In my car driving home I was remembering a childhood experience and trying to relate it to what was going on in my life currently. I can still see every detail in my mind clearly.
I was about 7 years old and my oldest brother’s ex-wife had brought their daughter Ceci over for a visit. My brother’s ex-wife was a real piece of work. She was married to him for about a year, long enough to have his child, then she left him for another man. This isn’t that unusual. Women do stuff like this all the time, except she came into the marriage with another daughter from her first husband. Ann had never worked a day in her life until she was much older. When you think about that, you have to wonder if she was all about the alimony and child support check and not about being married at all.
I was raised by my grandparents when my parents died and my oldest brother lived there in his own wing in the house. He had his office on the grounds too.
My brother’s ex-wife’s name was Ann and she was a sharp edged bitch. She could cut you in half with a stare and often did just that. For some reason she hated me. I never could figure that out because I thought she was really pretty and always tried to be in her presence when she came by for these visitations. My participation was always cut short, and I mean that literally, when she would do the same thing she always did not too long after I entered the room. She would find an opportunity when only I could hear her, and she would lean down real close to me and say something mean. Then she’d glare at me as she returned to her upright position. I was young, but not so young I didn’t get what she had just whispered. It was like hatred spun on a cotton candy stick.
This was the last visit of hers that I made a nuisance out of myself. After that day, whenever I saw her car pull up in my grandparent’s driveway, I would go and hide in my bedroom until she left.
I loved my niece Ceci. She was two years younger than me, and she was like a little doll baby. She was a golden blonde with pretty green eyes and she was always dressed in something frilly with petticoats with her hair curled and in ribbons. She looked just like the shopkeeper had pulled her down from the top shelf where all of the expensive baby dolls were kept, just out of reach. When I knew it was one of her days to visit I would set up a tea party or pull out my best paper dolls.
This particular day my brother gave both of us Coca-colas in the bottle. They were the small bottles that Coke makes and I already knew how to drink soda pop from a bottle. It was a skill I was quite proud of since it took a few tries of spilling it down the front of my shirt and choking when the carbonation went up my nose, to get it right.
Ceci was holding the small soda bottle with both of her tiny hands and my brother was cooing to her and giving her instruction on how to raise the bottle to her lips. She did as he told her and then put the whole end of the bottle in her mouth and started to tilt it back. I knew right away that this was not going to end well and the thought of sticky cola flooding the front of her perfect blue jumper was too much to bear. I leaned forward and grabbed the bottom of the bottle before she made contact with the soda “No Ceci! Not like that!” Ceci took the end of the bottle out of her mouth and giggled. My brother giggled too. Ann did not giggle. Instead she shot me full of burn holes with her stare.
I pretended not to notice the open loathing and showed Ceci how to purse her lips on the bottle top and take her first sip of Coke from the bottle. She laughed when she got it right. I was very pleased with my instruction.
My brother had moved away from the Coke drinking class to get a present for Ceci he had hidden in the other room and Ann took this opportunity to let me know how much she disliked having me be a part of her visit. I remember watching her lean close to me, close enough that Ceci, who was still enthralled with the Coca-cola bottle, wasn’t paying attention to her, or to me. Her whisper was more like a hiss and I remember blinking my eyes fast when her breath whizzed across my eyelashes. “Don’t you have something else to do instead of being in here where you’re not welcome?” I was 7 years old and not sure what the words “not welcome” meant. She recognized the confusion on my face and elaborated “Go away you stupid girl. No one wants you in here.” I was blinking again, but now it was to hold back the tears.
I understood that time.
I never said a word. I didn’t try to defend myself at all. I quietly put down my Coke bottle and stood up. I kept hoping Ceci would notice that I was leaving and protest, but she never stopped tilting her bottle back to take another sip and didn’t even see me. As I turned to run out of the room I heard my brother calling after me “Where are you off to?” But I kept going and didn’t answer. I’m sure now that Ann had a big smile on her face.
