Mom had a full time job now and she was gaining ground on her life. She started thinking about things that she wanted for herself, which was new territory for her. One of the first things she got was the desire for a grill. She didn’t even know how to grill, but she knew she could learn. First she had to get the grill. I don’t know where she got the money for it, but one day she spontaneously went to the store and bought one. When it was delivered, it came in a box with a 1000 different pieces, including each little nut and bolt. She said she couldn’t afford to hire someone to do it for her and she wondered if she should even bother. She began emptying the box, and the discouragement of all the pieces suddenly became a magnificent challenge that would aid in getting her mind engaged in something constructive. She placed all of the parts on every surface in the living room, including an extra card table, and poured over the instructions methodically for several weeks. Some days went better than others. But the important thing is, she didn’t quit until she had it all together. We all joked about it actually working once it was together, but it was a perfectly functioning grill when she completed it. She was very proud of herself. It really was quite the accomplishment.
She also started wanting companionship. She joined a singles group, and went out with someone every weekend. Mom found a few different babysitters that would rotate, including my best friend’s older sister. She went out with two different Dons and two different Bobs. We would say, “Who are you going out with tonight? The good Don” (he was tall, calm, and very rich) “or the bad Don” (we didn’t care for him and Mom didn’t seem to like him either.) If she told us she was going out with Bob, we would ask “Bob the electrician or the other one?” I remember she went with one of the Bobs to a Halloween party. They went as the Tortoise (Bob’s costume) and the Hare (mom looked somewhat like a Playboy bunny in her pink tights and leotard and furry white bikini over it. She laughed when she thought about the poor design of the turtle shell (which she made). He couldn’t sit down all night and had to ride backwards in the car. But at least they won the costume contest. That shows you that this particular Bob was willing to do whatever it took to be with my mom.
At this point John wasn’t doing well at school. After one of her dates with the good Don, she told us that Don was willing to give John a dollar for every ‘A’ he got on every report card. A dollar back then could buy 10 full size candy bars. It was a good deal. I was very excited about it.
“Does that mean I get a dollar for every ‘A’?!” I always made A’s.
“No, you don’t need the dollar to get A’s” my mom replied, thinking I was being ridiculous.
“That’s not fair,” I said. “I should be rewarded for doing well too.”
“I’ll come up with something else for you, Julie.”
I pestered her every day until she told me how she was going to reward me for my good grades. She finally came up with a plan.
“If you get all A’s, you and I will go out and have a special night – just the two of us. We’ll have a date.”
I was floored. She couldn’t have come up with a better plan. My heart felt like it was about to burst. “Really?!” I said, jumping up and down.
“Is that okay with you?” she asked smiling at my reaction.
“Yes!! That will be great!”
At this point I KNEW I got the better end of the deal. I would take time with my mom over any money in the world. I was ecstatic.
By the time report cards came out, I had all my A’s, and if I remember correctly, John didn’t make one. I chastised him for not taken advantage of the situation, but didn’t say anything after that. Mom was talking to him about it all the time as it was, and it didn’t seem to make any difference.
Mom and I went to “Holiday on Ice” at the Milwaukee Arena for my reward. I saw professional ice skaters for the first time in my life. I was blown away, and completely hooked. I wanted to take lessons but Mom said no. Every winter after that, when I went ice skating on the river, I worked on the tricks that I could manage and pretended I was skating to music in a big rink. I was mesmerized every time I had the chance to watch the skaters on TV during the winter Olympics. I longed to be able to do what they did. I didn’t want to be an Olympian athlete, I just wanted to be able to feel what it was like to skate that way.
Mom said she really enjoyed herself, and the next thing I knew, she was planning a date with John. I asked her why, and explained that he didn’t earn his date. She said, “I know, but it isn’t fair that he doesn’t get one too.” I felt cheated. I really longed for acknowledgement of my existence from my mom, but at least I was getting my time with her once or twice a year. I wasn’t going to argue. It apparently had nothing to do with the grades anymore.
When I asked Mom why she didn’t just stick with the “good” Don – she obviously liked him the best – she would just smile and shake her head. She finally told me at one point that he wasn’t interested in kids. I told her I was sorry – that she could have him if it weren’t for us. She assured me she was very happy to have us, and it was his loss.
All of the other men, including Don, quickly began to fade out of the picture when she started dating Ed. Ed owned a furniture store somewhere in Milwaukee. She went out with him several times and one day announced that Ed was going to come over for dinner. This was the first time she brought one of her dates home. He ended up coming late, and soon after he arrived it was time for us to go to bed. I tossed and turned in my bed and couldn’t sleep. Then I remembered that Mom and I had talked a few nights previously about how to fluff up my pillow. It seemed like it was getting really flat, and Mom suggested that Ed could show me since he worked at a furniture store. Something inside me pulled very hard intuitively and I knew I had to get up and ask Ed at that moment how to fluff up my pillow. I came out of my room with my pillow in hand. Mom was sitting close to Ed on the couch, and his arm was around her. It was strange to see Mom with another man in that position.
