If you had asked Anabel what she thought of her childhood she would have told you that she hated it.
She tried to run away for the first time when she was only 6 years old, with an old wicker purse of her mother’s stuffed with some of her clothes. She was going to live with her dad.
It wasn’t just one thing, one event, one spanking too many that decided her.
It was all of it combined into one hard knot of hatred and the burning and bitter need to escape and to go somewhere she was loved.
If she had just been brave enough to cross the busy street, with the cars on both sides of the intersection buzzing by in the lunch rush, she might have made it.
In the end she walked the four blocks back home hating herself for being afraid,
hating her mother and her grandmother for laughing and hating her dad for not coming to get her in the first place. And for not wanting her after all.
Anabel shared a room with her sister Margaret. The two girls were like oil and water. Any attempts at playing were stilted and desperate.
As they grew they fought like cats and dogs and circled each other with muscles tensed ready to spring. By the time Anabel was 10, she had 4 younger siblings, two brothers and two sisters.
She was responsible for all of them. Or at the very least responsible for three out of four so their mother could give one of them a treat by taking them shopping with her.
But being that none of the others was old enough to babysit, let alone be responsible for the newborn, Joey, Anabel’s turn didn’t come around very often.
When she wasn’t looking after her siblings she babysat for her aunts. Auntie Katz had two boys who were both fathered by the devil himself.
The word ‘no’ had the same response as ‘yes please’ and Anabel found herself close to a break down trying to corral the little assholes.
Her other aunt was Dodie. Dodie had one son whose name was Simon and Anabel prayed for an occasion to babysit him.
Simon was the same age as Anabel’s younger sister Violet and her Aunt Katz’s son Tony but Simon was easy. As easy as pie.
And babysitting for her aunt Dodie was the closest thing to a holiday as Anabel got.
Dodie went out when she said she would, came back when she said she would, paid Anabel (which was more than she could say for Katz) and let her sleep over,
in a room of her own under a blanket printed with roses. Why oh why, thought Anabel, could I not live with Dodie?
On Saturdays Anabel’s mother woke her at 8:00 to begin chores. Anabel never understood why there were so many chores left to do on a Saturday morning given that her mother didn’t work.
But she’d heard her mother say more than once that keeping up with ‘this lot’ was impossible. Nothing Anabel did was to her mother’s satisfaction.
The floors didn’t shine, she didn’t move all the trinkets before dusting, the dirt under the rug was still there.
Once she hauled Anabel out of bed long after she’d been sleeping to wash the kitchen floor again. Anabel never forgot it.
But at Dodie’s she was anxious to help in the vain hope that Dodie would keep her.
When it was time to go back home after she’d been to babysit Simon, Dodie drove Anabel in her baby blue Camaro.
But best of all, better than the car or the rose quilt or the Kool-Aid that was always in the fridge, better than the trips to the farm to visit Dodie’s friend who had horses,
better than Dodie’s cat Nubbin, was that every time Dodie saw Anabel she said, ‘you are my favourite.’ Anabel hung on to those words for years.
Because as much as Anabel hated her childhood, she hated her adolescence even more.
When she was about 13 Aunt Dodie decided to have the family over for a barbeque. Anabel didn’t like the thought of her siblings being at her aunt’s house.
It was the only thing she thought of as her own and the only place she was special.
The day before the barbeque Anabel developed an awful cold. She should have stayed in bed but she was determined to go. She felt an awful need to protect her place at her aunt’s house.
When they arrived, she was dismayed to see that Auntie Katz was there with Tony and Bob. Anabel’s heart fell into her boots. She found a place on the livingroom chair and curled up.
Dodie came over and put a hand to her forehead. ‘I hope you don’t have a fever,’ she said. ‘I’ll bring you something to eat later on.’ Anabel nodded.
The rest of the children were sent outside to play and Anabel slept for awhile, then turned on the TV to watch cartoons.
Her nose had started to run and she got up to go to the bathroom for a Kleenex.
When she rounded the corner to the hallway she saw her aunt giving her sister Margaret an enormous hug. ‘You’re getting so big,’ she said, smoothing Margaret’s hair.
‘You were always my favourite.’
Anabel stopped dead with her nose running and her eyes as well. Dodie looked over. ‘What’s the matter?’ she asked. ‘Are you okay?’
Anabel swallowed. ‘I’m not feeling very well,’ she said. ‘I need a Kleenex.’ Dodie released Margaret and got Anabel a Kleenex and some orange juice.
Anabel returned to the chair and Dodie covered her with a blanket. For the first time in her life, Anabel just wanted to go home.