I am Linda’s “baby brother”, the youngest of the six children in my family. I was born in 1965, and my earliest memories were only beginning to form at around age 4, which was shortly before Linda left the household to join the Navy as she recounts here.
Let me begin by saying how truly sorry I am that we had the mother we did. I sometimes imagine somehow transporting myself (as an adult) back in time and intercepting our parents at particularly abusive and/or messed-up moments and intervening to “save” the innocent victims that we six children were—Linda most of all, of course. That I emerged as strong and undamaged as I believe I am is a testament partly to my own strength of character, partly to the loving and selfless protection afforded by my older sisters, and partly (I suppose) to the peculiarities of Mildred’s psychosis that she must not have hated me very much, most of the time!
Reading Linda’s accounts describing The Fireworks and The Fox incidents—both of which occurred long before I was born—reminded my of several experiences I had with Mildred, where I got in trouble (usually including a beating) for “ruining” some special outing or event. Even as a child I reasoned how incredibly stupid and meaningless such a claim was, while at the same time feeling very bad that Mildred’s rant meant the abrupt end of something that could otherwise have been a fun and memorable activity. I guess even as a kid I had a sense of “what a fucking waste!” that something I’d looked forward to would never be. Funny that now my memories are of the missed activity, and my disappointment in that, rather than fond memories of an enjoyable family outing or whatever. How tragic that the parent(s) had a chance to form a positive childhood memory for me, but instead corrupted that into not just a “non-memory” but in fact a strongly negative recollection that I can still bring to mind 40 years later.
I was 5 or 6 years old, and we were living at Alvernon Gardens in Tucson. Across the street was the large city park with trees, a golf course, public swimming pool, duck pond, and playground. This must have been in 1970 or 1971, so Linda and my oldest brother had already left home and were out of the picture. Cindy was hanging out with the young man she would later marry, Sharon must have been a junior or senior in high school (I remember visiting her at Baskin Robbins ice cream where she worked, and getting Pink Bubble Gum ice cream cones).
As Linda knows—and this is not a dig against her, since she was never given the chance—Cindy was my surrogate Mommy and mentor and teacher and playmate in ways that Mildred could never be, and I loved and cherished her (Cindy) while still maintaining a sincere and childlike adoration for Mildred. In other words, I loved them both, but in different ways.
There was an afternoon outing planned for the park, which must have been held up to me by Mildred for a week in advance as being a prized and special occasion, requiring me to “be good” for many days ahead of time or risk pissing her off and losing the privilege. The day was to include a picnic lunch (a rare and exotic treat), perhaps a stale loaf of bread to feed the ducks, maybe a special treat of extra time on the merry-go-round; whatever. Simple pleasures, family time, the chance to forge memories in the mind of a young child of doing something fun with women—mother and sister—who were collectively the focus of my childish love and devotion. I was looking forward to it, and had built up the day in my 6-year-old mind as being the exotic equivalent of an adventurous journey to a far-off, exotic land. I was stoked!
At long last the appointed day arrived. I’m sure I awakened early, excited that the longed-for day had at last was here! I would have been “extra good” that morning, scared that something would happen to thwart my much-anticipated adventure. A picnic lunch was packed (probably by Cindy. Sharon and my 4-years-older brother were not in the picture that day, maybe she had to baby-sit him; who knows?)
Finally, we’re on our way! The park was right across the street from our house, but the street was a major thoroughfare and we were probably crossing mid-block. I know for sure that I was between Mildred (on my left) and Cindy (on my right). I was holding Cindy’s left hand with my right, and our devoted Norwegian Elkhound dog was on a leash, probably held in Cindy’s right hand. I was probably swinging my linked hand in Cindy’s, near-giddy with excitement that we were all going to do something fun, going to the park, Mildred wasn’t angry, it was going to be a GOOD day!
As we approach the street, Mildred looks down at me and says “Hold my hand!” and reaches to grasp my left hand with her right. This is an understandable command to a small child who is about to cross a busy city street. She hasn’t noticed (or didn’t care) that I was already holding hands with Cindy on the other side.
Perfectly innocently (and even today an entirely understandable reaction, since 5-year-old me knows I should hold hands with a grown-up when crossing a busy street) I look up at Mildred and say, “I’m already holding Cindy’s hand!”
Whap! Mildred comes around with a round-house slap of her left hand, catching me completely by surprise and spinning me on my heels.
“How dare you!! Cindy is not your mother! I’m your mother! She can’t take you away from me! What an awful, evil, hurtful thing for you to say! You have ruined everything! We’re not going to the park! You’re going straight home to bed!” etc., etc.
We never crossed the street. True to her word, Mildred took me straight home and sent me to bed without my picnic, and indeed without my supper. There may have been a spanking involved; probably was, although the emotional resonance I still remember is not of a beating, but of a feeling of profound loss and emotional devastation, that something I wanted so BADLY, and which indeed was literally within sight just across the road, and which I had anticipated so fervently, had been snatched from me at the last possible instant and for such an insane reason.
