Tag Archives: daughters

NEVER EVER AGAIN

By Marguerite Quantaine 5.16.17

When I was five, we lived in a drafty, 1860’s, two story, white clapboard farmhouse insulated with wads of newsprint dating from the Civil War. It had a coal furnace to heat the water pumped into cast iron radiators for warming in winter and bathing year round, wafer thin linoleum covered floors, and a narrow pine brown painted staircase just inside the front door vestibule with nine stark steps heading straight up before snaking left for three more and leveling off to a thirteenth step at the top.

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Facing directly ahead was the bedroom I shared with my two sisters. To the left, at the end of a hall papered in remnant rolls of Depression era patterns, was a bedroom for my three brothers. And at the right, flushed with the wall, was the entry to a closet containing a second, much smaller door leading to an exposed beams, no floorboards attic.

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“Never, ever, under any circumstance open the door inside the closet at the top of the stairs,” my mom instructed us, “because, if you do, you’ll fall through the ceiling.”  To be clear, she never added the words “and die” to the edict. So, I opened the door.

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It wasn’t that I was a bad little girl, or even an overtly rebellious one. I simply had a ferocious curiosity which challenged every easy, accepted, purported, and fabricated reason given to blindly follow orders. And, anyhow, it was all Alice’s fault — she being Alice In Wonderland from the animated Disney film that Mom had taken us to see when it came to our town in 1951. Our subsequent incessant playing of the film’s score from a set of eight, six inch, 78 RPM Little Golden Records ensured I knew every word and melody, making it Alice who implanted the lyrics to Very Good Advice in my mind as a mantra, and Alice who told me to open the door and search for a lavender and white striped Cheshire cat in a garden of talking flowers.

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But unlike Alice, I needed no key to unlock the door, nor mushroom to shrink myself for passing through, since even though the inner closet portal was half the size of a standard door, it wasn’t nearly as small as me.

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I might have opened it to a virtual sea of history if only I could read the papers packed in layers there. But since I couldn’t, my focus was on the solitary object sitting in the slanted roof room — a flat top, oak slatted, seasoned pine steamer trunk wrapped in one inch black lacquered tin ribbons, Moiré Metalique corner plates, and latches on each side of the lollipop-looking lock hanging open.

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My feet were smaller than my age and fearless. I scurried along the beams like a ballerina on a tightrope, reaching the trunk with ease. Opening it proved somewhat of a struggle, but the anticipation of releasing a fat lavender cat far outweighed the weight of the lid. I pushed it up and it plopped backwards as I fell forwards, landing on a black jacket with brass buttons the color of dirty mustard. Standing and stepping back out, I took care to balance on the beams as I reached in and pulled the jacket after me, dragging it across the crumpled insulation, out the Alice door, through the hallway door, and into my bedroom.

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The jacket was found fortune from a treasure chest. I marveled at the buttons, their background bumpy to the touch, with a spread winged bird standing atop a broken cross in it’s claws. I had heard the word ‘war’ without knowing what war was, could not conceive of what war did, and wouldn’t comprehend what the swastika signified for many years to come, so these beautiful buttons appeared as gold to me. I’d found gold!

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Certain my mom would feel as thrilled as I about my find, I put the jacket on and, with the sleeves dangling down long over my hands and the bottom of the jacket threatening to trip me as I shuffled along, I scooted down the stairs on my butt, one step at a time, shambling through the dining room and into the kitchen where my mother was standing at the long, white porcelain, wall hung cast iron sink washing breakfast dishes.

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She stopped, turned towards me, and stared as if stunned before asking, “Where did you get that?”

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“Through Alice’s door,” I beamed. “Inna trunk!”

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“Upstairs? In the attic?”

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I nodded, vigorously.

