My parents were a dashing, young military couple, and life was good. Father tells stories and smiles wistfully when he speaks of it now, a half-century later. My memories unfortunately began when it was horribly wrong.
I was born in 1959. I was the second of five children.
We soon discovered Mother was a problem. When Father learned he was to do a tour of duty in Vietnam in 1965, he took the precaution of moving us to Louisiana to be near his family so they could help. While Father was in Vietnam, we were fighting another war at home. Mother’s abuse and neglect surfaced. She drank more and often left us alone at night. When she was there, she would be entertaining one of our many “uncles,” as she called them.
At the ages of 5 and 6, I found myself trying to be mother to the rest of my brothers and sisters. I was the oldest female and was given the responsibility of taking care of the younger ones, as well as overseeing my older brother, who Mother never thought could take care of himself.
We were living in Louisiana the first time Mother left us alone for days. I can still smell the urine-soaked bedding and laundry permeating those overcast days. The baby, Kelly, was still in diapers, and Brian and Sissy both had trouble with wetting the bed.
I remember being desperate enough to use the bathtub as a washtub to attempt to provide clean sheets and clothing for us. Somehow I felt if we were clean, we would be safe. I could never quite get us clean, and we were never quite safe either.
Though I was given the responsibility of caring for all the children when Mother was gone, I had very little control over what my older brother did. Consequently, Brian crawled out of his bedroom window when I wasn’t looking and found himself in a near-fatal accident. I can still hear the screeching tires outside. I threw open the front door to see Brian laying in the street covered in blood.
I was unable to make a sound; the shock of what had just happened overtook me. A truck had hit Brian! Terror gripped me. I quickly herded Sissy, Robbie and Kelly into a bedroom closet.
After the screaming sirens stopped, I remember a knock on our front door and a man’s voice calling for us: “Open the door!” Kelly was afraid of the dark and would not stay quiet. I finally opened the closet door to find a house full of police officers wandering through, trying to find our parents. One police officer said he was going to take care of Brian and that he would be OK.
I overheard them ask each other how anyone could live in such filth with no food in the house. They kept asking where our parents were. I told them that Mother had gone to get milk and bread at the grocery store. The officers wanted to know how long she had been gone, and I just told them not very long. If Mother had only been gone a day or two, that would have been the truth to me.
They told us we should just stay put until they returned. I heard one of the officers say he was going to get an order to remove us from our home. After the ambulance had taken Brian to the hospital and the police had left, I took Sissy, Robbie and Kelly, and we set out walking down the road away from the house.
I remember wondering where to go and knowing that I was not going to let them take us away. We walked several miles and eventually came to Great-Uncle Ernest’s house. He greeted us at the screen door, cursing our mother. He sat smoking angrily at the kitchen table and told us we were welcome to stay the night or however long it took to find our mother.
Mother was later found at a local bar and returned to us at Uncle Ernest’s house drunk and inconvenienced by the near death of her son. I hated to leave with her drunk, but I knew that someone had to look after my brothers and sisters. In the car, she screamed at me, saying I should have seen to it that Brian didn’t crawl out of the window. “You are a very bad girl!” she yelled. “Now your father’s family will have something to gossip about!”
Brian returned in a couple of days. He still bears a very frightening scar as a reminder.
Mother rewarded us for our behavior by leaving us in the car night after night while she caroused at the local bars. We spent many cold nights waiting in the car outside of bars. I can still hear Kelly crying from hunger or a wet diaper. Robbie would be bouncing from one end of the car to the other, Sissy would be off in a corner sucking her thumb, and Brian would be cursing Mother for keeping us imprisoned in the car night after night. My primary thoughts were of getting Kelly to stop crying and somehow getting us cleaned up from the smell of urine. The best I could do was to settle for letting Kelly suck on my hand and silently praying for Mother to come soon.
Not long after that, we got word that Father would be returning home from Vietnam. The day he was to come home, Mother got into a huge fight with one of her man friends. This seemed to have little effect on my anticipation of Father’s return. I just knew that now we would be fed, clothed and safe.
Excerpt from A Forest of Doors: An Orphan's Quest by L.A. (Lynnann) Muse. Muse might never have imagined her broken childhood would become a testimony of hope to others. In searching for God’s plan for her life, she was led to share her story in her new release (Innovo Publishing, LLC, August 2013).