After we returned from our day trip to Atlanta Daddy was hyper focused on me “getting rid” of Elspeth. As time passed and I continued to refuse to find a new home for her, Daddy started threatening me with taking her to the pound. I wanted to take Elspeth and run away. I’d go to bed at night thinking about where I could go. But, I knew that wasn’t realistic. Listen, I was barely 17 and I didn’t know anyone in my town to ask if they wanted a dog. Plus, how cruel for Daddy to not only take her away but to make it my responsibility to give her to someone. I just couldn’t do it. Why was Daddy taking away what I loved most? This was a breaking point for me as I saw Elspeth as my last connection to Momma and soon both would be gone forever. I hated Daddy for doing that to me.
There were many times Daddy had threatened to take our dogs away especially when we weren’t behaving the way he thought we should. I had hoped this was just another one of those times and in a few days he’d be onto his next obsession. However, he was serious this time and made sure every single day he was home to remind me. I was afraid to go to school because I thought Daddy was going to take her to the pound while I was gone. And even though he threatened, he never did. I guess Daddy had some kind of compassion. He did make my life a living hell until a home for Elspeth was found. Daddy was incredibly talented that way.
One morning as I was in the bathroom getting ready for school Daddy kept yelling for me. He wanted to see me about something and he needed to see me immediately. But, he always needed me immediately, so why was this time any different? Also, I knew he was just going to pester me about finding a home for Elspeth which certainly was not an immediate issue. I needed to get ready for school and I was going to be late if I didn’t hurry. I hollered back at him that I was coming once I finished getting dresses. Well, how do I say this? That was just plain dumb of me. What the fuck was I thinking? It was a steadfast rule to NEVER holler back at Daddy and certainly NEVER was it acceptable to keep him waiting. So, to say he hit the roof as a result of my response was an understatement.
I had no idea where Daddy was in the house when he called for me but with in seconds of me answering him, he broke open my bathroom door and started screaming. I had just gotten out of the shower and had a towel wrapped around me. When I heard the door crack and slam open, I couldn’t imagine what was happening. I just screamed in fear until I saw it was Daddy. I couldn’t believe he was so angry with me. He told me how dare I sass him (i.e hollering back at him) and how dare I keep him waiting. I started to tell him I wasn’t dressed and just needed to get dressed. He didn’t like my response and pushed me into the vanity. I fell back into the corner of the counter, lost my balance and fell backwards with me falling to the floor and my hand falling in the toilet. Honestly, my first thought was thank G-d I had flushed. Not wanting Daddy to hit me while I was down, I got up as quickly as I could. I stood as talk as I could and got into his face. Angry, I waved my arms and yelled, “What the hell was that for?” I suppose he thought I was going to hit him when I was talking with my hands because he ducked. I laughed and told him to not worry because I wasn’t going to hit him. He pointed to the hallway and told me to get the hell out of the bathroom. I walked slowly into the hallway all the while keeping eye contact with him. While in the hallway wrapped in my towel would you believe we stood there in silence just staring at each other for a good 15 minutes? Finally, I told him I needed to get to school. He pointed his finger at me and said, “Oh no missy! You don’t tell me what to do!” I told him I wasn’t. I was just saying I needed to get to school. He started yelling that because of my attitude he was going to dumb Elspeth somewhere himself while I was at school. I yelled, “So you mean to tell me you’re going to punish a poor helpless dog because of something I did? Oh, that’s smart!” Yes, I know. I realized right after that slipped out of my mouth that I had in essence called Daddy stupid. You know how in a cartoon when a character is running then suddenly they realize they’ve run right off of the cliff? And they look at the viewer and go, “Uh oh” right before they fall? Well, that’s exactly how I had felt. But, instead of retaliation Daddy told me to get the hell out of his sight and get dressed. I knew that meant something from him would come later but I needed to hurry to get to school.
