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Member of the Family: Manson, Murder and Me

Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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“Get a glass and I will show you how it is done.”

I poured some milk from the bottle in the Frigidaire and grabbed two graham crackers. “You got to have just the right number of crackers to make it good,” he explained. It seemed like a delicate operation, but I got it right the first time.

“You’re a natural,” he said. We spent the next twenty minutes in silence as we slurped down our graham cracker mush. “You ought to get back to bed. We are taking you to the zoo tomorrow.” I was so excited to go that I didn’t even plead to stay up later with him. I shuffled away in my pink shag slippers and went right to sleep.

The zoo was everything I’d hoped it would be, and I spent the next few days after that with Grandma, going to an elderly neighbor’s apartment to check on her and taking a trip to the salon, where I got a rather unfortunate perm. One morning at breakfast, Grandma told me that this day would be a bit different.

“You’re going to spend the day with Grandpa today,” she said, giving me a hug. “Be good and do what he says. I have some shopping and errands to do. I will be back for supper.”

I was eager to spend the day with my grandpa—watching TV, reading the funny papers, and crumbling graham crackers into our milk. We sat together on the couch for a while and I leaned my head on his shoulder. We were watching a Western. It was such a treat to watch a television that I didn’t mind that it turned out to be old Zorro reruns. Grandpa smelled like green grass. He wore a kind of aftershave called something like old bay rum. I could have stayed like that for hours.

“I have an idea for what we can do together.” Grandpa broke the silence.

“What’s that, Grandpa?” I replied excitedly. “Do you want to play Parcheesi?” We had been having a running competition.

“Let’s take a bath together.”

“A bath?” The idea seemed kind of strange. I had never taken a bath with my father or even my brother except when we were little.

“It will be great,” he added. “It is a natural thing to do and you will like it. It is how I like to relax.”

He turned on the faucet while I went to my room to put on my bathing suit.

“You won’t need a bathing suit in a bath. You can take off your clothes in here,” he added, gesturing for me to come into the bathroom with him.

When the bathtub was full, he took off his clothes and got in. Then he told me to take off my clothes and join him. I took off my shorts and top and folded them. I put them on the floor in the corner by the sink. The last thing I took off were my panties. I got in the warm water facing him and it felt good.

“See how relaxing this is.” He sat in the water with his eyes closed for a few minutes with his hands along the tub rim. I closed my eyes too but peeked out of one open eye. I watched him put his hands under the water. His breathing changed. It became deeper and faster. Then he opened his eyes and grabbed my hand. I barely moved.

“You know, Dianne, you are old enough now to know where babies come from.”

“I do know where they come from, Grandpa,” I proudly answered. “God puts a seed into the mom’s belly and the baby grows in there.” I thought I was clever to know this fact already. Grandpa laughed and held my hand more tightly.

“That is not how the seed is put into the mom, Dianne. There is more to it and I need to tell you the truth.” He stood up and his body looked different than what little I had seen when he got into the bath. His boy-part was big and he touched it with both his hand and mine. The skin felt warm and soft. When he began to move our hands over what he explained was what the man used to plant his seed in the woman, I pulled my hand away. I couldn’t picture that what he was saying was true. How could that go into what I believed was a very small hole?

He explained how the man and the woman would make the seed come out and then demonstrated with his hand. “It is just like blowing on a dandelion.” Then this milky liquid dripped out from between his fingers as he made a heavy sigh. It landed in the tub, so I didn’t move. I didn’t want to be near the seeds. He got out of the bathwater and wrapped himself in a towel. When he left the bathroom, I gathered up my clothes and quickly got dressed. I couldn’t wait to tell my best friend back home what I had learned.

Grandpa did tell me not to mention my lesson to Grandma. He said they disagreed on when a girl should learn the important facts of life. I promised.

The train ride home felt different than the trip there. I left Barbie and Ken in their box, but now they faced each other in case they wanted to make a baby.

My mother picked me up from the train, and as soon as we got home I asked if I could go to see my best friend, Emily. She lived down the street, and since she was a late-in-life child with much older siblings, she had the best of everything, including a playroom that was just for her.

When I arrived, Emily hugged me as if I had been gone forever and we went into the playroom. We took out all the dolls and clothes and set out to create their lives in miniature.

