The Boozy Floozy – A Memoir Essay

Her nickname was Bunny but, she was neither soft nor fuzzy. In fact, she was missing any of the traits one might associate with a meek woodland creature. Unless, of course, bunnies smoked Marlboro reds and drank like fish. In which case, then her nickname was spot-on. If bunnies screamed hateful things at little girls and attempted to beat teenage boys with two-by-fours, then sure…she was a bunny.

I privately named her Boozy Floozy or simply, “her.” Sometimes, I even referred to her as “It.” As in, Here It comes, better disappear before It attacks.

Bunny was really only called Bunny during the moments when Happy Hour was still happy, that fleeting bit of time when she and my father neared the end of their first drink and their faces bloomed with smiles, their eyes brightened and everyone became funny. Even Bunny. But happy hour could turn ugly fast.

She hated me. She told me so once with her hand wrapped around my neck while she pressed me against the wall. Bunny leaned in so close that our noses nearly touched. Her mouth was surrounded in tiny creases and fine blonde hairs. The mole above her lip moved as she breathed booze-scented hate into my face through gritted teeth. She was baiting me. Waiting for me to push back, talk back or cry. I refused to give her what she wanted. I was smarter than her. Mostly because I wasn’t drunk.

Bunny wore shiny polyester shirts and colored her short shagged hair an unnatural shade of dark brown that faded into a brassy dull yellow. She spoke with cigarettes dangling from her lip, squinting through the ribbon of white smoke that moved past her eyes. The effect of that habit, paired with her use of profanity and clipped movements, gave Bunny a masculine air.

My hatred for her was just as big, but I was smarter than she was. I was quiet about my revenge. Once, I stood at the refrigerator lazily searching the contents for food a kid might like to eat. How long did it usually take her to get annoyed by this act? When she jumped up from her chair and began to lunge across the kitchen, I held out a jar of her pickled eggs.

“Want an egg?” I asked, “I’m not sure I’d like them.”

She eyed me suspiciously then pulled on a dry smile. “Haven’t you ever had a pickled egg?”

“No. My mother doesn’t make them.”

She turned her back to me and placed the jar on the counter, and I enjoyed watching her reach in and pluck a slippery egg from the juice. I watched her raise the egg to her mouth as she turned to face me again. She took a hearty bite, removing the top half of the egg and while she chewed, I watched her mole move up and down.

“So, what are they pickled in?” I asked.

“Vinegar and garlic,” she answered as she swallowed, “You have to let them sit for a month. I just opened this jar.”

“I like vinegar.”

“Are you going to eat one or not?” she was becoming impatient with my indecision.

“No, thank you.”

There was no way I was going to eat one of those eggs after I peed in the jar.

Bunny had a violent streak. She once locked my brother out of the house when he didn’t come home by 11:00 and, when he went into the barn to sleep in his car, Bunny attacked him in the dark with a 2×4, aiming for his head. Bunny was dangerous and mean and anything might have set her off.

One day I locked her in the pantry after she ranted about something like, I’d let the cat inside or I’d dipped a celery stalk in the mayonnaise after refusing to eat the liver and onions she cooked for dinner. She mostly ranted because my presence infuriated her. She ranted because it was nearing the hour that she’d pour herself the day’s first drink. She ranted because I was my father’s daughter.

I don’t remember now what it was that she drank, I just know that her violence gave birth to my own. Her hate fed my hate. I feared her and I wanted her dead. Or I wanted to die.

I moved in with my father in November, 1981, just hours after I’d run away and hid in a drainage pipe than ran under the Northway. As the day grew cooler and the late-autumn sun grew faint, I was forced out of hiding. I sat in the same room with my mother and father, a rare occurrence, and informed my mother that I hated her. An hour later I was in the passenger seat of my father’s State Police car with all of my worldly belongings. I chose him in the hope of finding a place where I fit or to recapture that beautiful solitary innocence that I had enjoyed on our farm. It didn’t take long to realize that Bunny had stolen all hope.