I got dressed in record time and went downstairs to grab breakfast on the way out. If I left right then I would just make it in time for school. However, guess who was waiting for me in the kitchen? Nope, not my knight in shining armor by any means that’s for sure. Yep, it was Daddy and he had reloaded and was ready to attack me some more. I thought he was going to continue with the argument from earlier but instead he was pissed I didn’t wash the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. He held up a plate to show me it was dirty. However, he didn’t say it was dirty. He simply held up the plate and asked me what was wrong with it. I actually thought maybe it was cracked but when I looked I didn’t see anything wrong. He told me to get closer since I couldn’t see. I still didn’t see so I asked him what was wrong with the plate? Daddy felt I was being stupid and shoved the plate closer and closer to me until it was in my face. With the plate shoved up against my face he said, “Now do you see it? Now can you see the crap you left on the plate?” I started crying and told him I needed to get to school. He told me I didn’t deserve to take the car to school because of my attitude. I told him I had already missed the school bus. Daddy didn’t give a shit and said, “Sounds like you have a fucking problem.” I asked him if he would take me. He laughed and said, “Oh, you’re good. You talk to me the way you do and take advantage of me. All you do MaLea, is hurt me and then you expect me to do things for you. I can’t even begin to explain the pain I’m feeling because of you. You’re going to have to find your own way out of this one. Like hell am I giving you a ride!”
The rage and the hurt I was feeling was indescribable. I knew I hadn’t caused this situation even though like usual I felt guilty it had escalated this far. What seemed to always baffle me the most was how Daddy could instigate and be the cause of a situation but then take on the emotions of the one he was hurting. How in the hell was I taking advantage of him? Was he not doing that to me? And it was my attitude? What about his out of control behavior? How dare he take claim to my pain! There was nothing I could say to him. I grabbed my things and I ran out of the house. I was hoping a neighbor would be home and able to take me to school. After going to two neighbors the third one was able to take me. But just in my “MaLea’s gotta hide everything that was happening” way, I sucked my emotions deep into my gut and pretended nothing was wrong. After all as much as I hated school it still was 7 hours of peace for me.
Listen, I had felt sorry for Elspeth having to also live with all of that tension in our house. She was home alone all day and when Daddy was home the yelling was so intense it usually sent her under a table with her tail between her legs. It wasn’t a good environment for her and she didn’t deserve it. But, I was a teenager who saw this dog as my rock. She was the reason I didn’t want to kill myself. To me she somehow lessened my pain of Momma dying and the abuse of my dad. She sat next to me while I cried and licked my tears away. And she lied with me when I was afraid. I know I grew into an increasingly angry person and I am not proud to say I used Elspeth to let out that anger at times. However, all she did was love me and my entire package whether good or bad. She made me feel appreciated and valued. And the thought of Elspeth being taken away meant I’d no longer be valued, appreciated and loved for who I was. Instead, I’d be ostracized, called names and be penalized for who I was. The thought of not having those moments with my dog to take me away from the other was really painful.
As Daddy was threatening me more and more to get rid of Elspeth, my sister came to the rescue. Of course I didn’t think so at the time because all I could see was my beloved dog was being taken away. My sister called me one afternoon when I got home from school. She tried to explain to me there was no way to change Daddy’s mind so it would be better for us to find her a home where we would know she’d be happy. But, I could only hear Elspeth was being taken away from me which wasn’t what I wanted. I did not want to hear anything about her going away. No matter how hard I fought against it, there wasn’t anything I could do to keep her.
One afternoon my sister called to tell me she found a home for Elspeth. It felt like the worst day of my life. My sister kept reassuring me that it was the best for everyone. I wanted to scream, “But it’s not the best for me! What about me!? Doesn’t anyone see me?” My sister told me the gentleman wanted to meet Elspeth that coming Saturday and would take her that day if he liked her. I had no choice but to agree.
