{September 9, 2012}   Gym Class

At the end of my ninth grade year, I ruminated on suicide much of the time. It looked to be the only way I could escape my mother and my isolation. At night before sleep, I’d think about ways to do it–what would be the quickest (Daddy’s gun); the most painless (pills); how I could do it without leaving a mess. I spent most of my time in my room in solitary confinement, shut off from family and friends. Other than school, the only connection I had to the outside world was through books and music. I would listen to Eat A Peach by the Allman Brothers over and over…”you’re my blue sky, you’re my sunny day…

It was Friday afternoon. I got a call from a girl I had just started to eat lunch with at school. She was fairly popular and had a group of friends. I desperately wanted friends. Every day, I looked for her in the cafeteria. I would listen to what other girls did on weekends, what concert tickets they scored, what boy they liked, what diet they were on. Now, here she was asking me if I wanted to go see Billy Jack with a group of her friends. I couldn’t believe my luck!  I’d been isolated for so long from anyone my age that no one ever asked me to do anything. I wasn’t permitted to go shopping at the mall, to the movies, or even to walk to Jamie’s house. When she came to my house, all we did was flip through Mademoiselle and giggle over bizarre photos of models.

I wanted to go to this movie. I didn’t care what was showing, I just wanted to be with people my own age. I was tired of being alone in my room. It was Friday night and my parents were going out to eat. Daddy was in the basement shooting pool by himself. I yelled from upstairs, “Can I go to the movies with some friends?” He yelled back, “Okay. If they’ll drive you, we’ll pick you up.” “I think I’ve got a ride both ways” I yelled down. I didn’t hear a response, so I went back to my room to get ready. I was excited! Maybe there would be a boy at the movie. I didn’t care. All I knew was I was going out with friends!

I returned home from the movie around 11pm. My parents were in the living room. Local news was on the TV.  Mother charged at me as soon as I walked through the kitchen. “Where have you been? We were waiting on a call from you to pick you up!” I didn’t have time to explain. “I told Daddy I had a ride!” I screamed. Mother already had a belt in her hand. She waved the belt in my face. “You left without telling us where you were going!” “No I didn’t!” I yelled back. “I told Daddy I was going to a movie!” “Were you with boys? Is that what you’ve been doing?” Mother didn’t wait for me to reply. She grabbed me by my arm and tried to turn me around. This time, I resisted. I was too big for this. I was almost an inch taller than her.  “No! I will not let you beat me again!”  Mother shot a look at Daddy, still sitting on the couch. “Russell, hold her back!” Mother yelled at him. Daddy obeyed. He came up behind me and held my arms back. I couldn’t defend myself from the blows to come. “I’ll teach you to leave without asking!” Mother pounded my legs and torso with the belt. Daddy held my arms so I couldn’t move. I tried to kick her.  She lashed me again and again with the belt.  I finally stopped fighting. I couldn’t fight them both. If Daddy was going to be in on this, there was no way I could win. I went limp and gave in to the whipping.

I spent the rest of the weekend in isolation in my bedroom. Mother  told me I was on restriction for the rest of the year. I would not be able to see friends or leave the house. For the whole summer, I would stay at home in my room. Thoughts of  killing myself became more urgent. I had no reason to live anymore. I couldn’t stand being isolated in my room. I couldn’t stand being rejected and despised by my family. Now, Daddy was in on the beatings. He usually stayed in another room during my beatings.  Now, he was  holding me so I couldn’t fight back. I was totally defeated.

I went to school on Monday with bruises on my legs and arms. I had belt marks across my stomach and legs. The bruises and belt stripes were under my blue jeans and long sleeved shirt. My legs ached whenever I sat down and the jeans cut into my sores. No one saw the marks. Gym class was coming up next period. I had failing marks in gym and I had run out of excuses for not dressing out. My gym teacher warned me that I didn’t have any more sick outs and if I didn’t dress out and participate in class, I would get an “F”. I was not an “F” student. I was used to making “A’s”. An “F” would cause even more trouble at home. I knew I’d better dress out for gym this time.

I went to the locker room to change. It was an open room bordered by lockers. All the girls dressed in front of each other. I thought about hiding in the shower to change my clothes, but that would draw more attention. I grabbed my gym clothes and moved to a corner of the room, hoping to dress quick enough that no one would see my bruises. I pulled off my jeans and removed my blouse.

