“Do not just slay your demons,
dissect them and find what they’ve been feeding on.”
The Man Frozen in Time
At midnight, the grandfather clock announced the time. It was old, worn and grossly out-of-tune, but never missed a beat.
Ding, dong, — clang. It repeated itself twelve times representing each hour.
Trying to compete with the noise, the young mother’s wailing cries echoed throughout the house.
“Curtis! Wake up! My water broke!”
Startled, her husband woke from a deep, restful sleep. The sound of the clock with its irritating melody, combined with yells from his wife, confused him in his state of absolute tranquility. In the near dark, he tried to untangle himself from the covers to rescue whatever was in distress. Instead, he fell to the floor with a heavy thunk.
She’d been awake for a while and spent the time cleaning herself, then gathered a few toiletries from the bathroom.
With the continued dinging, donging and clanging, she yelled again.
“Curtis! Did you hear me?”
Unscathed, other than his pride, he mumbled, “Dammit to hell. Again? What? What is it? Another false alarm?”
He conjured a deep, surprised response while lying on the floor.
“What do you mean your water broke?”
Panicked, she flipped on the glaring bedroom light and packed a small leather suitcase.
“The baby’s coming. We have to get to the hospital… now!”
Cinderella thought she had it tough, this was no match.
The clock went silent, and Curtis lifted himself from the floor, jumping on one foot attempting to put on his pants… hiding and stifling a yawn so she wouldn’t see. Curtis scratched his head in confusion, though he shouldn’t be —it had been this way the entire length of the pregnancy; one problem after another. Groggy, he staggered around to find a shirt, socks, and shoes.
Digging through the dresser, he said, “I thought you weren’t due until July.”
Worried and concerned, she reached for her husband’s hand. Swollen with a baby and in pain, took a moment and dropped to her knees. Curtis stood by his wife. She let go of his hand, clasped hers together and prayed.
“Please, Lord, don’t let the baby come too early.”
Ignoring her prayers, he blurted out, “Have you seen my tie?”
Forgoing her sincere prayer, she went from the holiness of a saint to a woman from the underworld in two seconds flat.
“Forget the damn tie!”
She reached for the dresser and pulled herself up from the floor and returned to her small suitcase, snapped it shut and waddled toward the door.
“We have to go.”
This whole ordeal seemed like a sign of things to come for the yet unborn child.
They arrived at the hospital within minutes and rushed her to delivery. Her husband was at her side but whisked away and ordered to the waiting room.
In those days, women’s rights were not a topic, and the hospital delivery room was a metaphor for that sentiment. It was cruel at best, barbaric at worst. Fathers were never allowed in or near the delivery room. Any communication about the progress was only back and forth communication with an orderly or nurse. The doctors were gods and never questioned, and the patient intuitively remained subservient.
All the humiliation and embarrassment young women went through to have a baby, almost made motherhood not worth the trade. At most hospitals, there is a psych ward somewhere around, and I’m certain many of these new mothers got to spend a few days there.
After several hours of labor, it was time. The baby was as eager to come out as much as the mother was to keep it in.
The doctor was in position and gave the final order.
She strained and screamed so loud that her husband heard the cries all the way down in the waiting room. He paced back and forth and was biting his fingernails down to the nub. The screaming stopped, and all he heard was an unnerving silence —followed with more nail biting.
The baby saw its first ray of light, but lifeless.
“We have a blue baby!” cried a nurse.
The doctor cut the cord and took the infant over to a nearby warmer and did a quick assessment, swept the mouth and suctioned the nostrils. He removed his surgical gloves, and like rubber bands, shot them into a wastebasket.
“That’s all I can do. Nurse, call me if anything changes.”
“Yes, doctor. We will get the mother ready to move.”
“Good. And you,” — pointing to an orderly — “clean up this mess.”
The doctor glared at him.
“Sorry. Yes, doctor.”
As soon as the doctor left, a nurse muttered, “What an asshole.”
After some tense moments, the baby’s skin tone returned to normal, then the nurse offered comforting news.
“Don’t worry, everything is fine. The cord may have gotten tangled around the neck.”
An aide leaned in close to the new mother and added, “He may be a jerk, but he wouldn’t have left if there was a problem.”
Another nurse finished cleaning the newborn, and the mother asked, “May I hold my baby?”
“In a few minutes. I need to dress and wrap her.”
“Yes, Mrs. Reynolds, you had a little girl.”
That was the first time she got the news the baby was a female.
The smell of ether lingered, and Mrs. Reynolds was still woozy from its effect and laid flat on blood-stained bedding. The nurse fluffed her pillow then placed the baby on her chest.
“Be careful, she’s delicate and weak. You can have a few minutes, then we have to take her away.”
She cradled and gently stroked her hair, then whispered, “Hello, Clair. Happy birthday.”
Two of the nurses were mothers themselves and shared a moment of joy with Mrs. Reynolds, but that joy was soon interrupted. While the nurses were celebrating, a tech entered the delivery room with some test results, and it revealed the baby was Rh incompatible, meaning the newborn’s blood type was positive; the mother’s, negative. It can be a lethal cocktail.
