All content on this blog is copyright by Marci Andrews Wahlquist as of its date of publication.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Life in Black and White

Currently making the rounds on Facebook is a challenge to post seven black and white photographs, one a day, that feature no people, that are accompanied by no explanation, and that represent your life. One of my friends challenged me, and I started the process by posting one of my beloved black and white photographs. I felt like I had a couple of immediate advantages in this challenge: first, I grew up in the era when black and white television slowly gave way to color, so I was very familiar with being able to “see” my world in black and white. Second, I developed photography as a hobby from the time I was around 11 years old, and of course I started with black and white film. When I learned to develop my own photographs in a darkroom, of course they were black and white. I have hundreds of black and white photographs.

Then came a reality check. I have hundreds of very arty type photographs, but they don’t necessarily represent my life. I began looking for color photographs that would work well being switched to black and white in my photo editing software. Another reality check. Most of my thousands of photographs are not digitized. Scanning is one of the most boring things I can think of to do. What could I find to represent my entire life without having to scan a bunch of things?

Only seven! That is really hard, but it’s doable.

No explanations! Well, that limitation was the tipping point for this blog. Pictures that represent my life have some meaning, but words are extremely important to me (as if you didn’t know, reader of my blog!), so I decided I would expand the challenge by discarding the ban on words and see where this takes me.

1. My Cat
Pets were always important to me, but this was the first one that belonged just to me. My brothers and friends were riding their bicycles in the foothills of Santa Clara Valley one afternoon when they came across some kittens running across the road and down the ravine. They captured the black one, but the others got away. My youngest brother wrapped her in his tee shirt and put her in the saddlebag on the back of his bicycle seat, intending to bring her home. She escaped once and ran under a parked car. The boys all surrounded the car and crawled together underneath to catch her. My older brother said to the youngest that the next time she got loose, they wouldn’t help him again. My youngest brother tied her more securely in the shirt and zipped the saddlebag all the way closed. They got home, and the first thing they found out was that this kitten was pretty sick. They put her in their shower with the glass door and walls, and using the stepladder, they aimed the shower nozzle at the yowling, angry little animal and got her clean. She had the loudest voice you have ever heard out of a cat. We had to teach her to lap milk, she was that little. My brother let me have her care as a six-week project for a merit badge in my Girl Scouts program, and after that she was mine. She had the loudest purr to go along with that loud voice, and even though at her heaviest she weighed only seven pounds (3.175 kg), she could stomp on the carpet down the hall so that you could hear her clear into the kitchen. If she was happy you could hear her coming down the hall because that purr rumbled louder and louder as she drew near. She knew the difference between my side of the dresser top and my sister’s side, and when she was mad at me for anything, with her paw she’d carefully sweep all my stuff onto the floor and leave my sister’s stuff alone. She could hear the sound of the can opener from anywhere in the house, and instantly she’d be winding herself between your ankles and around your legs, yowling about tuna fish. Every can must hold tuna fish. After you held the can of fruit down for her to sniff, you could hear her stomping as she exited the kitchen in disgust. For such a tiny creature, she pretty much ruled the house. The two dogs were her servants. Once she got into trouble with a neighborhood cat that became intent on teaching her a lesson or two. But the huge orange cat, in chasing her into our yard, found itself about to land between two dogs where his prey had just landed. He made a dramatic mid-air turn and sprang from one paw back onto the fence, hissing and spitting. My little cat did not get beat up, and the dogs were hysterically triumphant about defending her.

She came with me to my first apartment after my folks moved away, but she hated living there, and my roommate hated her. Finally I had to send her away on an airplane to my folks who had moved (back) to Oregon. My cat adapted well to life in the country with a lot of land to explore. She became queen of a new domain there.