He looked at her sternly and said, “I thought you said she never gets up.”
“She doesn’t! I don’t know why she’s up. Julie, why are you out of bed?”
They talked about me as if I wasn’t there, but I heard every word, and knew exactly what was going on. It was as uncomfortable for me as it was for them. I suddenly didn’t feel safe, but I quietly answered my mom, hugging the pillow tight against me.
“You said Ed could show me how to fluff my pillow.”
She quickly explained the conversation we had, and he showed me his technique. It was a quick demonstration and I was immediately sent back to bed. I couldn’t wait to get out of that room. I had a bad feeling about Ed. There was something wrong. Something about him I didn’t trust. I talked to John about it the next day.
“I don’t like him either,” John said. He affirmed my feelings. Neither one of us trusted him.
Mom gave us the news that Ed was going to come over again the next weekend. John and I complained about it.
“Why don’t you like Ed?” Mom asked, truly puzzled.
We both explained to her that we didn’t trust him.
“We just don’t” I responded. It wasn’t something concrete that we could point to. We just knew how we felt.
He came over on a Friday night. We had pizza and Mom suggested we all played a board game. John and I glanced at each other. Now we were going to play games with him? This was a bit worrisome. Mom was clearly getting serious about this guy.
We were all on the floor in front of the fireplace. John would take his turn and get up and bounce around. He would circle us, sometimes just tumble on the carpeting – but he was always moving. It was driving Ed crazy.
“Sit down!” He said firmly.
John did for a few moments, took his turn, and then got up again.
He looked at Mom. “Dorothy, make him sit still. He’s driving me nuts.”
We were all used to John being this way. It didn’t bother us. I imagine he was working out some of his stressed energy being with Ed. I know I was uncomfortable with the situation. I just didn’t show it outwardly.
“He’s fine. He’s just energetic. Just ignore him.”
Ed was not pleased.
We played a few more minutes and he yelled at John again. But John did not comply.
Ed had it. He took the board and threw it up in the air. All the pieces went flying. We were stunned. John got still. Ed started yelling at Mom and started swearing. Mom said quietly, “You’re as bad as Ken.” (She was referring to my Dad.)
“What did you say?” He asked in a threatening tone. He knew very well of whom she was talking about.
This time she didn’t whisper it. She yelled it to make sure he heard it. “I said you’re as bad as Ken!”
In a split second he took his hand and slapped my mom across the face. “Never talk to me that way again.” Mom fell back and grabbed her face. A yell slipped from her lips and her voice quivered. I was frozen in fear. John got up and was ready to jump him. Mom saw his motives and knew her 10 or 11 year-old son was no match for the man. I was terrified that he was going to hurt Mom again and wondered if I should jump on him too, but was too afraid to move.
Mom suddenly took charge. “John, take your sister to her room.”
“No!” I yelled. I silently screamed in my mind, “I’m not leaving you.”
“I’m fine. Take her to her room now.” She was very firm, steady and fierce. She was looking Ed straight in the eyes the whole time. “He’s not going to hurt me again.”
John took me to my room and told me to stay no matter what I heard in the other room. He told me to lock my bedroom doors (I had two) and not come out. This positioning felt very vulnerable to me, and my instincts said it was wrong. Everyone could disappear and I’d never know what happened. My mind reeled. Should I stay or should go out there? I stayed close to the bedroom door and pressed my ear against it trying to discern what was happening. There was a little yelling and then it got very quiet. I waited, shaking in my room. Then I heard the garage door and the car leaving. I came out of my room not sure what I would find.
I called out, “Hello?”
John came out of his room and said that Mom left with Ed. The terror in my eyes made him continue his explanation. Mom had picked him up (which seemed very odd to me) so his car wasn’t there. I told John it wasn’t safe – she should have called the police, or at least a taxi. He agreed, but said that she insisted.
Mom was home within 30 minutes, which felt like an eternity to my 9 or 10-year old self. She seemed calm and confident. She put an ice pack on her eye and said, “Don’t worry, I’m never going to see him again. You were both right. I was really surprised that you both picked up on him and didn’t trust him. He confided in me that he didn’t like kids but I didn’t tell either one of you that.”
In that moment, anger and betrayal rushed into my heart. She KNEW he didn’t like kids, and yet she still pursued him. How did we rate in her life? What were her priorities? I knew a little piece of my heart broke that night. Another reason not to trust her – she may appear to like me, but now a doubt was raised in my heart. Does SHE like kids? Or are we an inconvenience to her?
The next day she had a terrible black eye. Ed sent her roses and apologized in the note that came with the flowers. She asked John to take her camera and take a picture of her next to the roses. She immediately got the film developed and sent him a picture of her with her black eye next to the roses. It was a brilliant move on her part. She was telling him the roses did not make up for what he did and she was never going to see him again. I was relieved that she took that stand, and knew that she was going to be okay. I could see her strength within building and it made me feel a little bit safer.