Friday, November 13, 2009

Siblings, Part 2: Danielle

Danielle, two years younger than Katrina and three years younger than me, grew up frightened. Unlike me, the pugilistic one, and Katrina, the obedient one, Danielle was the hidden one. When we would have our inevitable sibling squabbles, minor compared to most children (after all, we needed the 8-pack), sometimes Danielle would side with me, sometimes with Katrina. When Ma went on a rampage, however, she was nowhere to be seen. Years later, we learned that she had found the perfect hiding spot. At the end of the huge, long, narrow, walk-in closet in the bedroom of Dad and Ma, there was a wooden cedar chest. Danielle was small, and she could easily squeeze behind it without anyone knowing she was there. Since Ma had plenty of other children around to rampage upon, she rarely noticed that Danielle was not standing in line for her beating. (Years later, Danielle's current husband once -- and only once -- raised his voice to her. It took him two hours to find her after that: she was still trembling in the closet when he discovered her whereabouts. He told me that he has never raised his voice again when he realized the psychological connection Danielle made between a raised voice and the trauma of her childhood.)

When caught by Ma, Danielle had a unique way of managing her fear: fainting. She seemed able to faint upon command. Sense a beating coming? Danielle was already crumpled on the floor -- no need for any human hand to crumple her. One time I suggested that I might tell Ma about Pop's attempted rapes, and just the thought of what Ma would do was too much for Danielle: yes, she fainted.

A future nurse (actually, currently working cheerfully as a charge nurse in a large hospital), Danielle's nursing skills were honed in her elementary school years. She was very protective of her three younger brothers, always watching over them, and in particular, tending to their wounds. When Dad stabbed Rollie, it was not Ma who bandaged his wounds, it was Danielle.

Like me, Danielle found school to be an oasis in an emotional wasteland. At school, she was confirmed as a person of worth. In high school, she was class secretary, and she actively participated in a number of clubs. We never knew how much teachers knew and did not know about the way in which we were beaten at home. However, we wondered if the principal might not have known something was going on, or perhaps he was just very fond of Danielle and knew our family was very poor. For whatever reason, sometime during Danielle's high school years, he asked Ma and Dad to let him and his wife, who taught home economics at the high school (in spite of my incapacity to be homemakerly, she was one of my favorite teachers), adopt Danielle. He promised to put her through college. While we would not have liked to have lost Danielle from the 8-pack, we rejoiced that she might be able to get out from what her future husband referred to as "the burning house." We were all disappointed when Dad and Ma refused to let our kind principal have Danielle.

So Danielle continued to live in the burning house with the rest of us. As soon as she was legally old enough, she married. However, that husband was abusive, too, as sometimes happens in situations like ours. However, Danielle was strong enough to walk away from that marriage -- fortunately, before they had any children. Later, she remarried a wonderful Cherokee Indian named Bill and became a nurse. They raised two children together on the reservation, and Bill would not let Ma come near them although Danielle did return to Maine with the rest of us two years ago to celebrate Ma's 80th birthday. (Forgiveness may have come late, but it came.)

As for Danielle's childhood experience, Bill wrote a very descriptive poem about it. Although the age when he married Danielle was exaggeratedly young in the poem (that's called poetic license) and all of us in the 8-pack, not just Danielle, escaped the burning house (more poetic license), the poem pointedly and poignantly reflects the first 18 years of each of our lives, including Danielle's. I included it in a posting on Mahlou Musings, but assuming that many of the readers are not the same, here it is again:

"The Burning House"
by William Smith
copyright 2009

I dreamed a dream of a burning house
With brothers and sisters and a cold bitter spouse.
The halls were all crooked, the doors were ajar.
I heard all their cries from the road in my car.

I put on the brakes and came to a stop
While an old jackrabbit went hippity hop.
I looked back again, and the house was ablaze.
The people inside just looked in a daze.

The curtains were tattered, the roof was not straight.
The hinges were knocked off the broken front gate.
The paint was all weathered, and the shutters hung loose.
A shadow on the barn door looked like a noose.

A kid outside shouted, "There's a fire there, you see".
But Mama kept screaming, "Come back here to me".
"No, I cannot, ‘cause your house is on fire".
But nobody listened as the flames grew still higher.

Once in a while a child would run out,
But Mama and Papa would just scream and shout.
The kid in the yard would utter a scream
As a child ran back in as if in a dream.

Soon the house burned right to the ground.
The kid in the yard made not a sound.
I opened the door, and she sat on the seat.
She didn't look back because of the heat.

I stepped on the gas, and we sped away.
I opened my mouth, but what can you say?
"They had to go back," was her soft reply.
All of them chose their way to die.

I turned on the light; she was just seventeen.
She was the prettiest girl I'd ever seen.
I'll never forget the night I stopped there,
‘Cause I married that girl with the long, flowing hair.

Photos of Danielle - will be forthcoming when I have some time at home to scan the old paper stuff since we grew up pre-digital!


  1. OhMyGod....I just don't have the words to express my feelings at this moment in time...My parents would fight and scream as well...and I would hide in a closet. Bless your hearts.
    Thanks for visiting my absolutely Useless blog!!!lolol
    Beautifully written...<3

  2. You people have been through so much! Family dysfunction is such an unrecognised disease!

  3. Your writing is captivating, but I am sorry that it is a true story. It makes me sit here and think how I believe my worries are great, and then I feel shamed that there are those who have been through such horrible times, and at the hands of the very people who brought them into this world.

    Writing has to be cathartic ... it is for me.

    Know that you are touching many with your honesty and bravery.

    Many blessings,

  4. Your story is heartbreaking...but incredibly powerful! I am sorry beyond belief that you had to endure such a childhood...but you are turning tremendous pain into beauty with your amazing word smithing! I'm in awe...~Janine XO


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