Everyone was quick into action, including the doctor who returned to handle this emergency. Treatment options were limited in those days, and many newborns died because of it. Clair showed symptoms of anemia and was becoming jaundice. To avoid further damage, the doctor ordered a blood transfusion and took Clair away from her mother. Two hours later, they sent Clair to another room for the procedure. Not a pleasant way to start day one.
With the transfusion complete, all that remained was an empty bottle of blood still hanging above the young patient. The IV needle was removed leaving a few drops of blood behind on her tiny arm.
Clair got introduced to the world with little fanfare, but came a few weeks early, and by all standards in Nineteen-fifty-seven was premature.
She remained in critical condition for several days, and her chances of making it out of the hospital remained thin. The troubles she endured, literally began at birth, but fought and won her first of many battles to come. She learned as an infant the skills to survive, and it would be those skills Clair employed for the years that lie ahead.
The best picture, “Around the World in Eighty Days” got the Hollywood nod, and Elvis Presley was “all shook up” the year Clair was born. The best picture and top song seemed symbolic for what was to become her life. She was shaken emotionally and instead of an eighty-day trip; her resolve took many years.
Clair was an only child, except for her brother.
She had an upbringing like everyone else; nice house in a nice neighborhood, on a street with other nice houses with other nice neighbors. But in silence, there was an abundance of torment from a distant and domineering father, and an arrogant, head stuck in the sand mother. Three months after she came home from the hospital, it wasn’t long before the “new car smell” began to wane.
Her father was an insurance salesman; mother stayed at home and treated her like an interruption and nothing more. The relationship with her mother was strained even as a young girl, and she never understood why. Psychologists might argue it was jealousy. Any attention Clair’s father had for his wife, shifted away and placed on a stranger. Shortly after birth, an aunt was overheard saying that her father adored her and told everyone he knew that she looked like a little doll. To counter the adoration, her mother reminded Clair many times she was “an accident,” which was a polite way of saying “not wanted.” The affection her father once had, soon wore thin; she felt more like a pet than his daughter, but he still thought it was cute when she learned to walk and talk.
Years later Clair commented, “Yeah, like a trained parrot.”
Clair had an older brother who had quite the reputation with the ladies, some younger than Clair. Edward was spawned by Satan himself, but to say he was evil, would have been a compliment; he was beyond evil.
Edward was fourteen and remained out in the world, ‘feeling his oats’ as some would say. Her idiot parents weren’t aware of his ‘goings on,’ but heard rumors. At eight years old, Clair would be his next victim. She became part of the nourishment from his wicked feed trough and a target of his sick love interests.
Clair was on her way home from school one day, and a pack of older grade school girls approached her.
Their leader, Lucy, moved in close, and with a snarled lip asked, “How’s your brother the lover?”
Clair didn’t understand the meaning or what it suggested.
“I have to go now.”
She skipped down the sidewalk, then turned, smiled and waved.
On the way home, she hummed the Happy Birthday song. It wasn’t her birthday, but she loved the tune. Her little dress floated, and her blond, pig-tailed hair swung back and forth with each skip.
Halfway to her destination, Clair stopped for a moment, confused and wondered, “Why is he my brother the lover? Oh well,” then skipped the rest of the way home.
At the time Lucy made the comment, Edward had not touched Clair, only the others. Though she didn’t understand its meaning, her time was running short and was close to finding out.
As Clair got older, she continued to live with confusion, but in her world, everything seemed normal and had no way of gauging the difference. As a young teen, and a consequence of that confusion, the relationship with her father, what little they had, drifted further apart, and again, she never knew why.
“Does he love me? Does he care?”
If he did, it didn’t show.
Clair would see a father holding his little girl’s hand, witnessed their happiness and said to herself, “I wish he was my daddy.”
Mr. Reynolds traveled for his company, sometimes weeks at a time, and never attended a single tennis tournament or school play. After a while, whatever disappointment she felt, over time, disappointment had no meaning. They were more like strangers, and it was most evident after the abuse from Edward. It was as if he knew but never said a thing. The thought he might have known and did nothing hurt her. Some of those memories she could recall, but most remained tucked away in a fog, and any love lost between them was now resentment.
At seventeen, soon after graduating high school, Clair moved out and got her own apartment miles across town away from her family. Edward still lived at home and was useless. The scorn toward her brother was an understatement and hated they breathed the same air.
Clair was not wealthy by any means but took care of herself with the help of a small trust fund her grandmother left her and two cousins. She also had a part-time job and sold a few pieces of her art for a few bucks, mostly to friends and relatives.
It was a chilly, fall day, complimented with an occasional thunderstorm with flashes of lightning filtering through the windows. It was perfect weather to work on one of her paintings. Clair had been pondering what direction her current project was heading and studied it for hours. Interrupting her thoughts, the phone rang and took the call.
Hearing it was her brother, she asked in a deliberate and sarcastic tone.
“Yes, Edward, what do you want?”
He announced that their dad was dead, and said, “Dad is dead,” then hung up.
