"My work may be garbage but it's good garbage." Mickey Spillane
My mother decided early that my problems with my brothers were caused by an emotional instability in me.
My great-grandmother, whom we called Mammy, lived with us for several years in California. The summer before I turned 11, it was decided that Mammy would return to Texas and live with my Uncle Tid (he hated his real name and his childhood nickname was Tiddly Winks, which was shortened to Tid when he got older). The car was packed up to leave and when I got inside, I found myself sitting next to Mammy’s bedpan. It was clean, but I was still grossed out by it, so at the last minute I asked to remain behind with Mickey and my brothers who were in residence with us at the time.
Mama reluctantly agreed.
I regretted my decision within an hour. I got into a quarrel with my brothers over my toys almost immediately. You have to understand that most of my toys were boy toys, tonka trucks, the previously mentioned train set, crash cars, toy guns and so forth. Mama and Papa were not bothered by the fact that I preferred boy’s toys to girl’s toys. It bothered Mickey a lot.
Mickey separated us (I was whomping both of them at the same time and winning handily). She then announced that she had heard that the best way to get rid of anger was to beat a pillow. Sounds simple? Sounds standard?
Not the way that Mickey did it.
She had me beat the pillow in the living room until she was satisfied. And I was required to do this while she and my brothers laughed and made fun of me.
It was around that time that I began to wonder if I had some invisible taint, some sin that I was guilty of. I spent hours trying to figure out if it was something I could recognize and get rid of. I was the black sheep. It worsened with time.
I no longer remember what age I was when I started to see a shrink whose name I no longer remember. I do remember that his name sounded Jewish. I can remember his face, but not his name. So let’s call him Shrink.
He was a kind man and I had just started to trust him and it felt good to be able to tell him how much I was hurting inside. For some reason, he was required to have a meeting with my mother present. When the cards were laid on the table about what was going on, Mickey turned to me and said in his presence in an icky sweet voice, “Oh, Janny, surely you don’t really believe that any of that happened.”
When we got home I threw a fit, told Mama, and never went back. She had had no idea that Mickey was taking me to a shrink while she was at work.
When I was 14, Mickey took me out of my regular high school and placed me in a school for emotionally disturbed children run by another shrink whose name I no longer remember. I had been doing algebra and I had been told that I had an aptitude for math. They put me back to doing addition and subtraction. Beyond the intellectual and emotional humiliation, there were a couple of memorable moments.
I discovered what drug addicts were and I learned about LSD.
There were no more than 15 students at this little school. So all ages were thrown in together. One of the older kids was there because he kept getting hold of acid and tripping. He started talking to me about “bird with teeth” that he had seen. I asked him if he meant archeopteryx. He laughed at me and explained that he had seen it while tripping. I was mortified.
The other memorable thing was my attempt to fight back. I painstakingly wrote an entire essay backwards. I wrote the words backwards, and started the essay at the bottom right corner. I had been told that I could write on any subject and I wrote about Mary Shelley.
Once more I eventually tattled on Mickey and got out of that school. By that time, i had stopped tattling unless I got desperate. The fights between Mama and Mickey had become loud and angry over me. I could see how much it all upset Mama and I did not want to keep telling her. Also, when push came to shove, Mickey would threaten to kill herself and my brothers. Mama had no defenses against that. Like everyone else, she figured that Mickey was crazy enough to do it.
Just because I wanted to and liked research, I would have a summer project that took me to the library each year. I would sit down in front of the tv in the living room with my notebooks and the books I was reading. I always had a pile of erasers and several different types of pencils. That was partly because I sometimes made sketches as well as written notes.
I would get up to get something to drink and return to find some of my erasers missing. This continued over a course of months. I accused my brothers of making off with the erasers. Mickey’s response was to tell me that I was losing my mind. Eventually I came to believe her. I lost my faith in my ability to remember things.
The denouement came when Papa caught Don hiding my erasers on the farthest back corner of the fridge. By then there were twenty erasers there.
She thought it was the funniest thing she had ever heard of.