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After a moment she reached for my grandma’s black handled sewing scissors and approached me. Kneeling, she gently removed the jacket from my shoulders before sitting back on her bent legs and slippered feet, systematically cutting off each bird button. Upon finishing, she checked the pockets and found a folded scarlet band with the broken black cross imprinted inside a white ball. She scissors-shredded that, too, before doing something she’d also told us never, ever, under any circumstances to do.

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She descended the basement stairs, opened the heavy iron fire door on the coal furnace, and tossed in the buttons, the jacket, and the remnants of the band.

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The knob of her nose was red and her eyes were wet when she returned to the kitchen. “Go play now, honey,” she urged.

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I often wonder if a daughter remembers the first time she made her mother cry.

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Mine is of then and of there.

 

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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and author.

Never Ever Again © 9.29.17

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IMOGENE’S ELOISE : Inspired by a true story by Marguerite Quantaine

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MY LITTLE BLACK DRESS IS PINK by Marguerite Quantaine

is due for release in October 2017 on Amazon in paperback and Kindle

 

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LAST RIGHTS

The last three words my sweetheart and I speak to each other before hanging up the phone are “I love you.” We say the same in public places whenever going our separate ways, when exiting the house either alone or together, and before falling asleep each night. Sometimes I even say them when leaving her to tidy up the kitchen as I head upstairs to write. The words are always heartfelt. Never flung. Never forgotten.
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I learned to say “I love you” from my mom who thought we should say it to our siblings whenever one of us walked out the door. We didn’t, although the words were a given between me and her, and similarly exchanged between my kid sister, Kate, and I.
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Otherwise, I’m reluctant to express them.
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I don’t recall my father ever saying “I love you” to me or my sisters except in a tickle poem he mostly used to torture Kate. He was a misogynist when it came to his daughters and a misogamist due to our unwanted births. For certain, I neither felt, nor uttered the sentiment to him.
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It’s no secret that my father wanted six sons, having cast himself as too virile to spawn females, so I can’t speak for my brother’s relationships with him. Besides, the three boys were all older, during a period when practicing sexism thrived. They’ve remained distant for most my life. Not as antagonists, mind you. There’s no ill will. Indeed, our communications are always engaging. But we’re more like friends with certain secrets kept than family with skeletal closets closed.
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In fact, I doubt they know, immediately after returning home from a forced 48 hour stay in the mental ward of Foote Memorial Hospital (tethered to a bed by brown leather straps with gray metal buckles), I tried to kill my father with a salad fork. Where I found a salad fork is baffling, since salads were never part of any meal plan when we were young, save for the Waldorf variety when Michigan Macintoshes were plentiful. Admittedly, patricide by salad fork seems tame by today’s road rage comparison, but in 1962 small town, midwest America, even the hint of such news would knock the kid washing his duck in the kitchen sink off the front page (or at least lower it below the fold).
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I was sixteen, five-foot-one, and weighing in at 75 pounds to his five-foot-eight at twice the weight. He quickly overcame me with a grip from behind, but I chomped down on his left hand until I reached the bone of his index finger. Tossed off and aside, I spit blood when warning him to never touch me or Kate again. He never did. We steered clear of each other after that.
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I’ve never cried for my father, nor regretted my actions, remaining reticent about the motive behind my foiled intent of fifty-five years ago. I cannot talk about the details even now.
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And, really, what would be the point? My brothers, who saw no need, nor made an effort to protect their sisters from him in the past might doubt me now, as then. They have their own cemented memories of my father. My older sister grapples with hers, still.
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But no one talks, unless you count my father whose callous and cunning correspondence to my brothers bemoaned his life, made excuses for his failures, alluded to addictions, transferred infidelities, and emulated martyrdom while praising his sons before claiming his redemption. Letters that were copied and given to my Kate as — what? Proof of his greater goodness and professed regret?
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She left me the copies with a not-so-cryptic note attached, written in her own hand, confident I’d understand how it felt to be lost in a world where forgiveness is sometimes the fad, and forgetting is always the fallacy.
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No, no. It hasn’t made me bitter.
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Just weary.
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My mom said my father was watching the Detroit Lions trounce the Cleveland Browns on television when his eyeglasses fell off. While reaching down to retrieve them he suffered a massive heart attack. Before the thud, she heard him curse.
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My father’s final words were, “God damn it!”
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My mom’s final words were, “I know you do.”
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Kate’s final words were, “I love you.”

