Listening to every heart
(Blame this one on our place for therapy…and thank you, Serenity…)
There, in Nipomo, before puberty hit, and I, being safeguarded by very protective parents, and only three channels on TV, if we had owned a TV, with all of the naivety in the world sitting on my shoulders, I could have easily been swayed, had I not had this uncommonly high ground approach in right and wrong.
Oh, what hormones do.
Yes, I was all of nine, for that very short year, my youngest sister just toddling, my younger brother being a particularly shy boy…we were all under the auspicious care of Candy, while my mother and father worked jobs to make ends meet. We were not wealthy in the financial sense, not at all…but we always ate, even if it meant stretching a pound of hamburger from Monday to Friday; Sundays were always chicken meals, fried…in wonderful bacon grease; and a whole lot of beans, and casseroles.
I guess I counted the smiles I banked on to make me one of the wealthiest kids alive. My father was kind; my mother, when not strained by three young ones, was very wise, and intelligent. I wanted to be so much like her.
But I digress. Candy was our sitter. At nine…I was not ready for this task. A lot of nine year olds today know more than I did when I was fifteen, but still and all, they should be left to be children, and be allowed to enjoy that period of their life, in order that memories grow. But some kids, even way back then, have some memories that weren’t made to order, and this is certainly not one that my mother or father would have approved of.
Mom was really big on children taking naps, especially during the summer. She had suffered from infantile paralysis, and knew that resting [or siestas] was good for everyone during the hot summer months. Dad was away on a large construction project, and was gone for several days at a time. Mom was working at a telephone answering service, newly hired, and didn’t have seniority to request certain hours yet. Candy was a 16 year old from the small community neighborhood, and was making hay at $.50 an hour, babysitting us three.
Oh, she was making hay, all right.
It was right after lunch when she put my little sis down for a nap, and read a book to my brother, who knew the routine, and gladly napped. But she asked if I would like to stay up with her, and I remember, even then, the combined joy of something different, and the red flag of something wrong. Her smile was too big. Way too happy to have this “kid” hanging around.
It was about thirty minutes into the “little kids” nap time, and the doorbell rang. Candy rushed toward the door, and let in a…stranger. Not a stranger to Candy, of course, but a stranger to me. And I knew Mom’s rules. No one in the house. No one.
Candy’s eyes gleamed differently.
She turned to me and said,
“Karilea, I need your help.”
Ah, help. She had me there. I loved to help.
“I want you to follow us outside, we have some talking we need to do.”
Outside? But, but, my brother and sister are in here, sleeping! Shouldn’t someone be in here, in case they woke up? What if they woke up, and were frightened because no one was close by?
“It will be for just a few minutes. Your dad said I could show Joe the barn.”
I remember feeling strangely uncomfortable. Could it have been the electricity in the air, the way Joe kept his hand on her arm, running his finger up and down her forearm?
“C’mon Karilea, we won’t be long. I just want you to watch the house, in case your brother wakes up and comes outside looking for us.”
So I’m thinking…wouldn’t it be more logical for me to stay here? In case my brother needs me? But I was one of those kids who was always doing what she was told. Candy was 16. My math was good…she was seven years older than me. She would surely know right from wrong, and only do what was in all of our best interests, right?
I heard a shy voice say…“I can stay here, and wait for you to come back.”
“No, I want you with me. I’ll show you where to stand, so you can watch the house.” I knew the window she was speaking of. Dad would tell me, “look out the window, is there a blue towel in the kitchen window at the house?” That was Mom’s way of saying “come in” without her coming all the way down to the barn, when it was close to supper time.
I’d say, “yes” or “no”, depending on whether the blue towel was showing.
There wouldn’t be blue towels today to watch for. First of all, my brother was too short. And at seven, I don’t think he realized what Mom did with that blue towel.
But I did as I was told, and followed them obediently to the barn.
Once inside, Candy turned to me, saying, “Now you stand here, stay here. I want to know if you see your brother come outside.” Then she joined Joe behind the partitions in the barn.
I remember watching out the window. I remember, … sounds…, I remember studying a spider web so closely, I gasped when I realized how close the owner of the web was to my face. I jumped back – I knew black widows were nothing to fool with. Neither were the strange sounds coming from the back of the barn. I remember, I felt like I was holding my breath from that moment on.
I was scared, and I felt some sort of fear. Not personal fear for myself, but for Candy. I couldn’t describe it, but I knew if my folks found out what she had asked of me, she would not be coming back. And overall, I knew I liked Candy. I knew I liked the way she played board games with me; how we played Old Maid, and how her face squinched when she was the “old maid”. I was pretty good with card games.
Soon enough, Candy came out from behind the partitions, and she seemed pink, somehow. Flustered, in some way. I knew “big words” back then. Mom and Dad pretty much treated me as an adult when it came to words, and “flustered” entered my mind.
Me? I felt vast relief.
“Can we go back to the house? Please?”
“You go. I’ll be there in a minute.”
I ran. I remember my legs pumping so hard, my heart, beating so fast, and I barely remembered not to rush so fast that the screen door would slam behind me, possibly waking the sleeping siblings.
My brother was sitting there, at the kitchen table.
“Where you been?”
Candy came in behind me. “She was with me. We were out, walking in the back.”
“Mommy doesn’t like us to be alone.”
“It was just for a few minutes. You were sleeping. In fact, you got up early. Want to play a game?”
Later, as I remember, Candy was looking at the clock, just before Mom was due home. She had set my brother by my sister, and fingered at me to come into the main room of the house.
“Can you keep a secret?”
“You don’t need to tell your Mom that we were outside.”
We weren’t outside, we were in the barn.
“Your brother seemed upset. Just tell your Mom, if he says anything, that we were only outside the porch door.”
My mind repeated silently, but, but….
I saw the look on her face. It was not kind. It was not Candy. It was someone else.
I remember Mom saying, a few days later, to Dad, that she needed to take a small vacation until they could find a sitter.
(This is the first time I have ever released this memory. I was not as graphic as I recall things to have happened. You are all smart enough...to know.)