Consider the following statements:
“Make sure to clean behind your ears – if not, potatoes will start growing there!”
“Don’t swallow that gum – it will stay in your stomach for seven years!”
“Eating your carrots will improve your eyesight enough to see in the dark!”
“If you keep making that face, it might stay that way forever!”
Most people would classify each statement as one of many fun and (mostly) harmless parenting myths. Jennifer has correctly written about the stark and disturbing effect Sunshine’s fury has had on her face. So far as Jen and I are concerned, that last “myth” is nothing of the sort. Sunshine’s face began reflecting a great deal of anger many years ago and today her face has frozen like that.
Once upon a time, Straighten Up! and I giggled with delight as we watched Daddy return from work, walk into the dinnertime kitchen, grab Sunshine and plant an MGM movie-style kiss on her.
Once upon a time, we had summertime cookouts, trips to drive-in movies and beach resort vacations. We went trick-or-treating in October, ate too much turkey in November and decorated a big Christmas tree in December. First it was Daddy, Sunshine, Straighten Up! and me. Later, Jen and finally The Tempest. Sometime after our youngest sister was born, Sunshine’s fury was also. This baby grew more rapidly and more vigorously than any of Sunshine’s other sucklings.
Once upon another time, Straighten Up!, Jennifer and I gathered in the kitchen for the Saturday breakfast Sunshine had prepared. The Tempest was there too, in her high chair eagerly looking forward to devouring some lukewarm baby mush.
As the bright morning light shone through the double-sized window near the stove, Straighten Up! and I engaged in our usual chatter boxing punctuated by Jen’s cute, but generally incoherent toddler babblings.
Amid the lively buzz, Sunshine quietly loaded each plate and filled each glass before placing them on the table. I wondered why Daddy hadn’t joined us, but only for a moment. As Sunshine sat in the chair next to the baby, we began eating. A lovely weekend meal was in full swing.
Then, two sounds. One was the back door closing behind Daddy. Not loud. Just the usual we’d heard many times before. Immediately following…an ear-splitter. In one frenzied move, an incensed Sunshine heaved every plate, cup, saucer and utensil which sat on her side of the table onto the floor. The pieces sailed past me at lightning speed and violently crash landed several feet away from the table.
Straighten Up! and I sat motionless while Jen and The Tempest! cried. Sunshine began pounding the table and wailing loudly enough to drown out the sobs of her two youngest daughters. Several long minutes later, Straighten Up! and I took our little sisters out of the kitchen and upstairs.
I don’t remember what we did to pacify two hungry babies (not to mention ourselves), but, I suppose we figured something out. What I do remember is how, dazed and bewildered, I tried to make some sense of what had just happened.
Was there a parental fight? I didn’t remember hearing anything said between them. I don’t remember Daddy saying anything. He just walked out. But…sure. Must’ve been some fight.
Shortly after we had cleared out of the kitchen, we heard Sunshine cleaning it. At some point, she called us back downstairs, served us reheated breakfast food, instructed me to feed The Tempest and scurried to her room. When we eventually returned upstairs, I became aware that Sunshine was vacuuming her bedroom carpet. Despite the closed doors and the thundering cleaning machine, I was also aware that Sunshine was engaged in a bitterly intense conversation. And…I was aware that Sunshine was in her room alone.
Alone? Yes, she was entirely alone. Who was she talking to? And WHY was she SOOOOOO angry? Frightened as I was, I couldn’t resist focusing in on the noise coming from that room. Apparently, believing the vacuum a sufficient muffler, Sunshine banged on night tables and slammed her dresser drawers. Above it all I heard her voice and some of her words. Malicious. Rabid. Frantic.
“I am SICK and TIRED of you!”
“I HATE you!”
“You have USED me!”
“I DESPISE you!”
My mind wandered back to breakfast. The door closed behind her husband. Instantly overtaken by her own fierce rage, Sunshine violently destroyed dishes in front of her young children. Now, I realized, the object of my mother’s rage was my father.
For the rest of my childhood, I heard more and more and much more than I ever wanted to hear and far more than I would understand. To this day, I cannot properly use the word “understand.”
Sunshine continued to use the vacuum cleaner to stifle her irate roars against Daddy. Regularly, she verbally slashed him, but never when he was around. Often, so very often, I was the one around. Once, she started in on him when, I was reading in the den. Undoubtedly believing no one could hear her, she went full throttle in the kitchen, making accusations and threatening divorce over the flow of running water. I sat motionless in my chair, petrified that she would discover my presence. I stayed even though I soon felt the urgent need to use the bathroom. Finally, after…forever…I tiptoed out of the den, across the large living room which separated it from the kitchen and bolted past the open kitchen door to the staircase when her back was turned.
Sunshine also continued breaking dishes. Time and again, Straighten Up! and I sat in our room at the top of the stairs when…CRASH!!!! Fragmented plates. Shattered glasses. Tight jawed cursing and…daughters who pretended none of it was happening. We boosted the television’s volume and gabbed more vigorously. We did the best confused and frightened young girls could do — whatever it took to survive the initial scorching rays of Angry Sunshine.