffic to pass through, which has a chair and end tables, two windows let in the setting sun and the cool breezes. I can see straight into the alcove that is the living room where the TV and a sofa sit with windows facing west and north. I turn left into the kitchen /dining area which the largest room leading to all the areas in the back part of the house: pantry, bathroom, a bedroom used as the kids’ room and the stairs to the cellar.
The dining room contains a large kitchen table with six chairs in the middle; the refrigerator is up against the left wall, the four burner gas stove is up against the right wall. Off the north side is a small pantry with a double sink and long counter space, there are cabinets above and below for dishes and storage with a small window, there is only room for one adult to move around in. There is a steel cabinet for food storage in the main room that divides the pantry from the tiny bathroom. The back door has a window on each side, to let in the rising sun at breakfast time, which usually is cereal that I put together my-self, we are all expected to do our own meal and ask for help if needed. Messes are not tolerated and I am a clean freak as a result.
Ma is a great baker: latticed covered cherry pie, lemon meringue that comes to an amazing peak, cakes to die for with luscious frosting, holiday fruit and nut breads, and her special cherries jubilee in a chafing dish with the blue flames she would ignite for all to see. She has many Damascus table clothes so there is always one on the table. She is sensitive about her cooking, once my sister complained about the meal and my mom picked the beautiful cloth up by the corners, dishes, food and all, carrying it out back and dumping it in the garbage; that was the last time anyone said anything negative about the food.
She has me making the dinners during the week which consisted of meat, potatoes and a vegetable that is bland and basic. We eat dinner in silence, now that the shadow is living with us, and it’s very common to be wacked with a utensil if you reached across the table or speak. Supper is now a very anxiety producing experience for me and I have started to develop severe stomach aches after meals. I would be in the pantry leaning over in pain while she says “You just don’t want to do the dishes”. My sister and I alternate between washing and drying, when we were together in the pantry we would get into arguments. When I was drying and find some crude I would put the item back in the water to be washed again. This has resulted in mother separating us, so now the washer is alone and when finished leaves, and then the dryer go in and does that chore, cutting down on our fighting.
The bathroom is the only place I can have complete privacy with a hook and latch on the door. I love my weekly soaking on Saturdays in the porcelain tub with the strong fancy feet; there is a matching toilet and sink, with a northern window to let in light and air. There is a mirror I look into when brushing my teeth and doing my hair. The first time I shave my legs I cut myself all the way up my shin and it sure does sting when I do it.
There is another room on the south side, which is the kids’ room for all the toys, and ends up as the junk or storage area, its purpose always changing; it has an east and south facing windows. This is where our dog Lady has her puppies, she becomes very mean and protective, and so she is given away. I often wonder who was abusing her.
The house is spotless; my mother is the task master and has given us all assigned chores to do, saying “Why do you think I had all girls… to do housework!” Once a week He goes around with white gloves trying to find dirt. We hold our breath because if dirt is found we can’t go out. Once he found dust high up on the door jams so we are punished by having to clean all over again and not let out. I develop a frenzied approach to cleaning, constantly going over again and again areas that are already clean, trying to think like Him and not miss anything, but it never seems to be right, there is always something wrong.
Going down the open staircase to the dark dank basement is creepy and being the size of all the rooms on the first floor without dividers it’s the largest room in the house. In the southeast corner are the washer, dryer, and an ironing board always set up and ready to use, with clotheslines all over the place. The older girls each have a day to do our own laundry in addition to washing and drying other items we are responsible for. There are 2 old couches in the southwest corner where we can hang out, when friends come over, lots of necking has gone on in that area, which has the most lighting. In the northwest corner is a cement structure that is the only remnants left of the Still that once produced 200% white lighting. This is also where the metal shut carries the coal down into the basement leaving black dust in the air.
Back to the front entrance and to the right of the stairwell is my mother’s room, which is the only area she cleans, since she works hard and is always exhausted and lying in bed. Standing in the doorway, for her room is off limits, the bulky solid maple bedroom set crowds the space. There is a short long dresser straight ahead, with a large mirror reflecting my image back to me. There is light coming in from the west window and looking out the south facing window is our neighbor’s yard. There is a tall dresser on the left wall with just enough space to get to the heavy double bed with its rounded carved polls for the head board, against the east wall. When she is not around we go through her drawers looking for nylons without wholes or runs in them. Once I found annulment papers showing that she had been married before my father, causing me to wonder if he was my real father, since I was born a little over 9 months after they were married, maybe I was conceived on their honeymoon.
At the top of the skinny stairs leading to the 2nd floor is a room on each side; again the top floor has a pitched roof. The left room on the north side has the twin beds in addition to a trundle bed that is stored under one of the twins, where the youngest ones sleep. The room on the right is where us older ones sleep together in a full size bed, I am always crowded out and near the edge because my sister likes to sleep across the bed. My sister and I fight a lot and the only things we have in common are working at the shoe lace factory and music. I run the noisy machines that cut the braid and tip the shoe laces, while she packages them. She tells me “That guy who brings the spools is a homo”, naive me asks “what’s that?” learning about homosexuality. We pool our money and join a music club, buying albums: Doors, Dave Clark 5, and the Monkeys.
The shadow’s behavior continued and progresses to trying to touch, which startles me awake from a sound sleep. I learned to condition my-self; to awake with the sound of heavy breathing and the pungent smell of booze. I use to sleep on my back, now I sleep in the fetal position, using protective and defensive behaviors. so those big groping hands do not make contact with my body. He leaves the room, my mother has heard him either going up the stairs or creeping around the room, she calls to him, and he leaves. I have not slept well for a long time; it started when my father was in a wheel chair when my mother ingrained in me that if there was a fire we’d have to get him out, and it has continued as a way to protect myself, not feeling safe enough to go into a deep sleep. Fear is my major mode of being in this house.