2. Oregon Coast
My mother’s ancestors arrived in Oregon in 1847 and 1852, and most of their descendants probably still live there. I know most of my mother’s immediate family still live there. Our roots run deep there, and though my father’s family arrived when he was a small child, he loved and claimed Oregon as his home, so we went there often. Happily for me, my husband’s family had a bit of history there too, and we adopted the Cannon Beach area as our favorite vacation spot. I love the look and sound and smell and feel of the ocean and beach. This shot was taken one afternoon from Ecola State Park on a particularly sunny day, with the light glinting off the water everywhere. It felt magical. This is one of my color photos changed into greyscale. It makes me happy that Haystack Rock and the Needles and the other rocks became the black points.

3. Gravestone in Boston
Graveyards have always been important to me. I always liked the feeling I got in a graveyard, probably because when I began to become a frequenter of graveyards, they contained the stones of my ancestors and relatives, and I felt kinship. A book that was very important to my formative years was The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope, in which the teenage heroine finds herself living in a very old house belonging to her ancestors, and being extremely lonely and in need of help, she is befriended by a ghost of one of her kinsmen. I loved that concept and longed to have my own friendly ghost from among my ancestral past. In the graveyard you find many, many stones marked with relationships: Father, Mother, Beloved Sister, etc. I believe in relationships beyond this world, so I love the symbolism of that concept in the cemetery stones.

4. Jerusalem steps
I was standing in the ruins of this house outside the historical first-century boundaries of Jerusalem, looking at the steps running down into the ravine and back into the city when I was hit by a strong feeling that I must go stand on those steps. I’ve been a Christian all my life and converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when I was around fifteen years old. I never doubted the existence of God, and I always knew that Jesus Christ was His Son, sent to redeem all of humanity from sin and its effects and from death. Here in this place, I was told, Jesus had been brought to trial at night, and I realized that those steps represented His journey from the first part of His Atonement, when He suffered for all our sins, to the second part, when He suffered death in order to bring us the promise of the Resurrection. It felt like a holy place. It represented to me the holiest of all events in the creation of this earth: the central Act that would bring the earth and all its inhabitants from nadir to apex. It is hard to argue with a feeling that envelops you with warmth and light and joy and everything positive wrapped up in a glowing sense of well-being.

5. The Web
As fine as spider silk, seemingly random in its construction but more strongly engineered than bridges of the most meticulous specifications was my education over the course of my life. This photograph was taken on a bridge in the Lake District of England when I was attending the summer Wordsworth Conference, a highlight of my formal education that led to years of fun and fulfillment in teaching college. As changes developed in my life, my career morphed from its literary basis into something else altogether that had me learning computer programming, and then something else again that had me studying higher mathematics and anatomy and the development of the brain. As I had to learn new things, very different from those in my formal education, I added them to the web of my knowledge and ability that feeds my soul. (This paragraph makes me think that as a poet I would starve: a metaphysical conceit such as that could keep me from eating, so I’ll stop and get on to something more palatable. And to think I used to be good at puns . . . how I s-pun!)

6.  Ogden House
One Thanksgiving I had planned to go to Arizona where my folks were staying, but the weekend before, they phoned and told me that one of my uncles had put aside his constant quarrel with the family and had invited them to come and bury the hatchet, so they were going. That left me with no place to spend Thanksgiving, on top of which my little stove had just broken the day before and no repairman would come until after the holiday. I did not own a microwave oven, so I was facing cold food alone in my little house. My friends rescued me and I was invited to spend the holiday with several friends in the home of one of them in Ogden. I went with her to her home, a 90-minute drive, the night before, following her in my own car. We got there late and her aunt was already in bed, asleep. Upon entering the house, I was hit with a wave of something, something very strange and yet feeling utterly familiar, like I had come home. I had never been there before, but everything felt as if I had always known it. I asked her to show me the house, and it just became ridiculous with me poking into closets and attic spaces and everything with excitement. I did not tell her exactly what I was feeling, but she seemed to feel the need to show me every last corner (except her aunt’s room) too. The next day her brother came, and as we were introduced, something hit me again, like the ghost of a two-by-four on the side of the head. What wonder that this was the man I would marry, and that this had been his family home for over 50 years.