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by Marguerite Quantaine Copyright @ 2017
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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and author.
Her novel,
IMOGENE’S ELOISE: Inspired by a true story
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Marguerite Quantaine’s book of essays,
MY LITTLE BLACK DRESS IS PINK
is due for publication in paperback and Kindle on Amazon
October 3, 2017.

SEEING RED

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My mom hated to have her hair touched. It prompted her to enroll in beauty school for the sole purpose of learning the best way to style and care for her own thick, black, naturally curly locks. I still have the leather bound 1930s textbook from her beauty school days that she abandoned upon deciding to coil her hair and pin it atop her head like a crown of glory. It was very attractive, even enviable, and she never fashioned her hair differently from then on until the day she died, decades later, three weeks shy of age ninety-three

     I suppose that’s why it came as no surprise in the summer of 1958 — when I was still eleven with shades of natural auburn and blonde streaking throughout my wispy thin, straight as straw, mostly mousey brown hair — that mom suggested I choose one of the three colors and dye it.

     I chose auburn; Clairol’s Sparkling Sherry to be exact. It perfectly matched my auburn undertones and duplicated the color my older sister, Sue, chose to dye her hair a year earlier. It cost 85¢ for a glass bottle of the dye and another 25¢ for a bottle of peroxide. You mixed them before applying, waited 45 minutes, and then washed the residue out with Halo shampoo before rinsing with diluted Heinz red cider vinegar.

     “The dye coats each strand. It doubles the thickness of your hair,” Mom promised.

     “Do I still use vinegar?” I questioned, even though I already knew it untangled wet hair and kept it glossy.

     “It prevents the color from looking unnatural.”

     That fall I began the seventh grade as a redhead, just as Sue had the year before me. Whenever anyone asked us why our brother, Michael, had black hair we’d confess, “He dyes his.”

     The new school was larger with thousands of students. None of the kids I knew in elementary were in my classes, nor friends of mine in junior high. Consequently, everyone  I met from then and since has known me only as a redhead.

     That includes me.

     Because, even though Clariol has changed the names of their colors, I’ve remained true to those streaks of natural auburn chosen as a child and have never sought to discover the adult dominant color of my hair. Through junior and senior high and college, a stint as a kosher camp drama counselor, New York City careers, a Florida business,  and wherever I traveled or settled on living — once every month I’ve found a place to be alone for an hour for the solitary purpose of denial in dyeing.

     I’m 70 now. I have never let my hair grow out, but if I did, it would be an all-over silver — the same as it is at my temples — which I leave untouched so the age of my face won’t drastically contrast my crown, sporting a hairstyle I haven’t changed in decades.

     I am my mother’s daughter.

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Marguerite Quantaine © 2016
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Copyright by Marguerite Quantaine © 2016
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THIS DIAMOND RING — GIVEAWAY

"It's a dainty little ring."

“It’s a dainty little ring.”

I don’t know if it was so for my three brothers, but whenever we three girls asked my mom what she wanted for Mother’s Day, her birthday, or Christmas she’d invariably say, “A diamond ring, a fur coat, and a trip around the world.”

Nowadays, such requests may not seem that unreasonable, what with seven year olds pocketing iPhones, college students making pilgrimages, and fur coats being faked well enough to warrant splattering by PETA paint.

But back in the 50s, 60s and 70s, these were all big ticket items for the vast majority of American women.

