Poison Fruit Part 2: The Antidote is Friends
By Virginia Carraway Stark
I had put up with no end of indignities and outright slavery in my life but I was getting fed up and I began to lash out.
The first victory that I had was the day that I refused to pour my Dad a cup of coffee.
I had been trained to jump up and get him coffee as soon as he needed it and to start a pot as soon as I saw him pull in the driveway. He would only accept coffee in pure white cups. He claimed that any other cup made the coffee taste ‘soapy’ and would throw a temper tantrum if his cup wasn’t clean and ready for him. It had been so my entire life.
One day, he raised his mug towards me, usually that was all that was required to make me jump up and get the pot of coffee. There were rules for getting the coffee pot too. I had to carry it in my left hand and balance the piping hot mouth of the pot on my right index finger. Always keeping my tread light of course and walking gracefully, I would pour the cup of coffee to the exact level he liked his cup poured to and then return the pot back to the coffee maker in the same way I had delivered it.
He waived his cup at me again and I refused to acknowledge it. Finally he used my name, a hint of irritation in his voice.
I lifted my chin and looked him straight in the eyes and said the hardest word I had ever said or would ever say in my entire life.
His jaw dropped and he looked at me as a red flush crept up from his neck and onto his face, he rose to his feet, “What did you say to me?”
I was shaking all over but I kept my spine straight and my chin up and repeated in a clear voice that only trembled around the edges, “I said, ‘no’, Daddy.”
We stood there for a moment, our eyes gauging each other. I knew one thing and one thing only in that moment: I was NOT going to get him his coffee. He wasn’t a stupid man and he saw the resolve in my eyes. With a grunt he went to the kitchen and poured himself a coffee. My heart was pounding and I was shaking like a leaf. I forced myself to continue sitting with him and Judy for the rest of whatever television we had been watching before excusing myself and going to my room.
He didn’t say anything about that day to me for many years. We both knew that something had changed between us at that moment. He had pushed his abuse too far and I had stood up to him. Most amazingly of all, I had stood up to him and I wasn’t punished for it.
By the time I was fifteen and had been worked into exhaustion, starved and diagnosed with a bleeding ulcer I decided that I couldn’t take a lot more from him or Judy. I knew that something was building, it was an event that would push me too far but I didn’t know what it was. All I could do was sit and wait.
There had already been more incidents of a similar nature to the refusal to pour coffee episode. One of them was about my writing. I was writing essentially fan fiction about the X-Files, Law and Order and some original creative things that I lost when I ran away. Judy went through the pages of my writing and then showed them to my nearly illiterate father, ‘read’ them to him and convinced him that this proved that I was involved in a cult and also probably insane.
I refused to explain myself, I told them I wasn’t in a cult (who has time to be in a cult when you’re being worked to death by your parents?). There was nothing to explain, it was early creative works. If Ms. Watts had been there she would have understood.
Ms. Watts was not there. Judy and Dad were. They were screaming at me, shoving my the pages of my writing in my face and demanding answer. I grabbed the pages from them and threw them out the window and then tried to jump out after them. Judy yelled, “Grab her, quick!”
My Dad grabbed me but I wiggled free and bolted for the front door. My Dad roared with rage and ran after me, catching me in front porch. My Dad grabbed me by the hair and pulled me away from the front door. He grabbed me by my throat and bent me backwards over the deep freezer and lifted up his arm to punch me in the face. Judy grabbed him by the arm and whispered fiercely, “Don’t do it, she wants you to so she can tell on us.”
My Dad dropped his hold on my neck for a second and I wiggled away and ran out the front door.
I didn’t know where I was running to. I glanced behind me, the door had bounced open and I could see my Dad and Judy frantically arguing over what to do. I had precious moments granted to me by their indecision. Without a plan or thought I ran to a trailer directly across from our place and pounded on the door.
I was desperate, frantic and I cried and begged for someone to please please please open the door. I was sobbing and a beautiful old lady answered the door. She saw the state I was in and without a word took me into her house and locked the door behind us. Weeping, I told her about what had happened, she saw red welts on my neck and called the police. She put on a pot of tea and when my Dad came to the door and asked in a completely civil and normal tone to have me returned to him, she told him ‘no’ and closed the door on his face. She hid me in her spare room until the police arrived. When the police finally showed up it was several hours later and I was much calmer. The police called me a liar to my face and returned me to my father’s custody. My Dad walked me across the street with a firm hand on my shoulder and a grim but smug look on his face.
That was when I was still barely fifteen. It would be almost a year before the big incident and the last time I would talk to my Dad for years.
The clouds were building as were the cruelties.
It was another late night in the restaurant and my Dad was out of town until later that night. I didn’t live in the trailer anymore but I went over to ask Judy a question about where something or other was.
When I got to the trailer it was oddly quiet except for the sound of the bathtub running. The trailer had the strange smell to it that I had come to identify with Judy on a bender. I walked to the bathroom, the door was open. Water was starting to pour out into the hallway.
The bathroom was a big room with a large corner jet tub, it was from here that the water was overflowing. My half-sister Katy was floating face first in the overflowing tub. Her eyes, large and blue, were bobbing up and down in the water. Her mouth was submerged and she couldn’t cry for help but her eyes had all the appeal I needed to see. I grabbed her naked toddler body out of the water and wrapped her in a towel, clearing her lungs with the CPR training I learned back in Dawson Creek for babysitting.
A dam had burst inside me. I was finished. This was utter bullshit.