When Ceci was old enough Ann would drop her off for her visits and come back later to pick her up. Those were the times Ceci would spend the day with me playing on my grandparent’s large property. She was always full of mischief. One day she brought a book of matches out of her pocket and suggested we start a fire to warm our hands with. The fire quickly got out of control and I sent Ceci to the house to get my grandmother to help. I had no idea how to put out a fire and when my grandmother screamed I knew it was a big fire.
Since I was “old enough to know better” I ended up taking the blame for the fire while Ann stood behind Ceci with her hands on Ceci’s shoulders nodding in agreement that I was a horrible child. Ceci never spoke up and never admitted it was her idea. She just stood there staring at her feet while my punishment was decided by a very angry and disappointed grandmother and a woman that clearly hated me. For some reason I felt sorry for Ceci right at that moment.
I always went to sleep away camp in the summer months. One summer my brother decided Ceci should join me at camp. I had such a great time introducing my angelic niece to all of my friends. They made fun of us asking Ceci if she called me Aunt. Of course, she never did that.
I was surprised when Ceci suggested we skip camp fire one night. I had never skipped any of the activities there. I never even thought about doing that. But Ceci made it sound fun and exciting, like an adventure. When the girls all lined up to make the trek to the camp fire circle, Ceci and I lagged behind and eventually veered off on our own. We ran like crazy people back up to the Mess Hall and raided the kitchen for cookies. Not another soul was in sight.
Then she pulled another book of matches from her pocket and I told her “No! No more fires!” She laughed “No silly!” She pulled a battered cigarette from her other pocket, put it to her mouth and lit it up. I had never smoked a cigarette before even though I had seen my brothers do it. My grandfather smoked a pipe. She puffed and puffed and made big clouds of smoke and then offered it to me. I had no idea what to do with it so, like when we were kids, she turned the tables and gave me instructions on how to smoke.
I choked and coughed and we both laughed loudly feeling the piss and vinegar of being rebellious and naughty. And in walked two camp counselors.
Who would have thought that the women running sleep away camp, in charge of the welfare of hundreds of little girls, would have checks and balances to maintain a strict inventory of their charges? After several head counts, a desperate search of the cabins and calling our names for the last hour, they found us in the Mess Hall eating cookies and smoking a cigarette.
Being the older of the two it was decided the contraband was most likely mine. I was also berated because being the one that had been attending camp for many years prior, I knew the rules and knew how to follow them. Obviously this little detour from the norm was my fault! Ceci stood there quietly as I was berated and never said a word in my defense.
Punishment was to clean the bathrooms of every cabin the next day and miss out on the fun activities planned for everyone else. I was not at all surprised when we were left alone to start our chores that Ceci figured out a way to shirk as much of the job as possible.We giggled and laughed the whole day.
Upon returning from camp my grandparents were told about our transgressions and I was banned from ever returning. However Ceci was welcome to return if she wished to. Once they got me home I was given another punishment and I carried it out to the letter. It just never occurred to me to do otherwise. I wondered if Ceci was being punished too and I felt sorry for her.
I found out years later that she was not punished at all. Instead it was decided that I was a very bad influence and future visits with her father would have to be carried out away from my grandparent’s home. I was blamed for this too.
My brother had always allowed Ann to treat him like crap, so this was nothing new. He went along with the new arrangements without an argument. Later when her third husband wanted to legally adopt Ceci, he went along with that too. It killed him to know his child wouldn’t have his last name anymore, but he wanted what was best for her.
I didn’t see much of Ceci until we were much older. I was home for the summer and getting ready to return to college when she showed up on the doorstep of the house I shared with a bunch of my girlfriends. She had run away from home and needed a place to stay. I offered her my place in the house since I was leaving.
I was chastised for this in a letter from my grandmother and was accused of helping her run away from her mother. I crumpled the letter and didn’t give it another thought. I didn’t blame Ceci for wanting to run away from that witch and if she wanted to blame me this time, she was welcome to do so.
Ceci ended up pregnant and had to get married. Later she confessed the baby was not the man’s child she had married. She fell in love with yet another man and after cheating on her husband for almost a year, she left her first husband to marry this new guy and had another child with him. Throughout that marriage she cheated on him too and had a third child. The second husband quietly let the house run into arrears and moved out a little at a time so she wouldn’t notice and then just never came home one day. The house was possessed by the bank just 3 days after he left and Ceci was forced to pack and move in that time frame. Since Ceci had never worked at any real job a day in her life, she was left destitute and at the mercy of anyone willing to help her.