I think (not sure) that Cindy probably snuck me a sandwich or something later in my bed, or perhaps softened Mildred up enough after a few hours that I could come to the supper table. Of all people, Cindy knew how much I’d been looking forward to the outing—indeed, she’d probably done her part to help build it up in my mind, and she must have felt awful for me.
Linda’s account of Mildred’s reaction to finding 2-year-old Linda with a bottle when returning to grandmother’s house following the birth of Cindy (recounted here in Cindy Born) resonates strongly in the memory of the Mildred that I knew. Although she was a truly horrid mother in every way that mattered, Mildred had somehow created this self-fiction of herself as Super Mommy to whom every perceived competitor for her affection and authority as a parent was met with immediate rage and, where possible, violence.
I don’t recall ever hearing Mildred apologize to anyone, for anything. Despite being roundly uninformed and unenlightened about the world around her, she always clung to and defended her version of reality, evidence to the contrary be damned!
An earlier episode, from the previous year in Alaska. I’m either 4 ½ or 5 years old, and we’re living in the big house on Wasilla Lake. It is either Fall 1969 or Spring 1970, since there’s no snow on the ground but it is not full summer. My older brother and sisters are already in school, but I’ve not yet started kindergarten (which I would in Tucson the next year—the timeframe of the park story, above) so I am tagging along with Mildred during the day, visiting friends, going to the market, whatever.
She has gone to visit some woman friend of hers, at her friend’s house somewhere in Wasilla. The friend has a little boy about my age, but I don’t know this kid, and we’re not friends. His mommy tells him to take me outside to play, which suits Mildred just fine as she’s able to momentarily put aside her deathly fear that something terrible would happen to me (grizzly bear, child molester, etc.) the second I get out of her sight. Even at age five or so, I remember feeling giddy that I was not under Mildred’s constant and oppressive gaze—That I was free! That I could play!
This other boy and I weren’t outside very long when he took me to see an old car that was parked on the property. I have no distinct recollection of the details of the car, except that it seemed like some old weed-covered junker; definitely not a nice car that people used. Somehow or other (probably at his urging—I never would have initiated this) this boy and I started throwing rocks at the beat-up old car. Soon we were aiming at the windows, and then it became a throwing contest, and before long the two of us had shattered every single window of the car with our rock-throwing.
It was great fun! And I was absolutely, unconditionally POSITIVE that this was an okay thing to do, in light of it being an old junk car that seemed to have been abandoned out in the wilderness, but in reality was probably at the back edge of these people’s property line. Plus, this kid said it was okay!
As the safety glass shattered out of the side windows, I remember stepping closer to the car and reaching down into the gravel to select just the right smooth rock for my next throw. Some of the glass had scattered into the rocks, and as I grasped a stone my knuckle grazed a small shard and I cut my finger just badly enough that it started to bleed. Although I don’t recall being in any pain, or even being particularly distressed by having cut myself, I have a feeling that as the adrenaline of my window-breaking frenzy wore off, the realization dawned that it would be very, very important for me not to let Mildred find out I had cut (mortally injured) myself while only briefly away from her protective (obsessive) oversight.
This next detail is hazy, and in a way I feel bad that it is since in my own mind the fact that there’s a single detail of these events that is out of place calls into question the veracity of the entire occurrence. The detail is whether I went back to the friend’s house with my cut finger, and Mildred found out what I’d done, or whether I successfully concealed my crime all the way home, only to have her woman friend call Mildred once we’d returned home, and rat me out. Either way, not long after Mildred got me back to the house—just the two of us—she went berserk.
Apparently my young cohort’s older brother, or uncle, or someone had bought this old car to fix up and it was just parked on the property, and what horrid little monster could possibly break all the windows out of this prized antique? And it wasn’t just that I’d conducted mayhem, it was that I’d EMBARRASSED mother in front of her friend, and couldn’t she have any friends? And how could I have possibly done something so devilish and hateful?
I believe Mildred had a wooden paddle at that time which was reserved for the worst and most well-deserved spankings. Maybe she’d learned from Linda that sometimes “This hurts me worse than it hurts you” can indeed be true if you beat a child hard and long enough with one’s bare hand. Mildred took down by pants, held me across her lap, and wailed on my naked butt with this wooden paddle over and over and over, screaming all the while “How could you embarrass me like this? How could you do such a thing to me?!” Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.
Between sobs of pain and terror, I remember putting my hands behind me in an attempt to shield myself from her blows. Either she didn’t see them, or didn’t care, but the rain of blows continued. I realized when they landed on my hands the pain was even worse, so I took them away and left my buttocks exposed.
I have no idea what made her stop. Did her rage at last wane enough for her to see how badly she was hurting me? Had the red and purple welts already begun to rise across my butt, and the rational part of her brain begin to suggest that “Never leave a mark” really WAS the best policy when it comes to child abuse?