“I know how babies are made,” I told Emily matter-of-factly.

“I do too,” she bragged. She explained the same “God planting the seed” story that we both must have heard at church, and so I decided to show her with our dolls.

“That can’t be true.” She seemed shocked.

“No, it is true. My grandpa took a bath with me and showed me how the man makes the seeds in his penis that are planted inside the woman. He said it was time for me to learn the right way.”

“Did you see his penis?” Emily asked with her eyes opened wide.

“Of course, I did, silly. How else would he have shown me how it all worked?” Emily disappeared for a few minutes, and I continued to pretend that Barbie was cooking a casserole in the Barbie kitchen. After a while Emily returned with her mother, a stylish woman who wore her hair piled up on top of her head like a movie star.

“Dianne, come join us for a snack,” she said, guiding us up to the kitchen. She had made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Wonder Bread and added Bosco to our milk. We chewed on our sandwiches as we had many times, but Emily’s mother kept staring at me.

“Dianne, Emily told me about what happened at your grandfather’s house. You do know that grown men are not supposed to take baths with little girls and tell them about where babies come from?”

I knew it felt weird when it happened, but it was my grandpa, and if he thought it was time for me to know the truth, then it must have been time.

“Dianne, you need to tell your mother what happened at your grandpa’s house. She needs to know.”

I had not thought about telling my mom. Even though I didn’t think much of what had happened, I had a feeling that telling my mother would be embarrassing.

“If you don’t tell her, I will,” Emily’s mother insisted. I knew that she would too, because she and my mother were friends who often went to each other’s houses for coffee.

“Okay, I will tell her,” I promised.

When I got home my mother was in the kitchen by herself. She was making soup and asked me if I would like to stir the pot.

“Can I talk to you, Mom,” I said softly. She turned off the stove and we went into the dining room.

“If it is about your hair, I already told Grandma she should not have permed it without asking me first.” She reached for my hair. I started to cry. “It will grow back soon enough,” she reassured me. This only made me sob more.

I told her about Grandpa and the bath and watched her expression change. Tears streamed down her cheeks and she held me close. We both cried.

“That wasn’t your fault,” she reassured me. I didn’t understand what she meant. But I knew by her reaction that something bad had happened, something that could never be taken back.

Later that night I overheard my parents arguing. I knew it had to do with my grandpa telling me about where babies come from. I was very confused. Why was it wrong for my grandpa to tell me the truth? He didn’t make it sound like it was wrong. Maybe I did something wrong to make everyone so upset. I wished I had never said anything to Emily.

The next day I overheard my father calling my grandpa on the phone. I wasn’t even trying to listen, but he was yelling for most of the call. I could hear only his side of the conversation, but he seemed very angry. “It’s me. You know why I am calling. You expect me to believe you over my own child? I know what a sick old bastard you are!”

I wasn’t used to hearing my father curse since the car broke down, and especially not at Grandpa. But I knew my father meant what he said. I felt awful about Grandpa and somehow felt sad for Grandma. If I hadn’t gone to see them, no one would have been upset. I ran into my room before my dad could see that I had been eavesdropping on his phone call.

Like most kids who have been sexually abused, I didn’t understand at the time what was going on or how I’d just been violated. Still something felt off, and I felt different—about my grandpa, about myself. Something had changed, I knew that much, even if I didn’t fully understand what it was. Thankfully, unlike what happens in many situations of sexual abuse, they didn’t blame me, but they didn’t know how to talk to me about the abuse either, so they avoided it. And without more reassurance from them, I fully blamed myself and dealt with the consequences of that guilt for years.

But guilt was just one piece of my emotional chaos. Though I wouldn’t understand it fully until much later, this upsetting and disturbing encounter enabled years of sexual confusion to come, as a part of me would spend the rest of my youth seeking a level of safety in the wrong people and for the wrong reasons. Sexual abuse creates an emptiness in the darkest places within. From now on, things would never be the same for me.

3 (#ulink_a7deaf95-eb64-5e1f-bc30-c68ee5c17c0e)

ONE STRAY ASH (#ulink_a7deaf95-eb64-5e1f-bc30-c68ee5c17c0e)

As fall of 1962 rolled around, my parents and I were glad to put the events of the summer behind us, and with the new school year under way, by all appearances things had returned to normal or whatever our version of that was. Beneath the surface, though, all was not well with us. My father was becoming restless once more. He wasn’t speaking about California or philosophy or change, but that didn’t stop fate, or something like it, from intervening.