For once in her life, Katy wasn’t crying or screaming. I, however, was in an ice cold rage. It didn’t take me long to find Judy. She was passed out, half on and half off the couch. I stood over her with her dripping wet precious daughter in my arms, pure hatred oozing from my every pore. Groggily she opened her eyes and gave her stupid drunkard’s smile.
“You almost killed your daughter, you stupid waste of life,” I said coldly.
Her face turned angry, “You’re a liar! You lie! You’re a liar!” She screeched at me and staggered to my feet.
I pushed Katy into Judy’s arms, and Judy fell backward onto the couch. She let Katy roll out of her arms and got back to her feet. I was already walking towards the door, “Where are you going?” She demanded.
“Fuck this. Fuck you all. I’m done. I’m leaving and I’m never coming back,” I said the words calmly and with profound certainty. I was speaking the truth.
That was the first time I had ever sworn at an adult in my life. Judy bounded after me with the sudden speed drunks have. My hand was on the door knob. I could feel the cold metal slide away from my fingers as she grabbed me by the neck and pulled me away. She pushed me against the wall, her strength was such that she lifted my feet off the ground. No one was there to stop her fist from impacting my face.
After, she seemed stunned for a moment, she stood there with her hands limply at her side. I grabbed the doorknob and ran down the stairs. It was my final year of school and I wanted to run to the basement of the Sternwheeler to grab my homework. I went through the back door of the restaurant and my Dad was there. He was already in a rage. The rage was not about Judy, or Katy, but about what I had decided to do.
He knew. Somehow he knew I was leaving. We stared at each other for a moment, it was that same moment as when I had refused to pour the coffee. I was determined to leave. No violence, no threats, no promises could keep me. I was older now, nearly sixteen, I was more resolved than I had ever been in my entire life.
“I’m leaving. Don’t try to stop me.”
“But- but- I bought you a computer,” He said in possibly the lamest retort ever in the history of retorts.
“Your wife punched me. She’s drunk and she would have killed the baby if I hadn’t been here to rescue her. So fuck you. Fuck your computer. And don’t even think of touching me because if you lay a finger on me I swear to God that I will fucking kill you.”
His hands dropped and he took several steps away from be. I called to the cook who had been watching all this, “Bob, I’m going to get my homework from downstairs. If Dad follows me or anything else happens, please, call the police immediately.”
Bob nodded. He was my friend, another person who was sent by the universe to make me smile at my darkest moments and laugh when all was lost. He was my ally and if he hadn’t been there that night I’m not certain if my Dad would have backed off. I don’t know if I would still be alive. How much was my will and how much was my Dad’s fear of being caught out?
Friends. Thank all the gods that be for friends. I walked to my friend Amanda’s house. Her Dad was a big huge biker and he knew when my Dad showed up at his door what the score was. When the police came I had friends who filled in the blanks when I lost my ability to express the insanity I was living in. It was too bad. Too crazy. Who would ever believe it?
Well, Amanda and her Mom and Dad believed it. They protected me, they gave me sanctuary and they gave me their acceptance. They helped me work with social services and I sued for emancipation. I won it. Before I was sixteen I was my own guardian.
I thanked the family who had adopted me into their home and told them that it was time for me to find my own way. Amanda’s mom cried a little and told me I was always welcome to stay with them.
I had learned something though, I had learned that I was wild and free. I learned that I deserved more than to be a victim. The price for these truths was that I had to make my own way. I had learned that anything short of total freedom is slavery.
I got a job working at the local diner. The people who ran it were good to me, more friends that universe put in my path. They worked me hard and they paid me. They paid me real money for each and every hour I worked for them. It seemed like heaven in front of that greasy grill.
Bob, the cook, gave me the only bedroom in his tiny apartment. I paid my half of the rent when I started to get paid and Bob was not only a friend but a gentleman as well. He never laid a finger on me, never made a move on me, never. Nothing. He was a big brother to me and I was his baby sister. He just loved me and helped me when I need it most.
Bob used to live in the basement of the Sternwheeler with me. He had a room and I had a hastily erected wall without a door that was supposed to give me ‘privacy’. He had moved out only a few days after I had and found the place. It didn’t have anything in it. He gave me the mattress and he took a sleeping bag into the living room.
I was still going to school but I got to go home everyday at closing time. I could be doing my homework by ten or at worst eleven at night and most amazingly of all: I didn’t have to work every day. I went to the secondhand store and bought a wok and a spatula that I used as a combination frying pan and soup pot. I saved every penny I had. I kept going to school, I stayed on the honor role and graduated in the top of my class.
There was one piece of revenge I took on my father at this point.
All my life he had talked about how it was his dream to see his children’s graduation ceremonies. He said nothing meant more to him in life than that. I refused to go to my own graduation. Even after my Dad swore he wouldn’t show up for it when I told my teachers I wouldn’t be attending I refused to go. I knew he would find a way to sneak a glimpse and he didn’t deserve to feel proud. He had in no way contributed to me finishing school or to the grades I had got. The ceremony meant something to him but nothing to me.
The only thing it meant to me was that my time near him was at an end. I was not only emancipated, I was free from school, free to do whatever I wanted in this huge, amazing world. I took all my savings and moved to Ontario. I had been accepted to the University of Toronto with a scholarship and with my advanced placement courses I already had the start of a degree.
When I left Sicamous with yet another friend and we drove across the country together, I left all of this behind me.
My life changed once and for all. I had refused to be a victim and I had emancipated myself. That is when the adventures of my life would begin in earnest. All the rest was just a prelude. The symphony of my life would be something that I composed… with a lot of help from my friends.