I enter the subway car. To my delight there is an empty seat near the door. I sit, rummage through my bag for my book and begin reading from where I left off, but the words are blurry and I cannot concentrate. I am aware of a powerful odor emanating from the person seated next to me. I close my eyes and try to concentrate on breathing through my mouth. My stomach clenches and my eyes begin to water.
I’m five years old. Mrs. Williams is rustling about in the other room. The pain in my chest is as much from the ache I feel because my parents have left on their yearly trip as it is from my fear of the woman who has been hired to take care of us for the next few weeks. Mrs. Williams with her coiffed hair and antiseptic smell, everything about her is no nonsense, business like, a kind of grim resignation that oozes from her every pore. When angry she uses her hand, like a paddle, it comes down swift and seemingly without emotion, as though the pain I feel upon contact has nothing to do with anything: arbitrary, remote, senseless.
I hate Mrs. Williams and my anxiety and sadness that my parents have left us, even for only a few weeks adds to my hatred of her. She crinkles and rustles when she moves, her skin hangs from her body like an ill-fitted suit, she smells of soap and perfume that make me nauseous. She is stocky and seems well rooted to the ground, her movements are steady and purposeful. She rides out the time my parents are gone like a convict doing time. I can find nothing pleasant about her. Just thinking about her fills me with fear. Her dislike for me and my sister is all the more apparent when my brothers are around as she obviously dotes on them and shuns us. If ever there is a dispute, it is my fault, no matter that I am the youngest with siblings a full eight and six years older than me.
We are told she had a son sent to Vietnam who never returned. We are told it is because of this son that she adores my brothers. I take this information in stride. It is fact. I am representative of something unwanted, something I do not and cannot understand. She is particularly concerned about my bowel movements. She takes note of them, even going so far as to stand guard outside the bathroom listening for sounds of success. As I sit on the toilet I imagine her ear pressed to the door. Why this is important is something I can’t figure out, but that it is, is evident by the reports she feels compelled to give my older siblings. Now my brothers and sister are on high alert. My bodily functions are examined, discussed, they have become a topic. The more I am closely observed the more anxious and fearful I become.
I grip my book tightly and try hard to breathe out of my mouth. I glance over at the woman next to me. Her eyes are closed and I realize she is asleep. As the train careens through the darkness, her body sways with its motion. The train turns. She leans into me, the smell of soap, antiseptic, and some other odor I cannot identify, but that reminds me of those weeks once a year when my parents left us in the hands of someone who should not have been caring for small children, is over powering. She is unaware of me or the memories her presence has evoked.
I think of my children. I see the look of anxiety on my daughter’s face when she says, “No, not going to Katie’s class. That is the old school. Emma goes to new school. Emma goes to new school with Mommy.” And all I can hope for is that her new school will not be staffed by anyone whose presence gives her cause to remember them decades later with anxiety and a feeling of plummeting through an endless darkness.
Visiting the new school
Ohh sweetie, hugggs.
Thank you Shenny!
Hope the new school year starts off good for Em! We did a few school visits and had the teachers over to our house (it is my son’s first school experience). So far so good for us. Em will do great!
I’m sure she will! Good luck with your son’s school!
I guess I didn’t realize Em was starting a new school. I’m guessing she got bumped up to middle school? That’s where Risa will be next year. I dread it.
My parents used to take vacations without us. Luckily, we were left in the care of our grandparents. I can’t fathom leaving young children for that long of a time with someone other than a relative. What an awful woman she must’ve been!
Risa gets her new speech device today! And we have a great weekend ahead. Did I tell you I’m going to be a great aunt? My brother’s only daughter is pregnant. They’re having a “gender reveal” party/Open House Saturday nite. I’m hoping it’s a boy. Call me selfish – it is so hard for me to see beautiful, normal little girls talking and doing normal little girl things. Not that I wouldn’t love her to death, but you know what I mean….
Have a great three day weekend!
Yup, entering middle school. Three different schools in three years… hoping this one is a great experience for her. We did visit and I was absolutely blown away by how wonderful the staff and school seemed.
Such great news about you being a Great Aunt! Whatever the gender, you’ll be wonderful.
I understand the feelings you were having. It’s so sad how one person can instill so much fear in a child that it stays with them all their life. I will never understand why people are mean to a child. Breaks my heart as I too have these memories that seem to surface with a certain smell or sound.
Thanks Brenda. ❤
Your experience with your caregiver as a child reads like a great novel. You are a fantastic writer. Back when we were growing up, we were accustomed to keeping secrets within the family. My parents would tell me secrets about other family members. It was a cultural thing. Therefore, I never felt the need to tell them when someone treated me poorly outside of the family (or within for that matter). I bet that the horrific treatment placed on you and your sister was never shared with your parents. It’s a strange generational thing that I hope has changed now.
Liz – thank you so much. Actually I did tell my parents, just not sure they believed us. (And that was definitely generational!)
Best wishes for a positive experience with that.
Thank you Jane.
Wishing Emma the very best for a wonderful school year. May she always be surrounded by people who recognize and cherish who she really is.
What a lovely comment, thank you so much Lindsey!
I had an extraordinary experience today. Emma works at lowes in the garden center a few hours per week. The manager is moving to the lumber section and a new manager will begin in the garden section soon. Today was last day for her manager. She told me she needed to speak to her. Emma verbally(!) and with support typed to her manager her best wishes. She told her how much she appreciated all the support shown to her. Emma told me after that this was the first time she had ever on her own been able to say goodbye to someone.
I was a bit astonished, but in thinking back since she has been talking with her hand, of course she’s right. Teachers or aides leave positions and students must adapt. It happens over a summer and the students are surprised upon their return.
I know you are very sensitive to the changes in your daughters life so i am sure she had opportunities to say goodbye at her different schools.
Transitions to new places are very hard for everyone……
Happy start of middle school Emma! And thank you, Ariane, as always for your beautiful words…
I hope she does wonderfully well in her new environment. I wish I could write everything that our summer has brought, but I’ll leave it at wishing Emma a great year of progress ahead….
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