7.  Salt Lake Temple

We were married here on a very hot summer day. This building was begun by Mormon pioneers a few years after their 1847 arrival in the Salt Lake Valley, but after ten years not much more than a foundation had been dug and lined, and when the United States government decided the Mormons were in revolt and sent an army to subdue them, the foundation was buried to keep it safe. After it was dug up again, they found that the stones used in the foundation were not going to work after all, so they had to start all over again. They found a granite mountain nearby and quarried the rock for the foundation and exterior walls. It took forty years in all before the temple was dedicated. The various problems and eventual success over a very long time in building this temple are emblematic for me of the process of building a harmonious family life. You have to get the foundation right or it’s all doomed from the start. But if you get your foundation right, then you map out your dream and keep hammering away, keep working, and keep overcoming the problems that arise. It takes total commitment and dedication, utmost loyalty and faith, and you end up with something at last that is sublime.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Scaredy Dog

Who knew there were that many things in the world to be afraid of, if you’re a dog?

We have a dog that’s still fairly new to us, and his previous owners let us know that he’s scared of everything except snakes. They lived on a canal, and the dog realized while he was still just a puppy that those long slithery things made great toys. Luckily, we don’t live where snakes in the water are generally poisonous. But there are plenty of rattlesnakes around, so I don’t like it that he’s not scared of the one thing in his world that could actually, possibly harm him.

He lived as an outside dog and now is getting used to being inside a house for some part of every day. Inside there are terrifying things. Things like the Kirby vacuum cleaner. What a horrible monster that is! It roars and is big and moves with a scary gliding sort of motion. Never mind that it’s handled by me; he thinks I’ve turned traitor when I have it around me. One day he caught sight of it as I was getting his food out of the same closet. He couldn’t believe his eyes! His food, next to the Monster! He refused to eat that day. He wouldn’t come inside the house at all. I’m sure he thought the Monster had probably contaminated his food. Fortunately, hunger took over about twelve hours later and it’s no longer a problem, as long as the Monster stays quietly shut in that closet.

But then there’s that one part of the laminate floor by the back door where he first entered our house a few months ago. He wasn’t used to laminate flooring, only carpet, and his feet slid out from under him. He hasn’t gotten over that trauma. It was definitely the fault of that one bit of flooring, over in that corner. He’ll walk all over the rest of the room, never minding the same laminate flooring. But that one section . . . well, it’s just not to be trusted.

The stairs down to the basement. Wow, those are scary things. He won’t even come close to them, no matter how many doggie biscuits and treats I lay on the floor over there. Nope. Those monsters swallow up people every day, practically, and even if we call out in encouraging voices from halfway down, he’s sure we’re in real trouble and he’s not about to follow our dangerous examples into Who Knows What.

The laundry racks, wow. Those are scary things. Every week or two they come out and sit on the patio in the sun, with damp rugs or sheets or something draped over them. They have to be carefully avoided lest they Do Something Dangerous while an innocent dog is walking past.

Hiding in bushes on the terrace
The people will persist in bringing out that other monster machine every week and running it noisily all over the grass. Why do they do such a crazy thing? All one can do when this happens is run and hide in the bushes on the terrace where it can’t go.

The dog loves going for walks, but there are many, many scary things out there. Garbage cans being moved by people. Kids on bikes. Kids on scooters. Kids period, unless he knew them Before. Women pushing kids in strollers. All other adults, if they don’t have a dog with them (for some reason he’s fine if they have a dog. He loves other dogs). Garbage trucks. Street sweepers. Other big trucks. Vans. Cars pulling things behind them. The dog goes flat on the pavement when any big vehicles go past. Pieces of paper blowing down the street. A stray box. The drains in the gutters. Manhole covers.

Be careful out there. It’s a hugely scary world.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Small Object of Toys

My son has an assignment for an English class to write about objects he remembers from his childhood that still have meaning for him today. In helping him research what objects he might want to include, I started remembering things from my own childhood.

When I was young, stuffed animals were very important to me. I had a teddy bear that I got for Christmas when I was two years old that I still have in a box upstairs. My younger sister got one at the same time, but on one of our family’s long car trips she stuffed it out the window along the highway somewhere in Central California. That night she cried herself to sleep, so my parents had to buy her a stuffed animal replacement. She chose a tiger. That’s my sister: fierce.