Since my mom wasn’t elitist, extravagant, or pretentious, I didn’t take her wish list seriously. She had a mink-ish stole she dearly loved and wore from time-to-time. She managed to travel to every country and place she ever dreamt of going before she passed away nine years ago at ninety-three. And, she appeared satisfied with wearing her wedding ring during 31 years of marriage and 37 years of widowhood — a wafer thin band of gold, originally mounted with 7 miniscule diamond chips, two of them missing from forever ago.

“This diamond ring doesn’t shine for me anymore,” she’d chime along with Gary Lewis and the Playboys back in ‘65.

“Are you planning on taking it off and selling it?” I once asked.

“No,” she admitted. “Remember, dear, the first ring represents your beginning and shouldn’t cost more than what you can safely afford. The last ring shows how far you’ve gotten. It may weigh more and the stone will  be bigger — but that ring is less about who you are, and more about who you just think you are.”

Mom's wedding ring.

Mom’s wedding ring.

Costume jewelry was more my mother’s style, mostly sets of necklaces and bracelets with complementing clip-on earrings, cloth flowers with pin backs, hair combs studded with rhinestones, and watches with exchangeable bands. It was while rummaging through these, kept in an old cedar box stamped Souvenir of Gaylord, that I detected the faint fragrance of her Yardley Lavender still lingering there as I matched each pretty piece of paste to memories of the outfit she wore and the special occasion that warranted the wearing. That is, except for one out-of-place, unfamiliar, etched gold band with a solitaire diamond setting that seemed a perfect starter ring for a young (or young-at-heart) someone who hoped to commit, or celebrate a first anniversary, or wear on the pinky until presenting it as a simple act of friendship to another.

It’s a dainty little ring, perfectly capable of stirring up tender emotions — but one I’d never wear since it wasn’t given to me by my lifelong love.

So, I decided to let someone else create a warm memory by giving the ring away. No strings attached. No expectations of return. Quietly and without adieu, certain my mom would approve.

 

Besides, it’s not as if I’m giving her wedding ring away.

Never.

That tarnished band of holes and chips has resided on my pinky since she passed, and it will remain there until I do, as a testament to the woman whose namesake I am, and the cherished memories of her I wouldn’t sacrifice — not even for a diamond ring, a fur coat, and a trip around the world.

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Copyright by Marguerite Quantaine 2015

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HAPPY TRAILS TO YOU . . .

Kate b:w

“You’re always a happy camper,” my kid sister, Kate, says to me, frequently. “Even from back when. I’ve seldom seen a photograph where you weren’t. Whereas, the rest of us…”  She sighs as her claim tapers off; the ‘rest of us’ being our four older siblings.

     I’m in her Florida home, fifty-eight miles southeast of mine, enjoying faded photographs of her and me during childhood, a monochrome to Kodachrome procession of us aging over the years, corralled in silver and brass frames crowding the desktop in her den.
     “You’re smiling in them, too,” I insist. 

     “But even when you aren’t you’re happy.”

She’s right. In every print I stand guilty as charged, picture-proof that regardless of the rocks life hurled at me, I caught them as stones and skimmed them as pebbles across a body of blue. Setbacks, solutions, and silver linings have ruled my world in that way.

     Kate triumphs, too; but does it differently. Unlike me, be it a word, a look, or an action, she wounds easily and holds onto the hurt as lifeblood. She can recite the time, place and reason for every slight she’s perceived from others, intentional, or not. She suffers the “slings and arrows” of both fortune and misfortune. Her self-esteem rarely rides on an even keel.

     Most of that is reflected in Kate’s self-deprecating sense of humor where she casts herself as the ugly duckling and also-ran. 

     Until she turned 12, she shadowed me like a stray puppy inviting approval — but as a tall teen, she began rolling her shoulders forward and slumping down to avoid attention. She took a back seat in all her outings with friends. She never challenged authority. She catered to the wishes of others. She refused to go to her junior prom with a boy she had a crush on unless I agreed to find a date and go with her. (I did.) She always worked harder to strive higher because she felt, in doing so, maybe, just maybe, someone would love her.