She laid the phone down, dropped in her chair, and allowed those three words to wash over her. Clair’s emotions seemed limited to only three: mad, sad and angry. She was hard-pressed to figure out which one and hadn’t a clue how to react.
The first thing to pop into her head was, “Wow.”
There was only one hospital in the area and figured that was where they would have taken him. When Clair arrived, she asked the volunteer at the information desk where Mr. Curtis Reynolds could be found.
She punched a few keystrokes on the computer and pointed.
“He is all the way down the hall in emergency. When you get there, I’ll buzz you in.”
As Clair walked away, all the volunteer could say was, “I’m very sorry, ma’am.”
Clair stopped, turned and looked at her. There wasn’t much to say except to tell her thanks.
“What can you say at a time like this?”
And tucked way down deep inside, her next thought was eerily reminiscent of her childhood.
“Who knows, who cares.”
She got to the entrance, heard the door unlock, then slammed open the swinging double doors like she owned the place. Within a few steps, she heard voices coming from the first room on the right. It was a grieving room, and Clair found her mother and brother embracing each other. Clair walked passed them and went to the E.R. intake desk instead and asked what happened. It was reported he was killed in a hunting accident.
The intake clerk knew a little about the family, and her thoughts were, “With this crowd, he most likely jumped in front of the bullet.”
An unsmiling nurse approached Clair.
“May I help you?”
Clair wanted to see her father, but the snotty bitch with a shitty attitude suggested, “Not now,” saying it was still “quite a mess.”
“Why not? Why can’t I see him?”
Put out, Nurse Bitch let out a disgusted sigh.
“We’ll get him cleaned up as best we can, then you can see him if you’d like.”
She continued in an exasperated tone.
“But if I were you, I’d wait until the mortician straightens things out, and puts him back together. His head has more pieces than a jigsaw puzzle.”
Under normal circumstances, most would be offended at such callousness, but not Clair.
“I understand. I’ll just wait and see him at the funeral home.”
She walked out, turned back and asked in a raised voice, “Nurse?”
“Yes, what is it?”
“Have you ever heard of Dale Carnegie?”
“No, I don’t believe I have.”
Clair said loud enough for all to hear, “No shit!”
The day of the funeral, the weather was still crap. It was perfect to draw and paint, but inappropriate to bury the dead —then again, maybe not. Instead of a funeral chapel with a private family room, they held it at a regular church with all the trappings; big cross, big statues, big stained glass windows and rows and rows of pews. Family and close friends were paraded to the front ones, and Clair was the last arrival. The smell of death filled the air, and the scent of the lilies and carnations crowded her nostrils. The blend of the flowers seemed exclusive only to a funeral, leaving no doubt this was the right place. As she made her way to the assigned seating, she looked around.
“Good crowd,” were her thoughts, then took a seat.
Another one popped into her head, “One down, two more to go.”
Clair sat on the right side near an exit door, and her mother and brother sat opposite, separated by a few others. As the service was getting under way, Clair shed a few crocodile tears for her mother’s sake, and by God, she leaned forward and checked. Clair also threw in two dramatic sobs to be on the safe side, then drew a sketch of the casket on the blank, back side of the program.
To be fair, Clair was shocked when she heard the news and a little sad, but most of her feelings remained stuck in neutral. She didn’t pay too much attention to her father, but her eyes stayed fixed on the casket.
“That thing must have cost a fortune.”
At the end of the service, she got up, marched to the front of the church and stood by her father as a show of respect, because that was what you were supposed to do. She noticed how good he looked, aside from the patch on his forehead hiding the bullet hole.
“Those ghouls did a great job,” went through her mind.
Then whispered, “Let’s see how good.”
She was tempted to roll him over to see where it exited, but decided it might be rude.
Clair stood there a few seconds, gave him a single pat on the chest and said, “Bye, Dad. Have fun.”
After saying her final farewell, she turned and walked toward her mother. She ignored Edward then stopped and said flatly, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
A moment later, she retreated toward an exit.
Her mother spun around in the pew and shouted, “He was your father for Christ’s sake!”
Everyone in the chapel sat in shock, but Clair kept walking and waved from behind.
A few weeks after the funeral, her mother was having “one of those days,” thinking of her late husband. She was sitting in the breakfast area, both elbows on the table, wine glass in one hand, a burning cigarette in the other. Clair stopped by to get a stored painters smock from her old room. Her mother looked at her as if in a hypnotic trance. A trail of dried tears lined her face, muddied by dark makeup.
She extinguished her cigarette and gulped the last of the wine.
“I wish it had been you instead of your father.”
Her mother tilted the wine glass up as high as she could to get the last drop.
“Just get what you came for and leave me alone.”
Clair had nothing else to say. As requested, she gathered her things and left.
It’s hard to imagine comments like that coming from a mother, but aware she was upset and blew it off. Those around them knew there wasn’t any love lost between the two. Her mother later apologized despite the lack of affection. Clair accepted it with about the same amount of emotion. Though their differences separated them, the “wish it were you” comment lingered in her head, and it stung for a long time.