My bear went for a very long time without a name. When the bear was around ten years old I finally named him Edward. I don’t know where that name came from. He had a floppy head by that time because the sawdust compacted in his head and body and seemed to leave his neck empty. When I was around eight, my brother Larry and I for some odd reason decided to be surgeons and perform a neck operation on the bear. We tried to put more stuffing in, and I can’t remember what we used since sawdust wasn’t available to us. Rags I think. Larry was the one who got to use the scissors, but I got to use the needle and thread and sew the bear back together with Mom’s heavy white embroidery thread. After that I usually tied a little scarf around Edward’s neck to hide the scar and the clumsy stitches.

I had a lot of stuffed toys over the years. When Walt Disney’s original 101 Dalmatians came out, I was given a stuffed Dalmatian puppy for my birthday. His name was Lucky. He wasn’t as easy to play with as I had hoped because he was lying down, and it was hard to pretend he was running and jumping about when his paws were permanently tucked under him.

When I was still quite young, but just old enough to know better, I stole a toy dog from a store when we were on a vacation with my aunt. I had asked my mother if I could have it, but she had not given me much of an answer. I knew if she had said “No” I must not ask again, but she hadn’t said the word “No.” It was a black French poodle, beautifully made, and I felt I couldn’t live without her. I took her in my hand and held her against my side as I followed my mother and my aunt out of the store. Then as we walked up the street, I pretended to find that I was still holding the dog. I held it out to my mother, silently pleading to keep it. My aunt interceded for me and for once my mother gave in, to my complete surprise. I had been expecting to get into huge trouble. But she gave me the dollar and change that it cost and I ran back into the store and paid for it. My relatives helped me come up with a suitable French name for the dog. She became Giselle, and I rarely wanted to play with her, lest she get dirty. I wanted her to stay as perfect as I felt she was when I first saw her. She was really beautiful. I was so overwhelmed with my amazing and undeserved victory in acquiring her that I never stole anything again.

I had a few dolls, but I didn’t play very much with dolls. I had a bride doll with black hair and blue eyes. She was very beautiful, and her dress was exquisite, but at the time I got her I didn’t appreciate the fine quality of this gift. I also got a Barbie doll, one with a black ponytail hairdo wearing a black-and-white zebra-striped strapless bathing suit. She had little rings in her ears and red painted toenails and fingernails. My mother and my best friend’s mother made a lot of clothes for that Barbie, and my best friend and I did play Barbies a lot for at least two or three summers. I got another Barbie a few years later, one with a blonde-bubble hairdo who wore a red bathing suit and had pearl earrings. There was a picture on her box of the evening gown of my friend’s and my dreams. It was black, strapless, extremely fitted down past the knee, and then it had a flared section to the floor, made of net and tulle or something like that. Barbie wore it with elbow-length black gloves, and from one hand dangled a dark pink scarf or large handkerchief or something. She stood behind a microphone attached to a floor stand, and we fantasized about becoming radio announcers and wearing a dress like that. We had no idea of the singular inappropriateness of that dress for the work we envisioned. I don’t know why we didn’t think of Barbie as an entertainer in a nightclub, where her outfit would have fit in.

I had a baby doll, but my friends and I didn’t play much with the baby dolls we all got one year. They were interesting for a few months, but not very long that I remember. One problem for me with playing with dolls was the propensity of my older brothers to take my dolls and subject them to imaginary tortures, which went too far in one instance. My brothers and one of their friends stole some of the fathers’ razor blades and built themselves a small working guillotine. They used it to behead their plastic army men and their model dinosaurs and whatever else occurred to them. They stole our dolls and used them as victims. When they took our Barbie dolls and beheaded them, they got into an awful lot of trouble. But we somehow felt that we didn’t want to play with any dolls so much after that.

I had a little porcelain girl in a gown that I thought was very beautiful. I had some interest in pretty clothes, but since in real life my clothes were almost all hand-me-downs or awkward homemade things, I didn’t develop an interest in good clothes until later in life. This has turned into an economy, allowing me to use my money for travel instead.

