Still Learning How to Fly ~ Chapter Two: "Uneasy Relationship"

Ken Painter By Ken Painter, 13th Sep 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Biography & Autobiography

As Chapter Two begins, so does the cover-up as my mother begins treading the thin line between "discipline" and abuse of her only son.

Bandaged and Bruised but Not Broken

I can still see my grandpa, tears streaming down his grim face, walking swiftly back toward me that sunny afternoon.

“Get out of the middle of the road, Kenny!” He cupped his hands to his mouth to yell this back at me.

Dazed and completely confused, I had been standing in the middle of the road almost on the yellow line of the right side of the road which Grandpa had been driving about 35 mph in just a few moments before. Hearing his words of warning, I toddled off to the right shoulder of the road and immediately passed out. My relocation occurred not a moment too soon. It appears that I’d been standing in the middle of the road on the downside of the hill (approximately in the spot where I’d landed). No sooner had I wandered over to the shoulder than mere seconds later a car appeared over the hill passing right over the spot where I’d been standing. How close I came to being run over by a two-ton car, and thus death that day has never been far from me, and I’ve often felt since that I’ve had a guardian angel.

One of them, my grandpa, reached me a few moments later and scooped me up into his arms trotting me back to the car. I’m told he drove us all considerably faster than 35 back into town and into the ER at Foote Hospital where I’d been born three years earlier. I don’t recall now any of what happened after I passed out in the road until a week or so later when they removed my bandages. It seems that when I fell from the car I hit the pavement on the left side of my head just above my ear and rolled a little. I had bruises and lacerations on my face, head, arms, and chest. I’d been very fortunate that nothing was broken, but the top of my head had been fairly well bandaged. I don’t recall if I spent the night at the hospital or not.

A week or so later came time though for the check or change and possible removal of the bandages on my head at Dr. Sugar’s office. The more minor ones had already been treated at home and were coming along nicely, and those bandages had been already removed. Mom and Grandma both took me into Dr. Sugar’s office together, and I still vividly recall the scene. The doc pulled the bandages from around my head, and he wasn’t gentle about it. In doing so, he ripped open a bunch of scabs from my forehead, and they started bleeding into my eyes, and I started crying. Well, that just did it for my grandma, and the shit hit the fan! She said something which my three year old mind could not yet process, but knowing Bess, I’m certain it involved a four-letter word or two. By the age of five I’d learned most of them from her, after all she was an old farm woman, God bless her. And she didn’t stop there, but she actually made a move to try and comfort me. Well, the doctor couldn’t have any of this, though I believe to this day that he felt she was making a move to attack him, and he called for a nurse.

I was still crying, and my mom just stood there . . . stone-faced.

“Now mother!” That was all she could say as the nurse led my cursing grandmother from the room . . . my defender, and the woman who that day took it upon herself to become my other guardian angel until she passed when I was 17 ½ years old.

There had been no other eyewitnesses to the events of the backseat that fateful day except my mom and me, and I would long repress these memories until I started piecing together bits and pieces of them in my mid-teens culminating with a startling vision in mid-life. So the official version which came from my mom had me standing up in the seat and playing with the door until it finally flew open throwing me out onto the pavement and branding me with the ultimate results. And this was how the official version would remain every time she was asked to repeat the story. Grandpa would just sit and shake his head. He said that he must have been really watching that baby, because he’d never seen Kenny standing up behind him. But my mom would get really good as time went on at perpetuating whatever story was in her head, and I got the sense as I grew into adulthood that such had been going on for a long, long time. This was her coping mechanism for whatever her demons were. And only she knew them, but I doubt that she ever fully acknowledged them, although who really knows other than God just how truthful she ever was with herself?

Trained and Branded

Mom and I began settling into our uneasy relationship for the next year. There would be some high points and some low ones inflicted upon my person by this hellion of a personality, and my first three years on earth had already been tumultuous enough. For a kid who basically potty broke himself at the age of 16 months as she herself always told the story . . . I’d be sitting outside in the stroller in my wet and/or soiled diapers, real diapers of course in those days. I would get to working those pins loose with my hands if she had not had the chance to get to me in time. And she’d come out the backdoor just a few minutes after I’d removed the diaper to find me naked, smiling, and flapping the dirty offender in the breeze. She then would take me in the house and plop me on the potty chair where I’d further do some more business. She never even had to train me, so she says. She and my dad got off so easy with me. (And to this day I still can’t stand to sit around in a wet bathing suit. Some things never change. Go figure).

