As a child, I used to not understand love. It was something that didn’t enter my world unless it was attached to something else. There was a neighbor; he loved his fancy riding lawn mower. I never knew him, and he didn’t know I existed; but my mother would point out the window and say, “He loves that lawn mower.” As verbs go, it meant little to me, but I slowly gathered that it was a positive emotion for the person who felt it.
There was a figurine on the bookshelf. It was from my maternal grandmother (the same woman who couldn’t be bothered with my mother or me). My mother said often that she “loved” it. It was porcelain, a lady in a big dress and bonnet, like Scarlet from Gone with the Wind. I often wanted to look at it up close. I had the odd idea that a real girl might be trapped in it (not so weird for a little boy). I wanted to see if her expression was happy or sad. Did she know my mother loved her? So several times, she caught me trying to climb up to look at it.
One day, it was broken and she assumed I did it. I knew I hadn’t, but there was no way to prove it, and I didn’t think that way, anyhow. There was no defiant standing up for myself. When my father came home, I admitted to breaking it when he asked, because he was angry. He was usually angry. The look of anger and disappointment on my mother’s face was terrible. I had to clean up the mess, but I found out one thing: the lady had been smiling, sort of one of those serene smiles. I palmed her face, a tiny happy expression painted in black on crazed porcelain. I hid it in my room.
That night, my mother didn’t come in to read with me. She used to get in the bed and read out loud. My father said she was sick when I crept downstairs to ask, and then threatened me for asking. I fled back upstairs and went to their room. Her bottle of medicine was on the nightstand; I later learned it was called wine.
My father called me downstairs and told me to do stuff, lots of little stuff. It was odd. He never wanted me around. The whole time he watched me, and I was nervous; I thought he’d tell me I was doing things wrong. Finally, he told me to go up to bed. I woke in the night and saw him standing in my doorway. I got up and waited, expecting him to tell me to do something. Then he said, “I broke it.” Somehow I knew he meant the figurine. He told me he broke it because she loved it, and I should be careful, because he could break me too. He smiled and said, “It’s the little things.” I didn’t say a word, just nodded that I understood him, as I’d been taught.
He told me to go to sleep, but I only pretended, because he stood there watching me for a long time and it scared me. When he finally left, I fished the little porcelain face out of its hiding place. I set it on the cover of one of my big books and stared at it. The smile was the same – serenity, peace. I picked up another book and crushed it into white power. The smile was gone, but I didn’t feel the same way about it anymore.
Something had changed in the house, but I didn’t understand what it was or what it meant. It was vague, a menace like an aftertaste. I started having nightmares about being pushed off of a shelf. I’d shatter into so many pieces, but the circle of my white face with its black paint expression was always whole, its serene smile an artistic lie. I felt these dreams intensely; I’d even wake up in pain.
That next week, my mother waited for my father to go to work and then she gathered me up and we drove to a shop. She put me down inside, and I found myself surrounded by porcelain figurines, and even dolls – some as big as me. They stared with blank eyes, and smiled serenely. I don’t remember deciding or making a choice, I just remember my mother screeching at me to stop and the angry shouts of the shopkeeper. When I did stop, I was holding a wooden cane a gentleman doll had been holding. I was surrounded by porcelain shards, bits of cloth, and white powder.
My mother made me drop the cane, and then she grabbed my shoulders and shook me. She asked me why I did it. They didn’t understand that I was telling a truth too big for me to understand yet. All I said was, “Little things.”
© W.R.R. 7/25/2011
For all survivors of any form of rape or abuse; you are not alone. Speak out. Find your path to healing.