I didn’t want to come back here. Back to this podunk town I’d grown up in. Back to where my family had been looked down upon because we were dirt poor. Looked down upon by the same so-called good Christian people of this town, which turned out a couple generations past we had come from the same stock. We had the same great grandparents.
And, here, too, we were whispered about because we were on welfare. What they didn’t know or didn't care to know, was that my father had been injured at the logging camp where he worked. By the time he could no longer support the family, there were many mouths to feed. What choice did my parents have? Back in those days if you were on welfare, you weren’t allowed to work or own a car. All we had were the land and each other.
There was a time I was laughed at because my mother made all my school clothes, fingers were pointed because there were patches on the good sturdy jeans that were a staple of the poor, unlike today where jeans are the chosen comfort clothes for everyday wear, and because, most of the time, I had no shoes to wear in the summertime. And, do you know what? None of it mattered because I was so loved.
In this place I’d come to hate growing up it was all right for one of the more popular girls to be pregnant without benefit of marriage but not for my niece who was as poor as I was.
So many injustices, I thought.
My chest tightened as I drove the rental car through this place I once called home. Little had changed, I noted. It had the same dirty look about it. Same old cracked sidewalks. Same old abandoned storefronts with dirty windows. Old people in denim clad bodies huddling in close-knit groups discussing the weather, a remembered past and the dirty politics that went on in this town. Money flowed like water at voting time. The constable buying votes to assure his term of office. The mayor doing the same. Vaguely I wondered if that had changed since I’d been gone. Many an election year a couple of Hamilton’s had found their way into my parents palms by way of a handshake. Yes, they took it and were glad for it.
Memories began to descend and flood my mind at such a rapid pace that I grew dizzy. I was bombarded by so many that I had to stop the car and take several deep breaths while the memories scudded through like wind blown clouds. I closed my eyes and rested my head against the neck rest. It took several deep-breathing exercises but I finally managed to pull myself together. I opened my eyes to find out where I was. My memories had led me to the empty field where the old stockyard used to be.
Nostalgia swept over me at a staggering rate as I remembered walking here in the summertime with my father. We were too poor to buy anything but it was my time with him. I loved the pungent smell of the place and eagerly listened to the voice of the auctioneer that seemed to soothe something within my child’s tumultuous soul. Letting go of that memory, I pulled out on the highway and drove on.
There were vulgar memories in this place, too. Vulgarities that I didn’t want to remember. Despite that, they were still a part of my past and helped mold me into the cynic I’d become.
One consisted of an influential member of the community that at the tender age of seven, had taken me into a room that was little used and proceeded to unzip his pants and thrust his engorged penis at me, begging me to touch it. I remember being frozen, unable to breathe, unable to speak, horrified at what this man wanted me to do, so sick at the sight of his private parts that I was afraid I was going to vomit. I refused to do any of the vile and disgusting things he suggested. I was so humiliated that I wanted to die. I’d rather die that touch that thing.
In the end, he gave me a quarter to keep me quiet. I wanted to run screaming from that room. But who could I tell? Who would have believed me? Children were seen but not heard back then. Seven years later, he was arrested and incarcerated for raping an eight-year-old girl. Of course, she was from an influential family with money so naturally she was believed. That didn’t make the act any less horrifying for her, though. I often wondered if I’d come forward if I could’ve prevented it but then, who was going to listen to the words of a dirt poor child like me?
Another offensive memory was an occurrence that made me dread to walk to town alone. Another so-called upstanding citizen would stand beneath the bridge as I crossed calling to me to watch as he got himself off. I was thankful that was all he wanted. Needless to say, that’s why I became very wary and distrustful of men—and why I remained a virgin until I was nearly nineteen years old.
Often, I wondered if this was why I never allowed anyone to penetrate the barrier I wrapped around myself. Too many times, my date of convenience would remind me that a man liked a strong-willed woman up to a point. Then they wanted a soft pliable loving woman, one willing to please. When that moment came, when those words were spoken to me or some-thing resembling it, it would be my red flag that it was time to move on.
They were right, of course. But I was what I was. The people in my life either accepted it or it was good-bye time. And that’s how my relationships ended. For me, there were no regrets. I couldn’t afford them. From an early age, when I recognized life for what it was, from the time that so-called upstanding citizen brazenly exposed himself to me, I hardened my heart and swore I’d get the hell out of this hellhole at the first opportu-nity and that would be that.
I read everything I could get my hands on, became a world traveler in my mind, transported myself out of that dusty little town to places I longed to see. It had been that way for twelve long years. I’d been able to forget, bound and determined this place was not going to suck the life out of me until I was dry like so many of the citizens that were old before their time.
It was in my blood, this grim determination to never but never accept the life that was handed to me. I was not going to grub and scrounge all my life only to die at the end just as poor as when I started. Or worse, ply my trade in the back street establishment that those wonderful upstanding citizens of our dear town visited in the dark of night and wouldn’t be caught dead in, in the light of day. Too many of those women walked the streets wishing for a better life.
The people who knew me, who thought they knew me, assumed I was an over-achiever and nothing more. I was very tight-lipped about my past and they knew nothing about me other than what I wanted them to know. No one, not even my closest acquaintances (I call them that since I made sure I had no real friends), knew the details. I kept my dirt poor past close to my chest. No one suspected that my bent for climbing the corporate ladder sprung from living in poverty. Then when I’d partially achieved my goal, when I became vice president of the company I worked for, I realized it was not where I wanted to be. I wanted it all. So I changed directions and started my own company.
I remember once telling myself that money would be the answer to every thing I needed. Security. Possessions. The easy road. I was so blinded by my intent, I barely noticed there was only me on the path I walked.
I always thought of myself as a smart, savvy, no-nonsense businesswoman—one with ambition and goals to meet. A woman who needed no man or thing to keep her going.
I swore I was never going to enter into that establishment that robbed a woman of her rights. I was never going to allow anyone to have power over me. I’d seen it too many times back home. A man getting by with everything and anything. A woman’s only option was to sit back and take what life dished out. That was NOT going to be me. I’d told myself that so many times that I was convinced it was true. I never bothered to look underneath that veneer of life to see it any differently.
I was a self-made woman. Ten feet tall and bullet proof. Nothing and no one was going to shoot me down.
Little did I know what fate and the Good Lord above had planned for me.