Now, Bunny stalked into the pantry with her cigarette dangling from her lips and began shuffling the mushy canned vegetables that she’d force me to eat at dinner. Suddenly, the thought of her taking pleasure in making me eat something that was purposely inedible, enraged me. Her back was turned when I shut the door and turned the lock. Nearly in unison, the lock moved into place with a loud click and Bunny quickly turned. Through the glass and a veil of smoke, she glared at me with narrowed eyes. “You’d better open that fucking door,” she spat.

My response was stony silence. Now that I’d turned that lock, I was forced to commit to my bad choice. She’d kill me if I let her out.

The cigarette was back between the fingers of her right hand and she used it to punctuate the jabbing motions she made while she growled, “Open…the…fucking…door.” Her eyes fixed on mine like an animal assessing its prey. Her upper lip began to quiver, causing the ugly mole that lived there to dance. I knew that I risked her punching through the glass to get out. She was crazy enough to throw her fist through a window in order to get me and it was a chance I was willing take for the sake of my own hatred. Knowing my chances for survival were better if she couldn’t see me, I slowly backed out of the kitchen. I returned her fury-filled stare with my own wordless challenge. If she escaped before my father returned home, she would do something to harm me. Suddenly, I realized my gamble was foolish since sometimes, my father didn’t come home at all.

The heel of my right foot met the threshold of the kitchen doorway and slowly, I closed the door on her rage-filled stare. I’d vowed I wouldn’t show fear in her presence but, when the silence was broken by the sharp click of another door closing, I jumped. Her spell was broken. I whirled and ran through the woodshed into the yard. Without slowing, I ran into the tall grass of the field and didn’t look back. I didn’t want to know if she was watching me. For hours I wandered the woods behind my father’s new house, waiting for the sun to dip low enough in the sky to tell me that he might be home.

It seemed running had become my most effective method of escape. I ran, hoping to block it all out and outrun Bunny. I was still holding out hope for a magical doorway to appear and some beautiful, loving creature to invite me to the other side. On the day that I locked that evil woman in the pantry, my innocence was waning. In less than one year my life had irrevocably changed. I’d come to understand that the people who were my parents were not the people I thought they were.

If you could have peered into the house on Coon Hill Road, you might have seen her sitting alone. A girl with long brown hair, too thin and serious and always holding a book in her lap. She had lived most of her short life that way, trying to feed her insatiable curiosity with words. The things she knew weren’t taught to her by her family, but by the characters in the books she read. She was surviving. If she thought too hard about the number of years she had to endure before she’d be able to leave, she cried. She didn’t know where she would go.

Trouble

I have lots of trouble. At least that’s what I told myself this morning as I stood in Target looking at the workout DVDs. I’m not into Zumba. Don’t get all huffy and bent out of shape, I’m not passing judgement on the Zumba cult! Zumba looks like an enormous amount of fun if you’re… I don’t know, coordinated. I am not. Somewhere along the line my coordination vanished.

*POOF*

I took ballet as a kid, jazz, some gymnastics and I was even a cheerleader before I decided that drinking beer and smoking skinny cigarettes under the bleachers was more fun than doing splits in the middle of the gym at half-time. I suspect that  if I were to attend a Zumba class, I’d probably take out an entire row of women with my flailing, graceless gyrations. Why, just yesterday I walked smack into the open dishwasher door and went careening across the kitchen, washing the walls and floor in berry punch flavored Juicy Juice.

In the face of my spastic inability to dance, I like to run. But I don’t.

You see, last year I suffered the mother of all sinus infections and just stopped. In essence, I have done nothing other than sit on my atrophied posterior for the past year. Sure, I occasionally (rarely) ventured downstairs to use the treadmill, but mostly I just sat around writing, napping or reading books and it was lovely. I honestly don’t ever remember being so still. If I were a dog I’d most definitely be one of those shaky little terriers that never stops moving, snarling, playing and barking. Like Stella. Stella is the dog version of Kelli. Yet, over the past 12 months I’ve become the equivalent of a big old lazy Bassett Hound. No, that’s not right… I’m an aging, overweight Shar Pei. Yes, I’m thin but I’m developing weird jiggles and wrinkles in places that never jiggled or wrinkled before. For example, when I run up the stairs now, my ass continues moving for a half second after I’ve stopped. There’s also that thing where my outer thighs have begun pooching out with a layer of fat I’ve never seen before. It pains me to say it but, I have fat, flab and an ass that’s threatening to climb up my back and park somewhere that I never imagined my ass could go.