I began to prefer my horses to any other toys soon after the guillotine episode. I had always been a tomboy and actually wished I were a horse. My friends and I played horses all the time. When we were in grammar school and a new school was built that we could walk to instead of having to take the bus, we pretended to ride our imaginary horses to school and home. At school we pretended our horses spent their time on the playground and were waiting for us to come out to recess or for the lunch break. Each of us had about five or six horses that we “owned.”

My best friend’s older sister, who could draw really well, had us write out descriptions of each of our horses, and she made us each a booklet with drawings and the vital statistics of each horse we had. (She did this for her sister, for me, for my sister, and for the other two sisters who were our other best friends. What a kind girl! I never realized until I was much older what an extraordinary person she must have been.)

We had been acquiring those Breyer plastic horses that were very popular in the 1960s. We each had a family of Arabians in different colors. Mine were appaloosas, my sister’s were white, and I think my best friend’s were palominos. Somebody had the bays, and somebody else had chestnuts. Later I got a set of running dapple greys. They were the most beautiful models I could imagine. My first horse, the appaloosa foal, soon broke a leg, and then another, and then its tail broke off. We played hard with these toys. My dad wrapped the legs with black electrician’s tape that blended in well enough with my horse’s markings. But the tail was soon lost.

By that time my cousins had acquired a real Arabian horse, a bay with a lovely black mane and tail, and they cut some horse hair to make a tail for my foal. Then one of the broken legs got lost. We took a twig from one of the walnut trees and made a wooden leg, wrapped with the black electrician’s tape. That foal was really a battered looking little thing, and somebody gave me a new one to replace it. But somehow I couldn’t replace it, really. It went into a drawer, wrapped in an old shirt, and when I gave away the rest of the model horses, it stayed wrapped in that shirt in the drawer. I still have it.

Models were replaced by encounters with real horses. I soon found out that I had an unfortunately timid nature around horses that they could sense. As a pre-teen I could ride only extremely gentle horses, and even the gentle ones sometimes tried tricks on me.

My sister eventually acquired her own horse, and when I came home from college I met him. He had been neglected and could be quite bad tempered. My sister worked hard with him to retrain him and gentle him down. He wasn’t bad, he just had been on his own for about five years, doing nothing but eating and playing by himself.

Barn in the background down the hill
He was intent on killing my cat, who teased him unmercifully by walking into his corral and waiting until he came charging over with death in his eyes, ears flat, teeth bared, hooves flying, when the cat would get up and stroll back under the fence and then sit licking her paw, knowing she was just out of reach of the furious horse. The dogs were always careful around this horse. I was home for the Christmas vacation when I went down a couple times to feed him for my sister who was busy with something, I had to get over my timid nature quickly. I went into the little room where the feed was and didn’t think to shut the door. The horse came in after me just as I got the lid off the huge metal can (a garbage can) full of molasses grain mash. He laid his ears back, bared his teeth and was intent on bullying me into letting him have full access to that open can. I had the garbage can lid in my hand, held like a shield, and whammed him in the side of the head with it. He backed out of the room and went bucking across the corral. He was mad but didn’t come back until I rattled his grain bucket and set it down next to his flake of hay. I got out of the corral before he came back across it to the feed.

Later on Christmas day when my sister saddled and bridled him and let me ride him first, he behaved well. Then my brother Larry rode him, and finally my sister took her turn. By that time he’d had enough of behaving, and he bucked and bucked. He couldn’t unseat my sister, but he did manage to hit her in the face with his head as he flung it around, and she had a huge bruise on half of her face. She was mad at him then! She yelled at him, and he settled down. He didn’t like her to yell at him.

Eventually my sister had him trained well enough that she sold him to a nine-year-old girl who wanted him for her 4-H Club project. We saw him later on, and he was the best-trained horse you ever saw. He was like a very large dog, willing to do anything that little girl asked.

I don’t know what to say about all these things by way of conclusion.