I remember going to see her one weekend before all of this happened and her husband greeted me in the driveway. He told me Ceci had shut herself in their room and had taken to the bed in a deep depression. He asked me to snap her out of it if I could.
I entered the darkened room and turned on the bedside lamp before sitting on the edge of the bed. She was propped up on pillows with a sour look on her face. After listening to her moan about how boring her life was and how much she hated her husband she looked up to see the mirth on my face. “You think this is funny?” I smiled largely now “I do Ceci. I think it’s funny and just a little bit pathetic.” She threw her wadded up tissue at me. “It’s not funny! My life sucks!” I laughed now. “Your life doesn’t suck. You do though. Look around Ceci. You have a doting husband, beautiful children and a gorgeous home. You’ve never had to work a day in your life and still you act like the world owes you more. My god woman! You’re 30 years old and you still cash your child support check that my brother sends you every month! I know a lot of women that would think you have it made in the shade. I’m one of them.”
She finally stopped her pity party and perked up the rest of the weekend. I think she just needed for someone to remind her of what she had in life. At the time I had no way of knowing what would happen a few years later. I had stopped coming to see her long before her life finally fell to pieces like she always thought it was when it was in full bloom.
Ceci’s young daughter loved my visits. I would always make it a point to sit down with her and really talk to her about what was going on in her life. One time she brought out a new board game she had gotten for her birthday. She couldn’t convince either of her parents to play it with her, but she knew I would. I sat cross legged on the floor as she set up the board game and all the pieces and explained the rules to me. It was a Barbie board game and as I rolled the dice and picked cards from the deck I would ask her to read the card to me out loud. “Barbie gets a new boyfriend! Move ahead 2 spaces!” I moved my piece and waited for my next turn. “Barbie buys a new outfit but it doesn’t fit right! Move back one space!” After a few more cards like this I began to get concerned that Barbie was living a very superficial life.
I halted the game and picked up the whole deck of instruction cards and looked for even one card that contained some semblance of truth on it. I couldn’t find one. They were all about the new car, a fight with her cheerleader friends, etc. Not one of them had her living a real life of any substance at all!
My niece waited patiently for me to continue the game.
“Josie, please go and get me some paper and a pencil.” We spent the next few minutes making additional cards for the deck that talked about choosing a college, making car payments, buying health insurance and putting a deposit on her first apartment. Real life instructions. Josie was a good sport and had fun making the new cards for her game.
During the time Josie was growing up I watched as Ceci moved into that same posture that was so familiar to me. Leaning in close to whisper something mean to her daughter about her behavior. They were vicious, nasty little comments meant to humiliate her into behaving. I had the chance then to speak up, but I remained quiet. Who was I to teach her how to parent? At the time I didn’t even have a boyfriend, much less a child.
The last weekend I spent with them was when her husband had caught Josie on the sofa touching herself in a sexual way. She was curled up under a blanket watching television and was very quietly touching herself. He saw the blanket moving suspiciously, stomped over and loudly proclaimed to everyone in the room what she was doing under her covers.
Josie was embarrassed and I was horrified that he chose to handle it like this, if at all. Children touch themselves as the hormones in their bodies take over and changes happen. It’s natural!
What commenced was a weekend of shame and humiliation for a little girl as he yelled and called her names for being so “dirty“. She ran to her room in tears. I could hear her sobbing for an hour while Ceci and her husband sat there trying to explain to me that they were trying to teach her not to do this anymore because it was wrong. I could only shake my head and tell them that touching yourself wasn’t wrong at all. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from two adults!
When Josie finally came down for dinner she could barely look at me. She was humiliated and embarrassed to have been exposed to me in such an awful way. I waited until there was a moment I could sit next to her and quietly let her know that I thought the world of her and that no matter whatever happened, she could always talk to me if she needed to. Big tears rolled down her cheeks as she looked at her hands folded in her lap. She couldn’t even talk to me.