One night before leaving his studio my father must have put out a cigarette in a trash can. The next day we went to his now-charred sanctuary to dig through the rubble and ashes to salvage anything of his work. We found scraps of his illustrations and charred canvases. I found the portrait of me that used to hang in our big beautiful home completely ruined and burned. The only thing I recognized was some of my hair and the wicker chair I had been sitting on when I posed for him.

Only in retrospect did I question whether he might have thrown the cigarette in the can on purpose. He’d been sullen ever since the confrontation with Grandpa, and while he’d continued to paint, he’d been melancholy and lacking in purpose, at least in part because he had been forced to accept that his own father was a miscreant. As I would learn years later, there had been other suspicions about his father’s behavior, but people either didn’t believe it or looked the other way. It wasn’t until years after Grandpa’s death that other people spoke up about how he’d isolated Grandma from her own relatives, verbally abused her, and had been caught molesting the daughter of his own brother.

My father may have been angry at his father, but he also never seemed to like it when things were going too well. He was a five-pack-a-day chain-smoker, so he should have known better than to put his cigarette out where it could set things ablaze—unless of course that was what he wanted to do. I’ve long wondered if my father, the man who traded our house for a trailer, was looking for another way out of a normal family life when he left his studio that night.

Whether the fire was an accident or not, the blaze accentuated how my father was outgrowing his surroundings. Around the same time, he started receiving some backlash for his artwork, which had begun to border on the controversial. We belonged to a Lutheran church that had always welcomed his contributions, at least until he painted a dark-skinned Jesus. This caused a scandal among the staid Christian community who couldn’t imagine such a heretical statement. Then they came to our house to try to force a greater tithe, which only upset my father more.

After the fire and the rejection from the church, my father fell into a deep depression. I would overhear the grumblings after my parents thought we were all asleep. He made it clear the drive and desire to go to California had never disappeared. He implied that it was our fault that he had been forced to settle in Minneapolis again after his first try for freedom. His unhappiness was visible on his face and in his body, the tension trapped in his muscles. At first his books and music had fanned the flames of his wanderlust. When they could no longer distract him, he focused on blaming the people of Minnesota for being too small-minded to “get it” or to “get him.” My mother, in her reverence for my father and his genius, would agree with him, while encouraging him not to make any more waves.

My father had a complex relationship with the church. A seeker by nature, he was inspired by the teachings of Christ. At one point he had even tried studying for the ministry but had felt stifled by the dogma of Christianity. The people of our church made sure there was no home for him there. My mother had been brought up in a Norwegian family with a conspicuous lack of outward affection. She had a strong faith in God but was looking for a way to define this that was inclusive and loving. She seemed torn between pleasing my father by being avant-garde and fitting in with the church crowd. She liked the artists in our home but also enjoyed the community the church had afforded her.

But my father’s depression this time was not just petulance at things not going his way. He was drinking and staying out until all hours. My mother covered for him and told us that he was just working through the loss of his studio and we had to give him time. Then I would hear her cry at night while I listened to the clock ticking the seconds until dawn. I didn’t know how to comfort her, so I would bury myself in cleaning and vacuuming the house. We didn’t have any relatives to visit, and our eclectic mix of creatives must have sensed the tension—they no longer came around.

We had only one car, and my mother encouraged my father to take it when he needed to get away. He would often stay out late, eventually stumbling home sometime during the early morning hours. I have always been a light sleeper, so I would mark the time in my mind and then listen for any conversation between my parents. There typically wasn’t much. My mother would let Clarence into the bed or if he passed out on the couch would cover him with a blanket. She was desperate for him to show some sign of happiness. She made few demands and gave him a very wide berth as she went to her now full-time job as an executive secretary by bus.

I am not sure how long this went on, but finally one night he didn’t come home at all. I heard my mother toss and turn, but she didn’t get up. The next day we all went to school as usual, and she left for the bus.

That night at dinner there was no sign of Clarence. My mother’s red-rimmed eyes betrayed that she had been crying. She still held her composure. “Children, your father has decided to leave us. He is going to California to pursue his art studies.”
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