I suppose I anthropomorphized some of my toys to the point that I couldn’t get rid of them even when I was moving a lot and had little storage space in which to save things. I still have the bear, the broken foal, and the little girl in the pretty gown.

I would still have the Barbie dolls (the ones that didn’t get beheaded), but after I got married, the Barbie collection disappeared under slightly mysterious circumstances involving my teenage step daughter and one of our interminable arguments over her allowance. Ah well. I love my step daughter a lot more than I ever loved those Barbies. (The Barbie dolls never spoke to me the way the bear and the foal and the green-gowned girl did . . .) Also, my step daughter is priceless.

I suppose my childhood objects all helped me to properly value the things of adulthood, especially the permanent relationships. I hope I know now how very valuable my permanent relationships are, and always will be.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Dottie’s Loss

This is based on a true story about people who may still be living, so I have changed the names and used my imagination. I mean no disrespect. I am chilled and so very sorry.

In the second week of February the weather had warmed a bit, and it was nearly 44ᐤ F. when Dorothy Sanders walked out of the big brick junior high school that afternoon and started home. She took the path through the woods so that she could stop at her older sister’s apartment. Her mother liked her to visit Kellie after all the trouble, which seemed to be clearing up, but you never knew.

Kellie had been a photographer’s model when she was at university and had had some claim to glamour and attention by the ripe old age of nineteen. But then at twenty she had surprised everyone by marrying a very plain man with a very plain job, and, perhaps inspired by Kellie’s air of glamour, her new husband had taken her to Europe for an extended honeymoon.

They had returned home and gotten jobs again to pay off the expenses of the honeymoon. They were very happy, and life seemed golden for the couple in those first years. Then Kellie had become pregnant, and she had to quit working before their debts were paid off. The pregnancy was not easy. She had severe morning sickness, sometimes fainting from dehydration. After the birth of their first child, a black cloud settled over her.

Postpartum depression had been recognized within the medical community for some decades, but out in society it wasn’t discussed at all. Kellie didn’t know what was wrong with her, but she couldn’t sleep, couldn’t seem to eat, and was afraid to be left alone with the baby. Eventually she figured out how to cope with her anxiety and guilt, and then she had another baby.

It was a lot worse this time around. Two months after his birth, she scared her husband and family so much with her wild talk of killing herself and the boys that her husband took her to the psychiatric unit of the hospital. She was subjected to electroshock therapy, a horrible experience in which she was made to have seizure after seizure, supposed to cure the neurosis in her brain. All it seemed to do was to produce episodes of amnesia and incredibly horrible nightmares afterwards. She became somewhat catatonic toward the close of the third week of treatment and remained docile for the next five weeks of her residence there. She was released the week before Christmas.

The family seemed relieved. While Kellie was in the hospital, Kellie’s husband had moved himself and the children to an apartment close to her parents’ house, and Kellie’s mother and sisters took care of the children while he was gone to his job in the big city on the river to the south. He came home every weekend. Now that Kellie was home again, the family expected her to take over her duties once again. Kellie managed to come out of her unmotivated state and take care of the children, the apartment, her husband, and her own life to some degree. But her mother was uneasy.

Dorothy, who was called Dottie, had never heard Kellie speak about what had happened to her, nor did their mother discuss the situation with Dottie. Mother had simply told Dottie after the Christmas break, when school started again, that it would be helpful if she would stop at Kellie’s on her way home every day. Dottie wasn’t surprised.

It had been a very strange Christmas. Everybody had tried to be merry, especially for little Sammy’s sake. He was just old enough at almost-three to understand that Santa Claus was coming with presents for him, and he was very excited about it. He had been strangely unexcited to have his mother come home, enough so that everybody noticed. Nobody said anything though. Sammy was thrilled with Christmas morning. He and his parents and baby brother had spent the night at his grandparents’ house, and he was up early to see what had happened in the night. Dottie got up with him and let him have his stocking, full of nuts and fruit and candy and tiny toys. When the family got up and breakfasted, Sammy was thrilled again to be given more gifts from under the Christmas tree. He had gotten his heart’s desire, a big metal dump truck, and he had raced it all around the house, banging it into the furniture and incurring a reprimand from his grandfather, overheard by his mother who had yelled at him until he cried.