My Canine Soul Sister

I’ve noticed all of these new things over the past week or so. Like last week when I put on a pair of shorts that, two years ago looked perfectly lovely and cute. This year, I caught my reflection in the glass door on our porch and nearly fell over. Do those saddle bags belong to me? Then, just to punish myself, I put on my skimpiest bikini. Yup, I did.  The one I used to wear at Orient Beach in St. Martin where clothing is optional. By the way, have you ever noticed that the only people who actually choose to go nude are chubby seniors?

Anywho, I took that bikini off so quickly you’d have thought it was made of battery acid.

Yesterday I squeaked out a mile and half on the treadmill. I used to run 5.

This morning, at Target, I rolled the girls around filling the cart with diapers, laundry detergent and other equally unexciting items and thought about the load of trouble I’ve gotten myself into. I realized that after years of stringent excercise and healthy food consumption, I finally opened the door and invited the flab to come on in. It’s like a vampire, right? Once you invite it in, you’re doomed. Unless of course you’re a painfully bland teenager who recently moved to Forks. In that case, you’re good. Carry on.

As I rolled around Target pondering my big ass, er…trouble, something magically caught my eye. There, on the top shelf, awash in a beam of light from heaven was a DVD called No More Trouble Zones from Jillian Michaels. Last year I did P90X, but somewhere near the second week, I wanted to punch Tony Horton in the face. I can’t stomach Tony Horton’s incessant babble again. So Jillian Michaels, bring it on. Yell at me. Tell me I’m loser. Go right ahead and call me a lazy bitch because nothing, and I mean nothing, gives me more incentive than a fellow bitchy woman. If I could hire another chick to come to my house and run on a treadmill next to mine, all the while looking over at my time and speed, increasing her own to match, I’d be a fit and skinny in no time. That’s why I used to love the Oak Square YMCA. I’d pick a treadmill right smack in the middle of a bunch of girls and run like the wind. I nearly always won the race.

I smell a lawsuit!

Jillian claims her workout will “Eliminate Love Handles, Muffin Tops and Wobbly Arms for Good!” Let’s hope she threw a little something in there for saddle bags, wine guts and double chins because once I’m flabless again, I’m going to run like the wind!

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That Little So and So!

I grew up in a family that got into a whole lot of tussles. Most of those tussles were handled on a individual basis but some were a group effort. Sometimes we even tried to kill each other, but if anyone who was not a card-carrying member of the family picked a fight with one of us…they picked a fight with all of us. At home and on the school bus, on the train tracks behind the school, in a restaurant parking lot in Fort Myers, at an outdoor concert at Saratoga Performing Arts Center…we were more apt to fight than we were to run. Generally, flight was never even an option.
It’s somewhat shameful to admit, but in at least part of our family you learned to fight back when someone got aggressive. If you were small, like me, you stood behind your big brother’s back and hurled a slew of filthy insults mixed with a lot of scratching, kicking and flailing punches. For the most part, any fight I was involved in was one where I felt the need to stick up for my brother, who didn’t require my assistance at all.

Thankfully, I’ve outgrown the need to engage in retaliatory violence. Sure, sometimes I get mad at people for their rude and inconsiderate behavior, but there are better ways to approach aggressive situations. Mostly, it involves the use of one’s brain.

I am thrilled that my little boy has not yet exhibited the trait that leads to violent retaliation. He has inherited his father’s peaceful, above-it-all demeanor. He’s a lover, not a fighter. He’s smart and pretty darn cute if I do say so. I’m proud of him, but at the same time saddened that he has quietly endured the confusion, anxiety and stress that comes with daily exposure to a bully.

