By CAROL WEIS
t happens when you are three. Your mother is hospitalized with tuberculosis. She contracts the disease right before your first brother is born. She gets sent away to one of those sanatoriums used for longterm illness. During her infirmity, you and your siblings are scattered about, staying with various relatives and family friends, while your mom grieveswhile she works on healing herself in that far off hospital for 18 long months. The trauma it causes paints permanent scars on your heart.
You get shipped off hundreds of miles away to your mom’s big sister — a reasonable place to go, where you curl on your cousin’s bed for three straight weeks. Crammed in a suffocating room, in their tiny row house in that army-barracked-village somewhere in the northeast part of Philly, you do little but cry, until the cousins can’t stand to feel it anymore. So they pack you up, stamp your head, and send you speedy delivery to your dad’s oldest brother, to live in the town where your father was born, where you hold on for six more months until tears sluice forth and they get sick of you too.
Your last placement, with the family caring for your sister, spawns your undoing. A lecherous man creeps around at night, lifting a nighty that should never be lifted, breeding confusion and fear into a tender psyche, lasting years.
When your mom returns home and the family’s glued back together, you tape yourself to that mother of yours, never letting her out of sight. Your thumb becomes a constant companion, stuck inside your mouth, sucked until blue, removed only for the occasional meal. You often visit this family where the ick took place, your parents having lived with them during the war, the one to end all wars, as your mom liked to say, forming a bond those kinds of experiences tend to incur. You stow away in corners while back in their company, thumb properly in place, twisting your hair in the nooks where you hide.
You stay clear of the balding man, a crown of graying strands encircling his head, who tries pulling you near with offers of treats and a smile that drips with slime. You snatch up a sweet and gallop away, hiding in a bathroom with no lock on its door. He calls out your name, getting louder the closer he gets. Finally, finding you, he leans against the door he closes behind him, your favorite Three Musketeers bar peeking out of his pocket.
The smell of him turns your stomach inside out, something candy wants no part of, and can’t begin to heal.
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