The girls were expected to help get the big, ceremonial Christmas dinner, but Dottie had been let off to watch Sammy, and Kellie lay on the sofa and said and did nothing further. There were two other sisters between Dottie and Kellie. Harriet, nicknamed Harrie, was in her second year of college and had come home for the Christmas break. Lottie, whose name was Charlotte, was a senior in high school and full of self-importance for her role as the school newspaper senior student editor. (Kellie’s full name was Kathleen. Somehow everybody’s nickname had to end with “ie” and they had made a joke about the grammar rule being unbroken in their family.)

The dinner was strained. Conversation that entire week with Kellie there was stilted, and never more so than their first big dinner together. What did one talk about when it was obviously the rule that one could not mention the elephant in the room?

When the first day back to school had arrived, Dottie was secretly relieved. But she found out immediately that she was expected to take on the brunt of the work of supporting Kellie in her apartment every afternoon until they brought the children over to their grandparents’ for the night. With her husband away at work, Kellie had been encouraged and had settled into the habit of sleeping over at her parents’ home with the children until Friday, when her husband came home on the train, arriving late in the evening. Dottie began to resent the situation fiercely.

She resented Harrie for getting out of everything by going off to college. She fumed about Lottie not sharing the childcare duties, but Lottie was full of her editorial responsibilities and keeping her grades up. Lottie was determined to be rewarded with a full scholarship to the college of her choice, and nothing, certainly not her sisters’ situations, could be allowed to get in the way of her ambitions. Dottie was certain her own future was soon going to be filled with failing grades. She never had time to get her homework done the way she wished. She usually ended up having to rise at 5 a.m. and do it before everyone else got up. She was getting more and more exhausted.

By the second week of February, Dottie sometimes felt like a sleepwalker. Her brain felt fuzzy, and she kept falling asleep in classes. Her test scores were terrible. She walked along through the woods, kicking viciously at chunks of ice and snow still in the hollows on the north sides of the trees. If it weren’t for Sammy, she wouldn’t go to Kellie’s at all, she thought. She wished for an instant that there were no Sammy making her go to Kellie’s. But Sammy loved her and was always wild with happiness to see her come. He even seemed somehow relieved, and she felt guiltily that she couldn’t skip her duty, no matter how much she wanted to.

She came out of the woods and onto the street where the apartment building was. Tiredly she climbed the stairs and knocked on the door. No answer. Well, Kellie didn’t always answer the door; she was too lazy, thought Dottie angrily. She shifted her schoolbooks and put her hand to the knob. Unlocked, as usual. She went in. Something was horribly wrong. Kellie? The baby? Sammy! Dottie could hear herself screaming and screaming. She couldn’t seem to stop. People came running. Then there were police, and her mother, and then Lottie with a shocked, white face and no competing responsibilities, and finally, her father, more white and shocked than Lottie.

Dottie drifted through a period of months that turned into years, unable to focus, unable to sleep much, unable to eat, with the horrible nightmares of that day recurring. So much blood, and the knife in her dead sister’s hand multiplying and coming at Dottie as a dozen knives, evilly slashing. A few months after the deaths of Kellie and the children, a movie hit the theaters that started everybody talking about multiple personalities. Dottie, like the woman in the movie, increasingly unable to function as herself, became two different girls by the time she turned 15.

Through Dottie’s increasing disintegration, her parents tried to manage her and deal with the horror themselves. Two and half years passed, and Dottie, sent to call her father to the dinner table, found him dead on his bed. He apparently had had a heart attack, though he was only 52. But the sight of him lying there shocked Dottie into reliving the sight of her sister on the bathroom floor and the baby in his crib and her beloved little Sammy face down on the bed, all of their throats cut by her sister and that horrible knife she’d held. The shock spurred Dottie’s personality split.

Dottie tried to manage things. She tried to go to school, study hard, get good grades, and obey her mother. She cried a lot. She had nightmares and headaches that left her not knowing what had happened for hours at a time. Her sisters were both gone to college. She thought there might have been another sister, but she wasn’t sure any more. She didn’t want to think about it.

