My backside was sore, my legs ached. Through swollen eyes, I peered at the sun through the Juniper branches above me. An arm languishing across my forehead as I squinted into the light above. The previous year’s fallen needles laying underneath me as soft as a carpet. Hiding behind the dog’s house was heaven for me it was my escape. Princess our dog never used it, the tumbleweeds had begun to take it over. It became a clubhouse. I filled it with books, and trinkets I wished to keep safe from my younger brothers.
I still held the switch used to lacerate my backside and legs. The understanding of why and what happened were lost to me. Those things were always a loss to me. Sometimes it was the switch, sometimes it was the belt, or at the worst the board. Sometimes it was running with my toes curled under. Round and around the dining room table until they were raw and bleeding. This was a favorite for catching me flailing about or walking on my tiptoes.
There were days the corner was where I stood from lunch until bedtime, then off to bed with no supper. There was the closet dark with only a tiny of sliver of light coming from underneath the door. My cries of terror falling upon deaf ears. Waking to an open door. Fearful to come to out. Fearful that if I moved towards freedom, the door would shut and lock again. I learned not to complain after punishments, no crying, no tears. I learned not to jerk, not to flinch. I learned to swallow the pain deep into the pit of my stomach where someday I could release it.
I rolled over and watched as pill bugs scurried past my nose. Marveling and rolling up to a sitting position I winced as the dry, crisp Juniper needles poked with complaint as movement shuffled them from their final resting places. Plucking pill bug up in mid-shuffle, I sorted them by size and color. I found the tiniest ones to be the most fascinating. Their color was the palest of gray. Here and there they would appear to be an almost pale, translucent and pinkish gray. I knew that they were shedding. I read this in the old Encyclopedias in the closet of my bedroom.
I wasn’t to go in there, the closet, but I couldn’t resist. There were books. Boxes of books, some so old I couldn’t touch their pages. They would crumble. Some in foreign languages and some held secrets about the world. There were two sets of Encyclopedias and stacks upon stacks of National Geographic magazines. They were from the 1930’s to the 1970’s. These were my most treasured in that closet. I could read about places and people far away. I could escape and pretend the door to the staircase hadn’t been locked. That my bedroom wasn’t stifling hot from the western Oklahoma summer. I could pretend.
It was an intentional act of defiance.
Somedays when it was hottest I would crawl under my bed to sleep. Sleeping with one ear alert, waiting to hear the creaking hinges of that old heavy wooden door. Most often I didn’t until the roar of the welding rig my Father drove was heard coming up the driveway. I would jump to peak out the window. The old heavy wooden door would be creaking and groaning on its hinges as it was unlatched and opened. Being instructed from below to carefully bring the tub down the steps to empty and wash out, if it had been used. I wasn’t allowed to go down to use the bathroom.
Bolting out the front door, I would run to him. Leaping into his arms, and he would laugh and smile, whiskey on his breath. A pack of cigarettes, Camel, no filters, being crushed for the weight of my hug, and He would ask me if I had a good day. I always said yes while I kept my face hidden and buried in is his shaggy hair and neck.
Voices. Voices carried on the Oklahoma wind, woke me. They were calling for me. They were out by the lean-to. They would never find me under the Junipers. Stretching and standing, unsure, wobbly legs trudged me out towards the lean-to as fear set in. They yelled there was trouble again.
Falling asleep under the Juniper tree’s was an easy habit after a severe switching.