That week went by far too quickly. It was Friday night before I knew it and possibly my last night with Elspeth. Daddy was home to make sure I didn’t screw up anything and would actually make the exchange. Daddy tried talking to me but I ignored him. I didn’t want to be around him and spent my Friday night in my room with Elspeth. It truly was the one time he allowed me that time alone. I didn’t sleep the entire night. I just laid in bed holding Elspeth and telling her how much I loved her. I told her I was sorry and hoped she’d forgive me for giving her away. The night didn’t last long enough and morning came way too soon. The gentleman was coming early and while I was waiting for him to arrive I sat on the stairs holding Elspeth and kissing her. I didn’t want to let her go. Daddy walked by a couple of times but thankfully didn’t say a word. I was so angry at him and if my eyes could shoot daggers, they would have.
Around 9am a young looking gentleman walked up to our front door and rang the doorbell. I stayed sitting on the stairs holding Elspeth. Daddy hollered from the kitchen for me to answer the door. I didn’t move nor did I answer him. After the gentleman rang the doorbell again Daddy didn’t say a word to me and went to answer the door.
The gentleman was in his late 20’s. He looked like a nice guy. As soon as Elspeth saw him, all she wanted to do was to greet him. I wanted her to stay with me so I continued to hold her. Daddy told me to let her go. I did. She ran down the stairs and as the gentleman squatted down to her level, she jumped up on him giving him lots of kisses. Elspeth was so excited she ended up pushing the guy to the floor. The more he laughed the more kisses she gave him. There was no doubt in my mind at that point that I was looking at her next owner.
Daddy moved Elspeth off the guy and helped him up. Then he began asking him a series of questions. “You aren’t planning on keeping her outside are you?” and “How do you discipline your dogs?” and “What vet do you use?” Oh, yeah, now he cared? Just the other day he was going to take her to the pound. I was raging mad and all I wanted to do was throw my dad across the room. Daddy interrupted my thought and told me it was time to say goodbye. I gave Elspeth one last kiss and hug as the guy told me I could visit her anytime. I couldn’t watch Elspeth leave. Daddy tried to comfort me but there wasn’t anything he could do except bring Elspeth back.
I visited Elspeth at her new home a couple of times. They called her, Elsie, and she was happy. She had a nice yard to run around and she had a wonderful place to sleep in the house. She seemed comfortable and most of all, loved. The last time I saw her the owner had to call her to come to me. She was sleeping and preferred to stay asleep. I was surprised when she seemed to not recognize me. I realized visiting her would be too hard for me, so I never saw her again.
Literally days after giving Elspeth away, Daddy told me he needed to talk to me. Holy shit, what now? Could he possibly take anything else away from me? Could he possibly take away anything else that gave me security? Well, G-d dammit, he could. He told me his finances were really bad and he couldn’t afford to have an office and home. So, he had the brilliant idea of moving to a nearby town where he had his office. He felt the place was large enough to use one of the rooms as his living quarters. However, the catch was there wasn’t enough room for me. OK, so what the fuck was I supposed to do my loving and dear father? I’m so happy you made sure you had a roof over your head. He then told me we had to be out of our house by June 1st which was only in two months. And guess who was responsible for packing everything? You got it. That would be me because of course Daddy had to work. But don’t worry, Daddy got his due in the way in which I packed. On each box I packed I labeled it from the room it came. So, if I put a whole bunch of dishes in a box, I wrote “kitchen” on the box. Listen, I didn’t know what I was doing and was by no means the organized type. And on top of that I just wanted it done. However, secretly, I loved when Daddy got frustrated when he couldn’t find his stuff. I may have written the room on the box but what the hell was in the box was anyone’s guess. Ha! ha! That was for me to know and for Daddy to find out. Passive aggressive? Who me?
Anyway, where was I going to live? It was nice of Daddy to think of me. So now that Elspeth was gone, he could get rid of me? Could he have made it any clearer he wanted me gone? I just wanted to be a part of a family who loved me unconditionally. Why couldn’t I have that? I often dreamed of being in one of those families.