I don’t think she’s ever accepted that everyone does love her — not because she played a great game of league softball for nine years, or bested those at any table where board games ruled, or succeeded at every task she undertook, or graduated from college summa cum laude, or even when she became an executive at Columbia Pictures in Hollywood, rubbing elbows with celebrities, daily — but because she is without guile. She’s soft spoken and generous. She’s never late for anything, ever. She’s decisive and dependable. She is the first to answer the call, to offer her time, and provide for others whether asked of, or needed, or not.  Her meek demeanor matches her downy curls and wise eyes the color of a Russian Blue.

She’s also a coincidental copycat. Although Kate lived 3,000 miles away for a decade, she’d somehow manage to buy the same label slacks, sweaters, and shoes that I wore, paint her rooms the same colors as mine, be partial to the same movies and songs, plant the same flowers, and even managed to select the identical holiday cards for my mom, with both hers and mine delivered in the same mail, on the same days for seven years running. 

     When she moved to Florida eleven years ago, she arrived in the make and model of car I drove. Eventually, she gave me that car, and added my name to the title of her next one so I could have it someday, without any fuss.

     It’s what I’ll be driving, soon — and what I’m driving at.

     Kate visits regularly, making the trip from Deland to spend the day with her gal pal, my Elizabeth. They leave within moments after she arrives to scan pawn shops and scour garage sales, saying when they’ll be back bearing gifts, and what they want to eat upon return. I’m chief cook, baker, bottle washer and decider of the games we’ll play into the night. 

     Sometimes she stays over, but more often, twelve hours of each others company is one hour shy of perfection. Before she leaves we belt out a chorus of,  “Happy trails to you, until we meet again” as we did while in our matching cowgirl outfits, sitting on the floor in front of the Sylvania set during the 1950s, joining Roy Rogers and Dale Evans in their signature song.  Then I wait by the phone until she gets home and calls to say she’s safe and sound.

     My dear, sweet sister, Kate.

     So, imagine my surprise when, after a splendid celebration for her 67th birthday on January 22nd, followed by wishes exchanged for Valentine’s Day, and plans made for Elizabeth’s birthday on February 24th, she called to say, “I’ll be there. I’m looking forward to it. But…”
K&M& Andy Car

     She’d felt nauseous with a sharp pain in her side so, assuming it was her gallbladder, she visited the clinic, which ordered the ultrasound, that revealed the liver cancer. The following week an MRI found pancreatic and bile duct cancer. A PET scan upped the ante to bone and spinal column cancer, after blood tests confirmed it was everywhere.

     No, this is not the kind of diagnosis that responds to clinical trials, chemotherapy, or radiation. Hers is the type that robs you of 25 pounds in 25 days and makes you hope for enough time to get your affairs in order.

     Nothing seems real now. We act on automatic, listening to orders we don’t want to hear and filling out forms we’re forced into finishing, as if any of it matters more than these last precious days spent together.

     When she asks me to translate the results of her latest tests I relay a bowdlerized truth, and she listens with an editors ear, both of us trying to alter the inevitable.

     If it were me, there would be levity. 

Instead, it’s Kate, who counts on me to be there for a final cowgirl singalong.

     Yes, I smiled when she asked it of me.

     But I am not a happy camper.

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Marguerite Quantaine © 2015

PAST, IMPERFECT, INTENSE

Me@7

My father taught me things. They weren’t always the right things, or the best things, but he taught me all things, well.

One winterkill night while driving home alone together, he taught me his truth about lying. I was 7, then.

My mom was working as a confidante and caregiver at a private cottage for forlorn cancer patients. Her curtailed quietus watch of 11 to 7 promised us six kids we wouldn’t awaken without her.

“I’ll always be here to tuck you in and be back before breakfast,” she assured. It was enough for them, but not for me.

“I’m riding along,” I reckoned.

“Maybe in the morning, if you’re up.”