It seemed like hours before I could control my sobs, but it probably wasn’t. I was in such shock, and so frightened by this unprecedented (to me) outburst of rage and violence that I was truly terrified of what she might do. I was sent to bed without my supper—a welcome respite of seclusion in this case, rather than the banishment she undoubtedly intended.
The last chapter of this story comes when the older children got home from school (on the bus? Or with Dad?) and one by one Mildred brought my 9-year-old brother, Sharon and Cindy into my bedroom, pulled down my pajama bottoms, and made them look at the horrendous cobweb of angry, raised, purple welts on my buttocks and upper thighs that the paddle had caused.
“This is what happens to bad little boys” she told them each in turn. Like the medieval executioners who displayed the corpses of their disemboweled and headless foes in cages alongside the castle road, Mildred had intuitively grasped the shock value of displaying the fruits of one’s violence as a deterrence to others who may be contemplating a punishable offense of their own.
From about 1977 onwards—the time when, in Mildred’s narrative, my four-years-older brother “started running wild on the streets”—I was the star and solo player in Mildred’s sick and dysfunctional world of fun. There were intervals of supposed “family time” when mom and dad would again take up housekeeping and for 6 months or so there would be some cursory attempt at “being a family again” as Mildred put it. Palmer in 1977-78. A rented Anchorage house in 1979. A small Eagle River apartment in 1980.
Mostly, though, I would be dragged into whatever transient drama Mildred happened to be cultivating at the time, and dutifully went along with her as The Good Son who never misbehaved, or worried her, or sassed her, or questioned her motivations or her hideously ridiculous lifestyle choices, such as spending the entire summer of 1980 we spent together riding a Greyhound bus around the Midwest and up the East Coast to Maine, living in low-rent motels and eating at all-you-can-eat salad bars (cheap) and waiting for Dad to wire money every two weeks at payday so we could buy another bus ticket and move a bit farther down the road, to do it all over again.
Yep, that was the summer I was 15. How I wish I could jump in my Dirty Harry time machine right now and go back to 1980 and rescue that quiet, complacent, anxious-to-please adolescent and tell him NOTHING YOU DO WILL EVER MAKE HER BETTER!! GET OUT!! GET AWAY FROM HER, WHATEVER THE COST!! But instead I spent another three agonizing years with her, including the magical winter of 1982-83 living at the Homestead, just the two of us, while Dad lived in a bachelor apartment in town and probably had a great time, since I had graduated to his old role of the wood-chopper, water-can-filler, tire-chain-putter-onner, he-man-homesteader answerable only to the Wicked Witch of the Mountain.
Let me end my little narrative on a different note. Fast-forward to the summer of 1985. I was 20 years old, and had met a girl the previous December who would turn out to be the woman I’m spending my life with—25 years together, come this winter.
Mildred set up a nice-seeming household by herself that winter of 1984-85 in a rented duplex in Anchorage, and her mental health may have been at its best during that time. Her house was tidy and nicely furnished, she’d lost weight, she was active in an over-50 singles group that held weekly square-dance socials, and she had done a bit of traveling by herself, including time spent in the Virgin Islands (which, in her general loathing of places and people that stretched her narrow comfort zone, she found too hot and too filled with black people who talked funny).
So one summer Saturday in 1985, dating at most 6 months, I took my then-girlfriend on a drive to the Homestead to show her the place that she already knew figured so prominently in the Lloyd family psyche. When we arrived, we found Dad’s green Jeep Cherokee in the driveway, and he and Mildred busy at some cleaning or organizing task inside the cabin.
Although they had finally divorced the previous summer, Bill, the consummate Enabler, has apparently agreed to give Mildred a ride to the Homestead and to help her open the cabin for what would ultimately be her last attempt to reside there. When I arrived with my pretty companion, and greetings were exchanged, I said something to Mildred about wanting to take my girlfriend on a little hike up the hill behind the house to see the Big Rock and to enjoy the view.
Unbeknownst to me, Mildred’s mood must have already escalated before we got there because she started on some malicious rant to the effect of Who did I think I was, to come up to the Homestead with my girlfriend when there was work to be done, and I should help her with this or that inane and circular chore, and why should I make my father do all the work?
Already free from Mildred’s dysfunctional spell, I tried to de-escalate her by explaining that we were just there for a little sight-seeing, and I’d promised my girlfriend a hike, and sorry but I wasn’t available to help with her housework. Predictably, her face reddened and her voice intensified to a shriek as Dad stood in silence, and it dawned on me like a lightning bolt that I had the power to do something I’d never been able to do in my first two decades of life with Mildred—I could leave! She couldn’t stop me, she couldn’t control me, she couldn’t manipulate me, she couldn’t guilt-trip me. I had the power to distance myself from her madness both psychologically and geographically.
I pulled my friend aside (she couldn’t help but hear all of this) and told her we needed to go. We climbed into my car and headed down the mountain, Mildred’s shrill screams of rage still echoing from the beautiful peaks that rim the cabin. I left my mother behind that summer’s day, now more than half my lifetime ago, and I never again subjected myself to the sickness that festered within Mildred until the day she died.