Daddy told me I’d needed to think about a solution on how I could stay in the same town so I could graduate with my friends. Honestly, did I even have a choice? He clearly had no room for me. Hell, if I lived with him I’d have to sleep in his bed which I was not going to do. G-d help Daddy if he ever had to be responsible for his own family. He always put it on someone else and well, I was his convenient choice. School should have been my priority. It was when Momma was alive. But not with Daddy. You know what my responsibility was with him? My responsibility was to “help” him with any and all things so he could freely go fucking around. Point in case, I not only had to pack up the house but also figure out where I was going to live. Oh yeah and there was that little itty bitty thing called SCHOOL! And by the way Daddy wasn’t going to give me any money for rent to live during my senior year, so I had to think outside of the box. And I really had to HOPE TO G-D someone had the compassion to help me.
The next few weeks after giving Elspeth away were really the hardest of my life. I went to school crying many of the days. I was scared. The feeling of being alone and responsible for only myself was incredibly overwhelming. What was I going to do? How in the fucking hell was I going to find a place to live with no money? What did I know about finding a place? Listen, I HATED crying in front of people so going to school and not having the control to stop crying was the worst thing ever for me. A few of my friends were concerned and asked what was wrong. I told them my problem. One of them suggested I see if there’s a student at our school who’s parents would allow me to live with them for my senior year. It was a great idea but who in the world would agree to have me stay in their home for an entire year? That just seemed so unrealistic.
Getting closer to summertime my sister suggested working at a Jewish camp for the summer. I felt overwhelmed as I knew I couldn’t take on one more task. If I had known which camp and had known what to do, I might have been more inclined. But, my priority was to find a place to live the next year. Oh yeah, and I had to pack up our house. I just can’t even begin to explain the emotions I had built up inside. Even to say I was scared was an understatement. I felt I couldn’t rely on anyone and was in such an incredibly lonely place. That was a terrible gift Daddy gave me. He fed me lies for years and gave me that insecurity to trust no one, not even family. I think the only reason I kept going instead of just killing myself was because I did have this drive to somehow prove Daddy wrong. No matter how often he kicked me down, I seemed to always hold onto this push to keep going. Even if I was on all fours, I kept moving forward. To this day especially as I reflect on what happened to me I don’t know how I did it. I was so young and did not deserve the cards I was dealt. But, it was what it was.
My happiest day was when a family had offered for me to live with them for my Senior year. In fact they lived just down the street from me and their daughter who was also going to be a senior was such a sweet person. Their offer really gave me hope in others. Listen, living with Daddy was like living under a dark cloud. He saw everyone as the enemy and uncaring. So, that was how I learned to view the world too. And then their were these strangers who were willing to help. I was overjoyed.
By mid June (later than he wanted) our house was completely empty and Daddy had moved into his office in the nearby town. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the last house Momma had known and I wanted to stay there a couple of more days. And since we/I had two days before returning the key, I was elated Daddy gave me permission to be able to stay in the empty house for that time. A friend stayed with me and we slept on sleeping bags in the living room. I spent time walking around the empty house remembering the good things that happened and I took a mental picture of each.
When my two days of saying goodbye were at an end and it was time for me to leave another chapter of my life. I walked through the house one last time thinking I’d find a left behind item of Momma’s I could take. All the rooms were empty though and only my memories could fill them. The last room I said goodbye to was our library. It was a room Momma loved. Books for her were a sign of richness as she felt reading gave a person a great wealth of knowledge. However, that wasn’t the memory of that room I would keep so close to me. It would be another one that became so poignant when I got older.
I stood in the middle of the room and started to remember that day. It was a few days before Momma went into the hospital (where she stayed until her death). She asked me to help her walk to our spare bedroom which was our library. The tumor on her spine was making it very difficult for her to move her legs. As I was helping her by holding her arm, I asked what she needed. She said she wanted to show me something. I helped her sit on the couch. Her face grimaced from the pain but she never complained. She asked me to get the family photos because she wanted to show them to me. I was surprised because Momma never did this with me. Well, at least not so formally. Starting with the first album we went page by page as she told me about each relative. She shared many stories that I had not heard. I was confused by her sudden need to tell me things I wouldn’t remember later, but it seemed important to her. See, Momma never told me the seriousness of her illness. I did not know she was dying. Even though I didn’t know, I could feel my time with her was fleeting. Only later did I realize it was the last time Momma and I would talk and the last time we smiled together.