daughtersofnormabates











{December 3, 2012}   Saturday Night at the Movies

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At age sixteen, my struggle against isolation and loneliness intensified. Being an outsider in my family flowed into my social life. I was never asked out on a date and never had a boyfriend. My only venture out of the house involved going to work at Davidson’s Department Store. I didn’t have a car so I had to rely on Daddy to drive me to and from work, which was about ten miles away. I had one friend, Jamie, who drove a ‘69 yellow mustang around the curvy streets of our neighborhood. Even though she had a car, she didn’t have complete freedom because her father regularly took her keys away on Saturday nights to keep her home. I’d known Jamie since the third grade but after the feeding-cough-drops-to-horses incident in the seventh grade, we hadn’t been as close.  By the tenth grade, we became best friends again. I often walked to her house to hang out and play records from her Beatles collection. One Saturday when I wasn’t scheduled to work and Jamie didn’t have access to her car, I asked Mother if she would take us with her when she drove to the mall. On the ride there, we agreed to split up and meet back at 6:00 in front of Rich’s on the top floor where the Junior Department was located.

At exactly 6:00, Jamie and I went to Rich’s top floor to meet my mother for a ride home. We waited about fifteen minutes but Mother never showed up. We walked from one side of the entrance to the other just to make sure we didn’t miss her. Then we started to think that maybe we got the meeting location wrong. We walked down the stairs and stood in front of Rich’s on the lower level for a few minutes. Mother wasn’t there, either. We waited another five minutes and walked back upstairs to see if she was there. When we got upstairs, Mother was pacing in front of the entrance. “Where have you been?” she demanded. “I’ve been waiting here for you for over ten minutes.” “We were right here at 6:00” I said. Jamie nodded in agreement. “You were not!” Mother yelled. “I was here at 6:00 and you were no where to be found.” “Yes we were!” I insisted. “We were here at exactly 6:00. We waited for you for about fifteen minutes and you weren’t here. We thought maybe you were waiting for us downstairs and we went to check.” “You’re a liar” Mother said. “You weren’t here. Now you’ve made me late getting home!” she hissed, walking briskly ahead of us to the car. Jamie and I climbed in the back seat and Mother pulled out of the parking space before I could even get the door closed. As we sat in the mall traffic, she continued yelling about how we weren’t there at 6:00 and how we made her wait. I looked at Jamie and we made faces at each other. Her yelling escalated. “Where were you anyway? Meeting some boys? I guess you were off having sex somewhere, weren’t you?” Mother ranted. “You’re such a fucking whore. You’ve fucked so many boys! If you had as many dicks sticking out of you as you’ve had sticking in you, you’d look like a porcupine” Mother spat as we sat in traffic. A wave of humiliation flew over me, but I didn’t know what to do about it except to laugh. What she said was shameful and funny at the same time. Jamie couldn’t hold her laughter in, either. We both started giggling, and that enraged Mother even more. She kept up the nasty talk the whole way home until finally we pulled into the driveway. “I’m sorry you had to hear that, Jamie” I said loud enough for Mother to hear me. “You have to understand–she only reads porno books, so that’s the only was she can express herself.” Mother slammed the car door and charged inside the house. “You’re on restriction for being late, you fucking whore,” Mother ranted. “Go to your room!” Jamie was standing in the driveway ready to walk back to her house. “Don’t worry about it, Lynn. Really. I thought it was funny. Whatever she said, I don’t think any less of you.” But I wasn’t so sure about that. I went  to my room and listened through the wall to Mother complaining to Daddy that she was late getting home because of me.

After my parents left for dinner, I called Jamie to apologize again and feel her out about Mother’s pornographic diatribe. Jamie’s parents would never behave like that. Nobody’s parent would. Jamie reassured me that she wasn’t offended–she said she thought it was hilarious. “Oh, Lynn–you know I don’t judge you by what your mother says. Don’t be embarrassed.” But I was embarrassed. I couldn’t trust Mother to be around my friends. Her behavior was too unpredictable. “So, your Mother reads porn?” Jamie snickered. “Yeah, books and films. I found the motherlode in her closet one day when I was stuck at home.” “I wanna see it,” Jamie suggested. “That’s not a good idea, believe me,” I said. “It’s really gross. It’s sick stuff. You’d never stop throwing up” I said. “No–it’d be funny!” Jamie said. “Let’s see the film while your parents are out of the house.”  “But I’m not really sure I know how the run the projector” I said. The projector was an old one Daddy used when he was in the life insurance business. When I was a little kid we’d watch his films about what would happen to a family if something happened to the provider. It had grim scenes of poverty and foreclosure. There may not even be enough savings for a burial. I must have watched that scary film fifty times growing up. Now, the old projector sat in the top of Mother’s closet next to a flat metal canister of porno. “My parents just left.  If you want to come over, make it soon. They’ll be home around ten o’clock.” “I’ll be right over” Jamie said.

I went to my parents room and got a chair to stand on so I could see where the porno stash was. I reached behind the shoe boxes and found a sack of books, a film canister and projector. It was risky getting this stuff out. If my parents came home and caught us running the projector with that film, I didn’t know what would happen. But I had to prove that what I said was true. I plugged in the projector and waited for Jamie.

Once Jamie arrived, we tried to figure out where to cast the projection. We decided the blank wall beside Mother’s twin bed was the best place. I took the film out of the flat metal can and held it up to the light. “Let me see!” Jamie said, jerking the film out of my had and holding it up to the dim overhead light. “Hand me that” I said, taking the film out of her hand. I tried to insert the film in a flat slot where it looked like it would go. I tried to jam the film in, but the film wasn’t grabbing. I could hear the roaring motor. “Let me do it” Jamie said. “No! I know how to do this” I said. I’d been picked to run the projector in class for one of those grainy, black and white educational films like “Nanook of the North”. I knew what I was doing. “I think I’ve got it” I said, forcing the film in the slot. The film grabbed, but it wasn’t inserted straight. The projector started chewing up the film. “No!” I screamed and tried to pull the film out, but the projector kept chewing. And chewing. And chewing. Pulling the film didn’t help; it was making it worse. I finally pulled the projector plug out of the wall to make it stop. Some of the chewed up film was stuck inside the projector. I yanked the film out, but what I pulled out was shredded and wrinkled. There was no way I was going to be able to fix this. Jamie and I looked at each other. “Oh, god. Now, I’m caught for sure. Mother’s gonna know that somebody’s been in her stash.” Jamie observed the shredded film to see if it could be fixed. “This film’s mangled beyond repair. The only thing we can do is the cut the film right here and put the rest back where you found it” she said, holding the film between her fingers like scissors. I went to the kitchen for scissors, then carefully cut the film in a straight line. I crumpled up the mangled part of the film and buried it deep in the trash can, beneath the egg shells, coffee grounds and cigarette butts.

Nothing was ever mentioned about the missing film footage. Maybe the film was never played again. Maybe Mother wasn’t sure which one of us found the stash in her closet so she decided not to confront us.  Maybe she was embarrassed herself and decided not to make an issue out of it. Whatever it was that kept her from making comments about the missing film, I would be forever grateful. And I learned my lesson about ever asking Mother for a ride to the mall again.

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