Friday, November 29, 2013

One of four .....

I have no conscious memory of the next few days.  The drive to the East Coast took most of two days, and I don't remember anything of the trip.  I know I sat in the backseat, likely reading or napping the entire time.  If I cried, it was done silently, and neither my uncle nor his wife would have bothered to try comforting me.

As my uncle would later say, many times, he didn't believe in psychiatrists and counseling.  Any problems could and should be dealt with privately and on one's own.  And neither he nor his wife believed in "coddling" children.

I knew it was going to be vastly different, but I hadn't realized how difficult life would actually be with my uncle's family. 

Recall that my life had been comfortable, and while I (sometimes reluctantly) shared my toys and books with friends, I was used to having possessions that belonged only to me.

My first rude awakening came as my uncle was unloading the U-Haul trailer and I saw him put my television in what they called "the TV room".

"That's mine!" I said.

"No one else has their own TV, so you can't, either.  Remember, you're just one of four kids now."

Then my beloved books, most of which I'd read and re-read multiple times, were stacked on the communal bookshelf in the playroom.

"Those are mine!" I said.

"All the books belong to everyone.  Remember you're just one of four kids now."

Instead of being an only child, I now had three siblings.
I was officially "just one of four".

Fortunately, I was allowed to keep my toys (the boys weren't interested in my dolls), clothes (ditto) and accordion.  However, within the first week of my arrival, my younger brother snuck into my bedroom, grabbed my accordion and took it to school for show and tell.  When I arrived home and found it gone, I was hysterical.  When he arrived home, he was (mildly) admonished and told not to take it again.  More on discipline in a later entry.
Although I say "my bedroom," it really wasn't at that time.  My uncle and his wife told me I'd be sleeping in their daughter's room, in their daughter's (double) bed.  She had gone off to college a couple months prior, so at least I didn't have to share the space right away.  My uncle's wife told me that the room was to have new wallpaper installed shortly and I said (rather bluntly, I admit) that the wallpaper she'd chosen was ugly (it was).  She then sarcastically told my uncle, in front of me, that I obviously thought I was so special that she should cancel the order she'd already paid for and find a wallpaper I liked instead. 
I was embarrassed, but also stunned.  I honestly had no idea of what was involved with wallpapering a room, in terms of planning or cost.  But also, I hadn't suggested she select a different design, really.  I simply said I didn't like what she'd chosen.
I lived with that wallpaper for several years, and can still see it clearly in my mind.  It had a dusty pink background and was covered with little designs that looked like lace doilies -- something like this:
My uncle married my stepmother in 1976.  One of the first
renovation projects she undertook was the removal of this
wallpaper.  She thought it was hideous.

There were other, sometimes subtle, indications that I was second-class, and not really a member of the family.  A couple years earlier, my uncle and his wife had had portraits taken of their kids.  These portraits hung in the stairwell to the third-floor bedrooms, and I passed them daily until I moved out of the house.  No effort was ever made to have a portrait of me taken and added to the collection.

At age nine, my younger brother still regularly wet his bed.  Because of this, he was allowed to take a shower in his parents' bathroom (which had a separate shower stall) each morning before school.  The tub in the third-floor "kids' bathroom" had no shower head or shower curtain and, so, could only be used for bathing.  I was used to showering daily and asked my uncle and his wife if they'd install those items so I could shower.  They declined, but never gave a good reason.  I asked if, instead, I could shower in their bathroom like my brother did, but was told no -- he could do it because he and my uncle could share the space (one showering, one shaving) and they were both males.  It wouldn't be appropriate for me. 
I was advised to lock up my bicycle after I used it, but I sometimes forgot.  One day, my younger brother -- who'd already, literally, destroyed his own bike through misuse -- realized that I hadn't locked up mine and he took it.  I saw him riding it recklessly, over tree roots and rocks, etc., and pleaded with my uncle's wife to make him stop.  She refused, shrugged, and casually said that she'd TOLD me to lock it up.  It was my own fault.
However, the one time I tried to ride their daughter's 10-speed bike (mine was a simple one-speed bike with coaster brakes), my uncle's wife was furious with me and told me to never touch it again.  She said the same thing about a bride doll left over from her daughter's childhood and which was stored in a closet in the bedroom.  It was always fine for the other kids to use (and abuse) my possessions, but not OK for me to play with anything that belonged to someone else.
That first Christmas, my uncle's wife hand-sewed a blanket for her daughter.  One side had a silk-like fabric and the other side was soft (fake) fur.  Even then, I understood that it was a major task and that it took her several hours to complete.  I wasn't jealous (ok, I was a LITTLE jealous), but I always remembered that blanket and was hurt that a similar gift was not created for me.  In fact, although she'd sewn many outfits for me when I still lived with my grandparents, she never -- with one exception -- again hand-made anything for me.
One of my school friends came over for a visit that first year and my younger brother and his friend followed us around outside, using sticks to poke us in inappropriate places.  I complained to my uncle's wife, and her response was something like "boys will be boys."  Later, that same friend told me an x-rated joke which I (foolishly) repeated to my brother.  He immediately ratted me out to my uncle's wife, who was furious that I would use such awful words around her "innocent" child.  She immediately grounded me and forbade me from ever seeing my school friend again.
"Unfair" was to become a frequently-used part of my vocabulary.