Dorothy was quiet and shy. She didn’t like talking to people. She wanted to be left alone. She ran away often. She had no sisters, no father, just her mother.

DeeDee appeared a year later, when Dottie turned 16. DeeDee liked boys. She was funny and smart, sly and sexy. She wanted to be known as the wild, fun girl of the high school, the direct opposite of silly, staid Dorothy, about whom she knew everything. But Dorothy did not know DeeDee, and DeeDee did not know Dottie. Within six months DeeDee had become promiscuous. She did everything she could to get boys to have sex with her.

Dottie disappeared as the other two gained dominance.

There were a number of extremely awkward scenes for Dorothy, when a boy would try to talk to her and said amazingly inappropriate things. She didn’t like boys. She became rude to them. Well, that was not unusual. Dorothy was rude to everybody, and at home she was especially angry when those older girls came from their colleges and pretended to be her sisters. She had no sisters.

Then a third personality appeared, named just Dot. Dot knew Dorothy and DeeDee, but neither of them knew her. Dot managed the awkward scenes and helped to protect Dorothy from DeeDee. She managed school. She remembered Dottie, who seemed like a distant cousin or something, and she knew somehow that Lottie and Harrie were related to her. She managed things at home and tried not to allow the other two to wreck their life. Dot managed to get the others to graduate from high school, but it was no longer the public school.

Mother had arranged for private tutoring and there were long hospital stays in various psychiatric wards where doctors kept trying to integrate the three young women. They did not seem to have the success that had been depicted in the films and television shows about multiple personalities.

DeeDee became a prostitute and was proud of it. Dorothy wanted to be a librarian, but somehow she kept being thwarted and was extremely angry and frustrated about it. Dot continued to try to manage things. She allowed Mother to call her “Dottie” and she remembered her sisters, Harrie and Lottie. She didn’t remember Kellie and Mother didn’t talk about her.

Mother always locked all the doors and windows around the house at night after Dottie went to bed, using a different key for each door and another for all the window locks. More than once DeeDee had awakened and tried to get out, screaming at Mother in frustration when she couldn’t. Mother took to giving Dottie a strong sedative at night in her milk, and she locked Dottie’s bedroom door. DeeDee trashed the bedroom several times and broke the window, but she couldn’t climb out because there was nothing outside that window to hang onto and the drop was too far.

Whenever DeeDee seemed to become the dominant person, Mother sent her away to the hospital again for another round of treatment. The exhausting round of management continued for most of a decade.

Then Dottie began to reappear, the real Dottie, the old one who knew everything. She came for longer and longer periods of time, and finally she seemed to be back. She became a librarian in her little town, where the library was in an old house, three floors of books in every room. She was responsible and competent in her job. She went to church with her mother, and there one day she met a nice man who began calling on her at home with greater frequency. She found she could be witty and funny with him, and she could control it so that it never became improper. They had great times together.

He asked her to marry him one afternoon at the park, where she stood with her back to the woods and her head bowed, looking down at her lover with happiness as he knelt with her hand in his, looking up for her answer. She didn’t know her mother had taken him aside and told him about everything, warning him that if his intentions were serious, he must know what he was getting into. He had replied with confidence that he would take care of her. The young who are in love are always supremely confident that love conquers all.

Their wedding was the occasion of a gathering of all the family, including cousins, aunts, and uncles on both sides, as well as their siblings, in-laws, and nieces and nephews. Dottie’s two sisters had both married well and were happy and stable women with three children each.

But when Dottie’s second child was born, she didn’t know what hit her. The world turned black, she had terrible headaches and nightmares and amnesia . . . and Harrie came and took her two children home with her. Her husband sent her away to a hospital, and then another, and another. The years passed and the personalities kept changing. Harrie raised the children with her own. They stopped coming to see her. Her husband divorced her, seeing no hope left for a normal life. Mother took her back home and locked her in.

It didn’t matter anymore. The world outside was gone, and she wanted no part of it.
Interstate 80, January 2016