Recently things have come to my attention which have made me reflect. Things that I’ve held near and dear but I guess in one way or another have ended up holding me back. If I think back to the girl I was at twenty two when I met my first husband I see the fear that she clearer based her choices on. The fear didn’t start there though the fear started with my mother. The person who made threats that she would never carry out. She would threaten me that she was going to send me to live with my Dad if I acted out when they were separated. I would beg and plead not too. The truth was she never intended to send me to him, if she did she would lose money. The threat though seemed real enough to the ten year old girl.
I remember my mother wanted me to go to Aurora Gardens Academy for fifth grade. I was okay with this until I met with the principal and owners of the school the day of my entrance exam. I didn’t like them so I flunked my test. We hadn’t moved in with my Grandparents yet but we were preparing. After the test we were brought into the principal’s office and they proceeded to tell my mother that I was going to have to repeat fourth grade again. My mother was livid and gave them a piece of her mind. There was no way her little girl was going to repeat a grade. After all my last school had wanted to promote me to fourth when I was just starting third. (She didn’t do it for fear I would be to young when I graduated.)
My Mom went on and on about the test and the school and asked me how could I do so badly? After a few hours, I finally told her I deliberately failed it because I didn’t want to go there. This wasn’t a good idea. Even when my mother and Dad had fought I had never witnessed her behave like this. She began to yell asking why I just didn’t tell her I didn’t want to go there. (Honestly, the rule back then was a child should be seen and not heard. My opinion didn’t matter.) I explain that I thought if I had told her she would’ve been mad at me. That was it. Those words were all that needed to be said for her anger to be unleashed.
My mother beat me. This wasn’t a spanking. She hit me over and over again it didn’t matter that I was crying. She made threats as she slapped me over and over. Leaving me at the end of the hall crying in a ball as she called one of our friends to come and get me. She came and grabbed me and said that Ms. Mary was coming to get me before she killed me. I don’t remember much after that about that night. I remember when she picked me up the next day she was distant.
When my parents split we eventually moved in with my Grandparents, nothing surprising there. For me though my world changed drastically I went from being spoiled with my own bedroom, playroom and giant shed that held more childhood wonders to sleeping on the couch at my grandparents while my mother claimed my full size bed. (I couldn’t sleep with her because I kicked.) All of my toys were packed in boxes and some I would never see again. Same with the school that I had gone to for four years. (My mother lied and said it closed down) So all of my friends were gone as well. I was suddenly left with no real normalcy. (Boohoo, some would say and I don’t disagree for there are many people who have had it worse.) For me though all the stability I once had was suddenly gone.
Dad wasn’t there on his days off from the firehouse. If I was lucky I would see him one day every other weekend. My grandfather Earl wasn’t a very warm and fuzzy kind of man. He was a sportsman of sorts who loved hunting and fishing but most of all the bar. My Grandmother was a working woman who found joy in playing bingo at the VFW hall on Wednesday. My mom, well she was there but she was trying to find her own way.
So since I failed to get into Aurora Gardens I ended up at Terrytown Academy. (Looking back I wish I would’ve not failed that test. However, this is all part of my path.) When you are young and your life is turned upside down it is not uncommon to act out which is just what I did. My fifth grade teacher was also my bus driver, Ms. Laine. (She taught every subject except history. We had another teacher come in to teach that.) She prided herself on being a drill Sargent and disciplinarian. This woman would change my life.
Early in the school year, I had gotten two demerits which had me in trouble with my mom. When the third one came around I didn’t want my mom to find out. I didn’t want her mad at me. So I took it upon myself to forge her signature. I did it so poorly, I didn’t sign it with the name she would sign it with. So add insult to injury I get called out by Ms. Laine. She asked me if my mother signed. I decided to double down. I lied sort of, I told her that my mother asked me to sign it as she wasn’t feeling good. Little did I know that Ms. Laine had already spoken to my mother. My reward for my miss deed was detention after school for the rest of the year. Needless to say I had disappointed my mother once again and would hear about it. Thank goodness we were with my grandparents by then so no beating this time.
Sylvia (After I got away from her grasp, I’ve preferred to call her Sylvia. She doesn’t deserve my respect.) She and I would tie it up a few more times that year. On more than one occasion for punishment I was sent home to write my multiplication tables zero through twelve, fifty times each. In the long run it helped me learn them but at the time.
Something that still haunts me to this day is the day I came to school late because of a doctor’s appointment. When I opened the door of the classroom there was a line of all my classmates from my desk to the trash can. Sylvia was at my desk going through it and throwing my things away. The kids were laughing and doing what they were told. I was mortified and ran to my desk to make her stop. There was my Star Wars stuff in there. There were things I had no other place to keep them. She didn’t care she just relished throwing my stuff away.
It wasn’t until I was sitting here writing this that I could really put this event into perspective. Here, I was roughly ten years old. Everything I owned was packed away. I didn’t have a place of my own something I had in abundance at one time. I wouldn’t have that space of my own again for a long time. So much is explained about my life now. Maybe this is why I am okay with all the boxes and not knowing where things are. I know that they are there and no one has thrown them out. This is why when people have offered to help me clean up I don’t let them. How can they value what something means to me? Sylvia certainly couldn’t and didn’t.
I digress, two more things would happen as the school year came to a close. The day that would change my life, May 3rd 1978, I went to school and it was raining. The raining led to a flood not unusual in New Orleans except we were getting two inches per hour. After a few hours they decide to have an early release. Parents came and got there kids. As the hours passed the water started to creep into the classroom but never a lot. By ten that night there was only myself another little boy from a different grade and Sylvia left. The rain had slowed and a school bus came and took the three of us to Sylvia’s for the night.
The water had receded for the most part by morning. The boy left first. So I was left with my worst nightmare come true. Being stuck with Sylvia by myself. When my mother finally arrived I was ready to go but my mom had other ideas. She wanted to help Sylvia out since she let me stay. So we took her to her car which was looking like it was ready to go into the canal. It would be deemed a total loss. While Sylvia lost her car she gained a friend which seemed few and far between. I don’t fault my Mom as she was doing the right thing and well in all honesty she didn’t have many friends either.
The second event which really makes me question my mother’s actions was the day of our graduation/non graduation ceremony. Sylvia decided to give us all jackass trophies. A gold back end of a donkey transfixed on a slab of marble. It was a reward to point out our flaws. How nice. When she got to me she said; “I wasn’t sure whether to give you Messy or Sloppy.” Sloppy won out. I have to ask what kind of teacher does this. Most kids I’m sure made it out of her class unscathed I wasn’t so lucky. Maybe that is because she would be a thorn in my side until the summer between my sophomore and junior years.
(Yesterday, was the 37th anniversary of the May 3rd Flood.)
© 2015 copyright D.M. Needom all rights reserved.
Some facts on the flood