Yeah, yeah..I know. Bully has become the buzzword of the moment. Yet, there really is  a dyed-in-the-wool bully in my son’s first grade class. It first came to our attention on the day before Thanksgiving break. It was a Thursday afternoon when the school called to inform me that Joe had been punched in the stomach (read here). Over the past few months, my little guy has grown increasingly anxious and emotional before bed. He unwillingly drags himself out of bed each morning and goes to school where he has (mostly) silently suffered more punching, pushing, kicking, poking, slapping, intimidation, being tripped and striking his head on the floor and most recently, a hold that I can only describe as one that law enforcement uses to subdue people.

How do I know this happened? Well, my kind, polite, smart little boy came home last week and dissolved into tears. For the first time in ages, he crawled into my lap and just wanted to be hugged. Though he was afraid, he finally spilled the beans about his bully. Later, when he had calmed down he said, “Oh, I forgot to tell you… so-and-so also grabbed my wrist like this and twisted up and then pulled my shoulder back really super far…like this.” I was horrified. My father is a retired New York State Trooper. I’ve seen the move before. (Specifically, in our Fort Myers parking lot tussle.) I shudder to think that a seven-year-old child would know how to do this and practice on my six-year-old boy. On some level, I am sorry for the bully. I hate to jump to conclusions, but I can’t help but wonder what is going on at this boy’s house.

Another far less evolved part of me fantasizes about having a Freaky Friday. One that would enable me to spend just one day in my son’s body. Oh, the revenge I could deliver! Yes, I know it’s wrong, but I can fantasize, right?

I want to get off the school bus with my Batman backpack slung over my shoulder and enter the school with  Darth Vader’s music loudly announcing my arrival. The Imperial March would follow me down the hall, causing a sea of K-3 children to part in shock and awe. I’d mess with that bully’s head so bad, he’d have no idea what hit him. Of course I wouldn’t use violence. Instead, I would come prepared with an arsenal of advanced weaponry in my backpack. Some Super Glue, cayenne pepper, Ex lax, various booby-traps, dog poo, fake vomit. I could go on and on here. Gradually, my imagination conjures scenes that resemble hilarious Disney-type pranks. There might even be a fake studio audience emitting gasping ‘oohs‘ and laughter when the bully’s pants get stuck to his seat with that Super Glue. Alas, reality doesn’t provide Disney-esque Freaky Friday body exchanges and, since they remain physically impossible, I am limited to my fantasy acts of innocent, G-rated revenge.

I once had a big ol’ bully. His name was Billy Madison. Really, it was.

He would chase me down on the playground and kick me or throw me to the ground. He had a list of swear words that would make a sailor blush. I tried to avoid him, but he was inexplicably drawn to my long braids. I came to dread morning when my mother braided my hair. Braids guaranteed that I’d suffer some good, sharp hair pulling at the hands of Billy Madison.

I don’t recall how it was that Billy Madison happened to be at the end of my driveway, but he was. I couldn’t have been more than eight of nine years old when Billy stood at the end of my driveway doing the dance of a bully. His dance came complete with tongue gestures and name calling. With my feet firmly planted at the bottom of the porch and my German Shepard, Sasha at my side I watched his ridiculous chubby undulations. His belly kept moving even after he had stopped.
“Just leave me alone!” I yelled. He continued writhing around and laughing at me. I heard a low growl rise from Sasha as she stood at attention. Billy made the mistake of hurling a mean insult back in my direction. “YOU BETTER LEAVE ME ALONE, BILLY MADISON!” He took my demand as his cue to turn and shake his considerable rear-end at me. Unfortunately, his timing was rather poor as Sasha sprang to the end of the driveway and sank her teeth into Billy’s meaty rump. Billy never bothered me again. Not ever. To this day I owe Sasha a debt of gratitude, but she’s long gone and buried in a meadow at our old farm.

Maybe Joe’s bully bothers me so much because he bears a striking resemblance to Billy Madison. Maybe his bully bothers me because I wish I could tell Joe to fight back. Maybe a small part of me wishes Joe inherited that trait that only allows people to push ‘so far’ before a tussle ensues. Maybe part of me is frustrated that we can’t afford to pay for private school. Maybe our meeting with the school’s administrative staff on Monday afternoon will help…

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