"My work may be garbage but it's good garbage." Mickey Spillane
We lived only a few blocks from the library and I used to check books out to read. It was a small, old-fashioned library with white steps and rails. I always loved books. Mama had pictures of me as a toddler sleeping on a stack of books.
Mama did not sound like a Texan. She was forever saying things like “Just because you are from Texas, does not mean you have to be ignorant.”
The word “Y’all” would elicit a lecture on proper speech.
Halloween was fun. I always came home with several big sacks of candy. It was the rare house that did not have its lights on and candy ready.
The house on Hill Street had a secret panel with a place to hide things. I suspect that the hidey hole was built during prohibition to hide liquor. Mama used to put the big sacks of candy there after we came home.
It was while living there that I met Skipper. His name was Kenneth Beuther, and he was a pain in the arse from the get-go. One day, we got into a fist fight. His mother, Jean, came out and told him that it was wrong for a boy to hit a girl. And she refused to make an exception for the fact that I had just given him a black eye.
The stay in Long Beach was short and we moved to Westminster before the end of the school year.
Skipper had black hair and fair skin, and blue eyes that danced with mischief. He was also spoiled rotten. One day I overheard Jean telling Mama that the best thing to do was to spoil a child so that no one else could stand them. That way they would never be able to leave home.
I have no idea what Jean’s real hair color was because she kept it died a tawdry shade of blonde. She was short, and had wide hips that seemed exaggerated by the tight pants she wore. I can still see her in my mind, waving her cigarette back and forth to punctuate her sentences.
Everyone was told that Skipper was my Aunt Sunny’s younger brother. Eventually, I learned that he was actually her son. But that came much later.
Jean drank heavily and there was always an open can of beer on the table when Mama and I visited them. She was married to a skinny, balding fellow named George. He went around with this woebegone expression all the time, a cigarette, and a can of beer.
Mama had had three children, Pete, Mickey, and Sonny. She had also had a miscarriage. After the facts came out in El Monte about Mickey being my mother, Mama began saying things to me like “you’re the child I lost. You’re my daughter in my heart. We were always meant to be together.” It reassured me that the relationship had not changed just because Mickey was back.
I never questioned the fact that Mama and Papa loved me. They were an island of love and safety in a world that was gradually becoming uncertain and frightening to me. Physically, I could handle myself from a young age. However, the headgames and guilt trips, that Mickey had begun laying on me from our first contact in El Monte, were haunting my footsteps and hovering in my mind.