Part II: Journeys (Chapter 43)


Perhaps I’m being mean-spirited.

When Ruby writes to me about her childhood, I call Nana long distance and read the letter to her.

I just want Nana to know the consequences of her actions.

Shel, my fiancé, says people need to understand consequences....


Timber City, AK

July 7, 1983


Dear Sam,

Isn’t she beautiful? We have named her Tess, after Raymond’s great aunt who passed last year. Our Tess was born on the 4th of July, a real firecracker, too. She’s going to be a real fighter, I can tell. It’s a good thing, too; she’s going to need all she’s got to get through this crazy, mixed-up world.

I can’t believe how small and delicate she seems, and yet the strength in her tiny hands never ceases to amaze me...I can’t tell you how wonderful it is being a mother; makes me wonder why we waited so long.

I felt afraid, Sam. I’ve always feared that something vitally important was missing in my psychological makeup, that my kids would grow up warped. Maybe I’d be a bad mother, just like our mother. Genes are funny. And then, there’s Mom – Aunt Vivian, I mean. Double whammy.

Sam, I never told you this – I was afraid it would sound like sour grapes – but my childhood was hell. I didn’t know it then, but Aunt Viv was, well, strange.

Of course, back then, I had no idea what “strange” really meant – I had no point of reference.

But as I grew up, I began to realize that my life was anything but normal.

This is painful to write about because I still love my Aunt Viv – I just don’t understand her – so please bear with me.

We lived in a small house in Hot Springs, where Viv still lives. From the outside, it looks like any other house on the block: white siding, picket fence, small garden, but you wouldn’t believe the inside. Viv saves everything, I mean literally everything: cereal boxes, old newspapers from 15-20 years ago, old clothes, garbage. Says she’s just recycling stuff, but that’s bunk. None of it goes anywhere. You name it, she has it, and it’s stacked everywhere: on chairs, tables, TV. To save your life, you couldn’t sit down in the living room, and the junk is piled high to the ceiling. No floor space – just pathways going from room to room, like a maze. When I was small, I remember getting up at night and losing my way to the bathroom, and it was scary. I thought monsters were after me. Even my room was filled with junk, although I managed to clear out a space around the bed.

I fought hard for that space, and sometimes I even won, but mostly I lost my battles with her....

Her toilet is broken – has been for the past 15 years. We used a chamber pot, which I had to empty outside twice a day. I don’t know what Viv does now. Can’t imagine she’d want to dirty her hands. So maybe it all piles up, and she hides it under the bed, or in the closet. God only knows.

You remember all the pictures Aunt Viv sent you? Do you remember any of them set indoors (other than church)? Now you know why.

None of that weird stuff would have been so bad if it hadn’t been for the beatings.

The beatings started when I hit junior high. I had just gotten my period; I was starting to develop.

That first time, she called me a “slut” when I came home from school five minutes late – that I was just like my mother, which was very confusing because I thought she was my mother. And I thought Dean Platts was my uncle. No one had told me otherwise. It was a real shock hearing about our mother while getting the shit knocked out of me.

This all went on for years. I never knew when I was going to get a beating – never knew what would set her off. It was like walking a tightrope all the time – you never knew what would make you fall off and get the belt.

When I was 15, Viv beat me so badly; I still bear the scars on my back. After that, I hated her guts. I really thought she was going to kill me or that I’d get fed up and kill her.

Either way, one of us was going to end up dead, the other in jail.

I ran away from home and took my case to social services. I found out Aunt Viv hadn’t bothered to adopt me, that she had no parental rights, so I filed papers for changing my legal status to “emancipated minor.” My petition was denied, but the courts agreed I could live with Viv’s neighbor Harriet Andersen. As long as I didn’t have to live with my aunt, I was happy – I would have lived with anyone, the devil himself. All I wanted to do was get through school and start my life over. Make some sense out of everything.

Harriet helped me through that process – we’re still close. Once, when Viv went on the warpath, Harriet even got a restraining order against Viv.

I can’t figure out what went wrong with Viv and why she agreed to raise me if she hated kids so much. I later found out she had been married once but divorced within a year. There was also talk of a miscarriage years before I came along, but I don’t know if that’s true.

So now you know the truth about my early life. I don’t mean to make anyone feel guilty. Who could have predicted this? I’m sure the Mallorys felt they did what they had to do.

I called Viv about Tess – I just didn’t want her to accuse me of being secretive and petty. You know what she said?

“You, a baby? Who’s the father?”

Well, I tried. All I know, my daughter’s going to have a better life than I ever had. She’s going to be loved like no other baby has been loved. That’s my promise.

You want to know the best part?

I’m finally free of the little traps which have been holding me hostage for all these years.

As always,


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