The circle would remain unbroken. I didn’t have the power to change this.
My name is not Barbie.
The parallels between Ceci and her mother were astounding to me. She was reliving every detail of her mother’s life. It was a year later when Ceci was living in a lower income apartment provided by a church she had joined, that her mother followed in Ceci’s footsteps.
Ann’s last marriage seemed to be kissed by good fortune. The new husband moved her ready made family into a big home with a swimming pool in the backyard, all in a nice neighborhood. She could finally hold her head high and she did just that. They jet-setted to Atlantic City to gamble on the weekends and often took Ceci and her sister with them. The new husband would give them each a thousand dollars to gamble with. Ceci would save hers telling me this was her swimming pool fund for the beautiful house her second husband had moved her into.
Everyone’s life was idyllic until it wasn’t anymore.
Sitting in the sparsely furnished lower income apartment, Ceci took the call that her mother’s husband was dying. Not soon after that he passed away. That was when they found out the real truth behind the fancy clothes and the fast cars. The third husband had gambled away everything they owned, even the beautiful house in the good neighborhood with the swimming pool in the backyard.
Ann had nothing left.
Neither of them had anyone to take the blame for what had happened this time. The only person that could take the blame was the one they were staring at in their own mirrors.
What happens to people that can skate through life rolling over everyone in their path and always getting more than they truly deserve? Here is the story of two beautiful women, both of them with a powerful magnetism and a penchant for getting away with every deviant act by looking innocent as a lamb. Two women that used anyone that came within a few feet of them and still remained dissatisfied and unhappy. What will happen to them now that their beauty and charm has worn thin and they are exposed for the carnies they have always been just beneath the nail polished surface?
Ceci has found Jesus. Her new favorite saying is “Praise God and Halleluiah!” I’m not sure how much that has to do with being possessed by the holy spirit, but it sure makes the church feel better about continuing to pay her rent and utilities every month while she pretends to look for a job. My guess is that Jesus is the last man in her life she might be able to convince to support her.
I don’t know what Ann is doing, but perhaps Ceci is sharing her new found sugar daddy with mama and she’s living a church funded lifestyle as well. Who knows?
As for my brother and his contributions to these two leaches, he got remarried and his new wife cut off Ceci’s child support fund a while back. Ceci stopped calling her father after that and never went to see him again. When she hit rock bottom she picked up the phone to ask him for money and the new wife answered. You can just guess how that conversation ended.
My brother’s name is not Jesus.
I was driving in the car thinking about all of this the other day trying to figure out why any of this was even necessary. I had so many questions that I didn’t even know where to start.
Why did Ann dislike me so much? What could a child ever do to an adult that would illicit that kind of treatment? I know plenty of kids I think are brats, but I would never leave an indelible mark on them like the one she left on me. Perhaps it wasn’t me she disliked as much as she disliked the circumstances and she was too self absorbed to realize that attacking me wouldn’t make the situation better and it certainly would never make it change.
What it did was far worse than just verbally abusing a small child for amusement’s sake. She showed her young daughter some very bad rules to live by. She let Ceci know that there was always someone out there not worthy of being treated fairly and that she should take advantage of this whenever possible because it was how the world had always worked best for her. My contribution was in never speaking up, or calling her out. I allowed it to happen over and over again until I had enough and just quit the game.
How would Ceci’s life had been different if I had just spoken up?
One lesson this had taught me over the years was how I would not treat a child. I knew how much all of this had hurt me and I never wished to inflict that kind of grownup pain on a little one.
I’m not sure what else I’ll learn from starting to question all of this now, after all these years, but for some reason I feel there’s a lesson in there that relates to whatever is going on in my life at the present. Perhaps the realization that life can and will move in circles if you allow it to and that this is not always a good thing to let happen. Some circles are meant to be broken. Some checks need to have a stop payment stamped on them and some board games need to teach something besides fluff.
Barbie and Jesus have one thing in common…they are both worshiped and it’s not always for wholesome reasons. I think today’s youth needs to find the power to change within themselves and then share those hard earned lessons with each other so that no one feels belittled or humiliated for being what we all can not help but be…human beings.
Until later, I am yours always in print.