A girl I hardly knew was walking past. She saw my legs. “What happened to you? Were you in a car wreck?” she asked. I hung my head and didn’t look at her. I didn’t want to tell her what happened. But, I wasn’t going to lie and say that I was in a car wreck. “No. I wasn’t in a wreck. My mother did this,” I said. “Your mother?” she shrieked. Another girl changing nearby heard her and walked over. She looked at me. And another girl. And another. In less than a minute, I was surrounded by girls who were staring at my legs and arms. One girl said, “You don’t have to go home. You can come home with me. My parents will let you stay with us.” The horror of how I looked washed over me.  I had expected a different reaction. I expected the girls to reject me, cast me out, whisper about me. But these girls didn’t do that. They wanted to help me. Comments and questions came flying at me so fast, I couldn’t answer them. “How often does this happen?” followed by, “Whatever you did, you didn’t deserve a beating like that!” A few others offered me a place to stay after school. Finally, the girls came to a consensus about what I should do. I should go to the school counselor. I should go immediately to Mrs. Flannigan’s office, and tell her what was going on. I should show her my bruises and she will know what to do.  Maybe, I thought. Maybe Mrs. Flannigan would be able to help me.

I thought no one would ever help me. But by their reactions I realized that no one else got beatings like this. I was ashamed so I hid the marks and bruises. That was exactly the wrong thing to do! I had to tell someone. Someone could help me. I told my gym teacher that I needed to go to see Mrs. Flannigan, that it was very important. She told me that I could make up the class later and gave me a hall pass.

I arrived at Mrs. Flannigan’s office without an appointment. Mrs. Flannigan was a wiry woman with orange hair and freckles. She inhabited a tiny office the size of a coat closet that had a desk, a metal chair, a filing cabinet and telephone. I stood in the doorway of her office waiting while she finished working on a chart. I had seen her before but she did not know me. “Mrs. Flannigan. I’m Lynn. I’m here because someone told me I should come to ask you for help. “Sit down” she said. I sat down in the cold metal chair beside her desk. She put down her pen. “What is it?” she asked. “My mother has been beating me” I said. Mrs. Flannigan looked straight at me. “Your mother has been beating you?” she repeated. She seemed suspicious. I got the feeling that she thought I was lying. I felt a knot tightening in my stomach. “Yes” I said. “Can you tell me why?”  she asked. Why? There is some reason I need to give? “Because I went to a movie with friends. I have bruises.” Mrs. Flannigan shut the office door and told me to show her my bruises. I felt humiliated. Taking off my pants in the locker room for gym class was one thing. Taking off my jeans and blouse in front of an unfamiliar woman in this tiny room and letting her inspect my body was another. Reluctantly, I pulled down my jeans and showed her my bruises.  I took off my blouse and showed her the bruises where Daddy held my arms and the belt stripes on my stomach. “Okay” she said. That was all. I took my seat. “’I need to call your mother and ask her for an explanation.” “No!” I howled. “No, you cant do that! That will give her a reason beat me again!” Now, I was frightened. I couldn’t undo what I had just done. I shouldn’t have listened to the girls advice. I couldn’t go home and face the consequences if the school counselor talked to Mother. “Okay, okay” Mrs. Flannigan said. “I won’t call your mother. I’ll think about what to do. Now, you’re missing your class. Let me write you a note.” That was a close call. Telling Mrs. Flannigan wasn’t such a good idea. At least she promised keep our conversation confidential. I walked back to class, relieved.

When I got home, Mother was sitting in the kitchen. She was waiting for me. I was surprised when she said, “I got a call from Mrs. Flannigan”. Panic paralyzed me. Mrs. Flannigan called her! I stood silent. “Let me see those bruises!” Mother hissed. I saw hate in her eyes. She thinks I’m lying about my bruises? “Okay, just a minute!” I dropped my books on the counter and unzipped my jeans. I pulled them down to reveal the black and purple marks and stripes. I pulled my jeans back up and rolled up the long sleeves of my blouse. “These, too. These are bruises where Daddy held my arms” I said. She looked like she was going to spit on me. “I didn’t do that” she said. She looked me in the eye. I couldn’t believe my ears. Did she really just say that she didn’t do this to me? She continued, “I think you’ve been in your room, beating your own body just to make me look bad.” Now, I knew she was completely crazy. “You’re saying that I beat myself? Yeah, like I could really do that,” I mocked. “Go to your room!” she commanded. I picked  up my books from the counter and went to my room, slamming the door behind me. I sat on my bed. I could not believe what just happened. Mother claims I beat myself? Now there is no doubt about it. Mother is insane. And I am the only one in the world that understands this. Does Daddy know? It’s too terrifying for my younger brother and sister to understand. My mother is insane.

A lot happened that day. I would never hide bruises from my friends again. I would never trust Mrs. Flannigan again. And my mother would never beat me again.


DB Love says:

Lynn, a tragic story. What a piece of work.

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