[an excerpt from my memoir in progress…]
It was the smell alone that caused the bile to rise into my throat and force my stomach into a spasm. My mother stood in the hot kitchen over the grill as she prepared Reuben sandwiches for dinner. She carefully buttered each piece of Rye bread, layered the bright pink corned beef and added a thin slice of the Swiss cheese. When I saw her reach for the new jar of sauerkraut, twist open the lid and spoon a glob out onto the first sandwich, I began to panic. The putrid vinegar smell wafted across the kitchen and pierced my nostrils. I slapped both hands over my nose and mouth as I let out a gasp.
“Don’t put any of that on my sandwich!”
“I wasn’t going to”, she answered. “I know you don’t like it.”
My father walked into the kitchen to get another beer, wearing his faded work jeans, no shirt and in bare feet. It was a typical Sunday, when he would drink all afternoon and watch football games on the couch in the den. I could smell his already saturated breath across the room as he belched and began to tease me.
“Put the sauerkraut on Tracy’s sandwich. She needs to eat it like the rest of us.”
“No Dad! I can’t stand it!”
“That’s ridiculous Sis”, he slurred. “You can’t eat a Reuben sandwich without it. Just try it.”
“I can’t! It will make me throw up.” I whimpered.
He laughed at my response and reached for the open jar on the counter. Some of the juice spilled onto the linoleum as he waved it back and forth and leapt across the kitchen towards me. He shoved the jar into my face below my nose and began to laugh.
“The big baby doesn’t like sauerkraut huh? Well, let’s get you to try some.” he mocked.
He reached into the jar for a handful of the dripping white cabbage and smashed it onto my tightly clenched lips. My stomach heaved and I turned to run from the room. I swatted frantically to get the Sauerkraut away from my mouth and chin.
“No dad! Don’t!” I screamed. “Mom, make him stop!”
“Jerry, just leave her alone”, she responded weakly.
My heart pounded and my stomach wretched as I ran from room to room with my father at my heels. He continued to laugh and taunt me with the slopping jar and its vile contents. I raced down the hallway and turned into the master bedroom. I slammed the bedroom door shut and tried to lock him out but he grabbed the knob and threw his body hard against it before I had the chance. There was only one place for me to go, the master bathroom. I sprinted over the bed and threw myself into the bathroom. My only hope was to lock him out. If I did, I could escape through the small bathroom window and run down the street to the Johnson’s where I could hide until he passed out on the couch. But he cornered me quickly against the bathroom wall before I had the chance to slam the door.
“Daddy stop!” I choked while tears ran down my cheeks.
He lifted the jar up and began to pour its contents over my head. A flood of the putrid juice drenched my hair, ran over my forehead and stung my eyes. It was followed by a heavy pile of wet cabbage that covered my head, face and fell from my shoulders. My father laughed his drunk, guttural, insane laugh. I collapsed to the floor with hands over my face and began to dry heave and gasp for air. All I wanted to do was dig a hole and climb into it to hide for a while in shame. He set the jar down on the bathroom sink and stumbled quickly down the hallway.
Alone on the floor of the bathroom drenched in the Sauerkraut juice I sobbed. I felt completely defeated and humiliated. I hated my father. I hated myself for what he had reduced me to. Slowly I made my way to the bathroom sink and stuck my head under the faucet. I scrubbed my hair and face and stripped off my shirt.
At that moment I felt very alone. I felt that I deserved what he had done to me. I walked slowly to my bedroom and shut the door. The antique vanity mirror that hung on my wall captured my reflection. I stood naked before it and stared numbly at an empty shell. The reflection that stared back looked pathetic, ugly and undeserving. That was the first moment I harbored thoughts of killing myself. I was only twelve years old but I could not imagine my life being worth anything in the future. The years of abuse had worn me down, every moment fearful that he would come for me once more. But it was also the constant barrage of demeaning actions by my father that truly reduced my insides to a pile of rubble. It was the Sauerkraut and all similar humiliations previous that were the main weapons in his arsenal of evil. Weapons used to break my spirit and keep me captive for his sadistic pleasures. His strategy had worked. But it had driven me to the point of desperation where I could see no other way out of my living Hell than to die.
I curled up on my bed in a fetal position and began to plan. There were no more tears, just a silent numbness that coursed through my body. There were guns in his cabinet, a whole arsenal of weapons he used for hunting. I knew where he kept the keys; they were in the bottom drawer with his harmonica and Green Beret medals. He had shown me how to use the press in the garage to load new cartridges, so that wouldn’t be a problem. Using a rifle was simple. He made us go to the shooting range with him to teach us how hit the targets from an early age.
“Rest the barrel on your left hand between your thumb and your first finger. Now raise the butt against your shoulder. Closer like this.”
“Daddy, it’s too heavy,” I complained.
“You can do this. Now rest your cheek against it and look down the barrel. Undo the safety and squeeze the trigger like this.”
With his finger hooked over mine, he pulled back lightly on the trigger and the shell exploded out of the end of the barrel. I clamped my eyes shut and the butt of the rifle kicked loose from my shoulder and dropped to the ground.
“Damn it Tracy! You have to hold onto it tighter,” he yelled.
“I can’t Daddy, it’s too heavy!” I whimpered.
“Do what I tell you to do! Now try it again.”
At twelve, the guns were not too heavy for me anymore. It would be easy to load it, lift the barrel to my mouth, turn off the safety and pull the trigger. Then it would all be over with one simple action. No more humiliation. No more abuse. There was another alternative. An alternative that would require more internal strength. Someday, when he was passed out on the couch in a drunken haze I could unlock the cabinet, load the chamber, point the barrel at his head and annihilate the monster that held me captive in his castle of horrors. Suddenly, I began to plan for that glorious day…