For this, and for my burgeoning left-handedness, I was rewarded with a mitt placed upon my left hand, and the mitt and thus my left arm were then tied behind my back. There were even photographs at one time to attest to this though I don’t have them now, and that’s how I recall this. I was too young at the time to recollect the actual events, but a few years later, to my horror, I was shown the photos and then remembered being broken of it. I wasn’t too happy about it, and I think they threw the photos away. To this day, as I grow older, I feel ambidextrous and in some situations get confused not knowing which hand to use, though I always write and eat right-handed. Branded for life.

Hospital Stay

The summer that I turned four years old required an overnight stay in the hospital, but for a much different reason. My tonsils and adenoids demanded removal from my head. I no longer could withstand the infections which I’d been having with some kind of regularity, and the doctor recommended their removal now that I’d attained a decent age and size. Size was never really any problem. I had always been a swift grower.

All of the preparation fell under my mom’s domain. Dad played no part in any of this whatsoever being largely absent from life either at work or holed up in his workshop. For some reason, he was beginning to avoid me like the plague, I felt. Whatever the reason, I don’t recall who drove us to the hospital, but my mom didn’t learn how to drive until 1960 (and I recall that vividly). So either he squired us there in the family Buick and dropped us off picking Mom up later after my operation which is probably what happened or my grandma Bess took us. Grandma Bess would have come up to the room, and I don’t recall that.

One thing I do remember is that once there she went down to the gift store and bought me one of those little Golden Books that were so popular back in the 50’s for children to read. I had a few of these little hardcover books at home, and I’ll give highest credit here, this was one thing she did well. Ever since the incident in the car, she’d been reading to me from books like this one, and I’d learned a lot of words . . . Basically I knew how to read by myself at a higher level than many kids already starting school and I’d just turned four. She also sang a lot of songs to me, so in addition to the gift of words, she gave me the gift of music. And she wasn’t a half bad singer either. Both she and Dad sang in the choir at church. She did have her happy moments when she’d get goofy and sing stuff like “Abba Dabba Honeymoon” or “Three Little Fishies,” light fare from the day. It’s just that she didn’t have these moments often enough or well placed enough. There didn’t appear to be a reasonable ebb and flow to her life.

She read this little Golden Book about a squirrel to me and left later after my operation, after they had fed me the requisite ice cream, though I still recall how much my throat hurt. I was roundly promised that I would feel much better the next day, and I fell fast asleep.

The next day we returned home, but in so doing Mom had forgotten to pack up the little Golden Book about the squirrel with my belongings to bring home with us. I cried. I asked if she could call the hospital and see if it was still there. She said no, it was probably gone by that time. I cried more. And I’ve never forgotten about the little squirrel.

(Tomorrow, in the next installment our "uneasy relationship" doesn't get any better.)

Link to next installment . . .

Link to last installment . . .

Link to beginning of book . . .


Abuse, Abuse And Violence In The Home, Abuse In The Home, Abused Children, Abusive Relationships, Autobiography, Child Abuse, Childhood, Childhood Memories, Memoir, Memoirs, Memories From Childhood, Memories From My Young Days, Non-Fiction, Nonfiction, True Stories, True Story

Meet the author

author avatar Ken Painter
Retired Chicago public school teacher. Singer, songwriter, musician, author, & opinionated old curmudgeon. Married to my husband & living in Colorado, USA. Also a father & grandfather.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
14th Sep 2013 (#)

Thank you, Ken. I hope that you experience healing from your writing. 25 years ago, when I first got into recovery, I was fortunate to meet an individual who explained the cathartic benefits of reflective writing.
While I have not shared my life story in this open manner, I have worked with women for more than 20 years in the field of addiction, and shared much of my life with them.
I know that this type of writing can and does release much of the pain, anger, sadness, and distress from inside to paper.
Your life story is profoundly moving and has, like all reflections, brought up memories for me, some equally harsh, and others poignant. Again, thank you.

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author avatar Ken Painter
14th Sep 2013 (#)

Thank you so much for your comment. I appreciate it very, very much. Yes, the writing and reflection helps TREMENDOUSLY! As you will read from the narrative, I don't hold much back from what happens to me, and I eventually learn to forgive my mom, that was part of the process of sharing this book with others. But a far greater part was to show younger gay audiences that it's necessary to hold on, that we ALL have crap to deal with, and that we're all really still learning to grow up even into our senior years. Sometimes it really takes a long time to get a handle on it, and for me it did. And we all deal with it in whatever way we are able. I'm happy that you have dealt with and are dealing with yours. Thank you so much for sharing with me.

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author avatar Kingwell
4th Feb 2014 (#)

I have heard that writing does help and you seem to have no problem there.

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author avatar Ken Painter
4th Feb 2014 (#)

It helps, Kingwell, to the point that it seems to sort things out, at least putting it into writing puts a sort of perspective on it for me.

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