“Then, too,” I determined, set as cement.

She gently pressed the nub of my nose, lighting me up in her eyes. “You’re my little lion,” she said. “You give me courage.”

My parents weren’t friends then, if ever. Lovers once, no doubt. He as dashing as she was beauteous. Each with ebony locks. His, glossed waves. Hers, coiled curls. His jaw, chiseled. Her cheeks, rubicund. His eyes, bruin black, set tangent to an arrowed nose. Hers, bairn blue, gracing a Gaelic bob. Both seeped sheen and sensuality. The two as one? An envied ornament hung among plebeians.

But that was all ephemeral, lost long before the happenstance of me.

Oh sure, photos find him masterful in monochrome. Meritorious. Certainly indubitable. And it can be quibbled he didn’t become deriding and distant until after he began colorizing her with kids.

Regardless, I never espied demonstrative signs of affection between them. Neither gentility, nor joy. She endured his disrespect as wifeliness, while zesting motherhood. He husbanded acrimoniously, fatherly only to his firstborn.

And so it was, of all the trips we made together with mom in tow or mind, I remember that worst one best.

“DammitallMaggie,” he one-worded her. “It’s nearly 11. Move it!”

“Don’t get your dander up,” she growled back while winking my way. The dishes, nearly done. The laundry, almost folded. The house in chaos but cleaned down the middle and after-a-fashion. My siblings accounted for, kissed and sleeping. “I’m ready when you are.”

It was the most they’d spoken to one another all day, remaining silent in their seats until he skidded to the stop where we left her – just in time.

I remember watching her maneuver the hard packed snow and patches of ice while edging her way up the embankment toward that halfway house of enduring desperation. And how my father peeled off, leaving her without help, headlights, or sentiment for her safety.

During the drive home I kept my face glued toward the passenger window, contented to imagine mom in the morning, and it being my nose pressed against the frosted pane, greeting her return to us.

My father spoke to the back of my head when he said, “People lie to you because they don’t respect you enough to tell the truth.”

I remained removed; brown eyes searching boundless skies.

“They’ll cloak their words in omission, feigning innocence, thinking you’re too stupid to recognize the lie.” He paused, letting it etch.

I counted stars.

“That’s what they’re saying though. That they think you’re stupid.”

I yearned for Jupiter and Mars.

“The more deliberate and petty the lie, the less value they make of you.”

I found Venus.

“You know you’re utterly worthless when someone lies to you for sport.” He reiterated and enunciated, “Utterly.”

I ran up the stairs to my bed that night, turtlenecking the covers, shivering myself to sleep.

When my father jabbed me to say, “It’s time to go get her,” I was still tired and needing to stay put. But I dragged myself up, dressed and crept down to the living room to wait in the dark, acquiescent.

I must have sat there, dozing, for 30 minutes before being bitten by the cold quiet. Automatous and groggy, I shuffled my way to the kitchen, where I rubbed my eyes to read the neon numbers on the clock flickering over the sink.

It was 2:38.

I stood, still, listening as I looked harder, and harder, as if I was lodged in an illusion, moments before reality dawns.

Slinking back up the stairs, I halted briefly near my parents’ bedroom door to sense my father sleeping-smug, before continuing on to my bed. There, lying dressed and fetal in my red rubber boots and matching wool earmuffs, I grasped the meaning of his fair-warning words.

Oh, maybe not the exact definitions. But clearly the emotions. The shame of stupidity. The pain of worthlessness. The tears of contempt.

It’s been 60 years, so I shouldn’t still shudder – but – you know? Whenever someone chooses to lie to me – especially when it’s one of those petty, deliberate, unnecessary little lies, cloaked in omission – feigning innocence?

Sometimes, I still sob like a 7-year-old.

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This freshly edited, updated essay by Marguerite Quantaine first appeared in the St. Petersburg Times five years ago. (Copyright by Quantaine © 2008 • 2013)

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