The auntie had built her house on the farm and within a year or so moved away. We moved into her house which had concrete floors. We were excited because it had running water (no water heater though). We still would heat with wood or coal, but the house was bigger.
My mother started dating a man who we'll call Bob. Bob had bug eyes and a lanky awkward build. He was a godly man, but not a Mormon. The mixed messages were infuriating. I wore my homemade "Little House on the Prairie" matching - my - sister's -dress as we drove to the next nearest town to attend Bob's church. They did not believe the way we believed and also held a Book of Mormon up during their sermon and talked about how Mormon's were a cult.
I looked at my mother with accusing eyes.
She ignored me. She knows I'm on to her bullshit.
On Monday we had Family Home Evening as "suggested" by the Church. Momma read an extra long article from the Mormon Doctrine book she'd purchased years earlier. The book was thick and laid out in an encyclopedic fashion. Footnotes legitimized it's content from the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, Doctrine & Covenants and now and then the Bible. There were also teachings from prophets of the past and their teachings of blood atonement and multiple wives scared me into submission.
My birthday was coming up and I had not embraced my mother's new boyfriend and his wicked religious ways.
He attempted to make friends with us and I was having none of it. When I saw them kissing I would interrupt them. He would be the damnation of my mother and God would be proud of my interventions.
I whispered hateful scolding words to my little sister if I caught her interacting with this misguided weirdo.
My interference in my mother's personal life would be paid for. She reminded us daily of how she risked her life to get on the interstate to go to school to provide us a better life.
On my birthday, the May morning sun warmed the air to a comfortable temperature. I loved Saturday birthdays and was excited at what the day would hold. School was out for the summer and I was excited the exploring to begin. My mother usually set aside her usual sarcastic bitter tongue on a holiday and birthdays were definitely a holiday!
Chores would be done first and I thought we could rush through them and maybe we would get to go to the town library which was our tradition.
I was assigned to dishes as usual and set about warming the water on the cook stove. While the water heated I ran into my room and quickly straightened and tucked. I was only a head start. Dusting would wait! It was going to be a great day!!
Grandma would make something special to eat. I just knew it would be my favorites.
I took extra time while doing the dishes to make momma proud and to ensure the day went well. I carefully unfolded a clean towel, careful not to let it touch me in any way. She had cautioned that we were unclean and mustn't contaminate while we cleaned by touching clean things on our bodies, letting it brush the front of our shirts etc.
I poured three caps of bleach into the soapy dishwater and swooshed it around.
Always start with the glasses. Wash inside, then outside, then wash the rim, then the bottom. Rinse very well because if she tastes soap in her drink she will bare down on you.
Silverware is next and make sure you wash where you held the utensil to wash it. Then bowls and then plates. Pots and pans will be last because they are the dirtiest of all the other dishes.
Done. I start drying and putting up dishes. I inspect them quickly to make sure I got them clean. I'm trying to hurry so we can get on with our special day. I know if I put up a dirty dish, I'll have to wash every dish in the house because I've contaminated and need to be taught a lesson.
After I finish I am assigned to clean the tub... I sprinkle Ajax in the tub and carefully scrub in small, circular motions and try not to miss spots.
Methodically and carefully, I scrub the tub when I hear her from the other room remind me to wash the walls as well. Uggg. My arm is tired and my fingers are pruney.
I hear her tight voice tell my sister that cleanliness is next to Godliness and to gather the laundry. She will begin the laundry in the electric ringer washer and I will hang it on the line. Dread fills my body. My arm aches from scrubbing and I long for a break.
Hanging laundry is hard because you have to shake and snap out the wrinkles without the towels and clothes touching your body.
Then you have to reach above your head to hang the clothing as she has specified in a very particular fashion. Nothing can fall to the ground so you have to ensure that socks aren't stuck to the clothing you're hanging. My arms and shoulders ache and I'm feeling overwhelmed. I can tell we're going to clean the entire day.
Hopes of going to town soon vanish and I clean and cling to the hope of going to Grandma's for supper.
After laundry I'm sent to finish cleaning my room. I'm tired and don't really give a shit. I tuck and hide what I can and spend some extra time making the bunk beds. The top bunk is hard to make and I pinch my sister hard when I see her sitting on the bottom bunk I just made. She cries out and runs to her savior and queen.
I turn up the radio in my room to drowned out my thoughts. TURN THAT DOWN AND GET IN HERE.
"If you can't be trusted alone in the room with your sister, you can work out here where I can watch you". ... I Windex about seven windows and the storm door inside and out. We finally eat a sandwich which I devoured. My hands smelled of bleach which made the sandwich taste funny, but hunger won over. I wonder how much more we'll do. She has cleaned out closets and done chores we're not able to do. Momma tells me to sweep.
After that I can dust. You never dust before you sweep. I sweep and sweep with vigor because her eyes are on me. Anxiety and anger begin to make me shake. Clouds of concrete dust fill my nose. My bleach burns the back of my throat and my left eye begins throbbing.
I hold back hot tears of anger and despair. Hatred fills me and I try to fight it off. Nausea and pounding fill my head and stomach.
I hear her in my room dumping out my things in the middle of the floor as she has done so many times before. A mountain of shit... clothes, Legos, toys everywhere. I hear her fake-calm, sarcastic, tight "Do right the first time, or do it over"
I drag myself into my room... I can't take anymore. I feel so sick and I just want to lay down. I don't even CARE about this shit. I know I can't throw it away because she sacrificed to buy these things for me. I sort and fold and recruit my sister to please help me.
She forgave me for the pinch and I could see the pity in her eyes. Quietly we sorted and dared not stop... The longer I sat there, the sicker I got.
Finally, as we neared the bottom of the pile, nausea overwhelmed me... I knew the clothes on the line were dry and needed to be brought in for ironing while I hung another load outside... the day was nearly over... There had been no acknowledgment of my birthday and I was given nothing but a migraine for my 11th birthday.
I heard Bob's car pull into the drive and it was more than I could take. I got sick and was grateful to have made it to the toilet. I recalled having my hair cut off because I got vomit in it several years before... I always felt so much better after getting sick. Not well, but much better. My mother's demeanor changed immediately with the arrival of guests and, of course, now that I was sick, the "other mommy" would visit. I took a nap with a cold cloth draped over my eye and when I woke up we walked down to Grandma's for cake.
I ate my favorite... Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing... There was no excitement, but I forced a smile knowing that despite the day I had... Grandma didn't forget... she cared enough to make a cake that I swallowed over the lump in my throat. I eyed Bob across the table and was happy to be invisible for awhile.