She Abuses Me
"Orval, you don't understand how she abuses me."
This was my re-introduction to my Aunt Terry when I came home to visit my mother in the summer of 2005.
"Auntie Terry, what do you mean? My mother has provided you with a home. She helps you out, financially. How is she abusing you?"
"You don't understand," she continued, "your mother emotionally abuses me. She tells me I'm no good and she takes advantage of me. She is very cruel, Orval."
Aunt Terry began to cry.
The first time I remember her tears, I was an undergraduate at The Evergreen State College when I was called upon to rescue her from her employers. At the time, she explained to me that they were her captors, but, I remember the people I rescued her from. They were two people of advanced age who were using wheelchairs to get themselves outside and around their house. This is the same house that Auntie Terry had, over the years since her liberation from them, come to refer to as her jailhouse.
I remembered this encounter as she told me this story. She was now telling me my mother was her captor. She was telling me my mother abused her. She was telling me that my mother emotionally abused her.
This sounded like a familiar story.
My mother commanded my respect. She taught me to respect my elders. She taught me to have a sense of responsibility, a sense of purpose, and to not back-talk when spoken to.
These thoughts also went through my head as I listened to Auntie Terry speak about her sister, my mother.
As Auntie Terry was explaining her abuse, my mother walked into the living room. She addressed Aunt Terry, "Terry, you know, I can't sleep when you have the television on all night. I bought you some headphones. Why can't you use them? Orval, explain it to her. I can never get any sleep around her anymore!"
I looked at Auntie Terry. She was crying.
As my mother left the room, Auntie Terry said to me, "you see, you see Orval, how it is that she abuses me?"
"Actually, Auntie Terry, I don't think anything my mother just said is unreasonable. Why can't you use the headphones if you want to keep the television on all night?"
She had a sour look on her face. If I had to describe it, I'd have to say it's the face I have when I bite down on a slice of lemon. Clearly, she didn't like my response.
* * *
The next day, I was working with my mother to move some things from the house to the backyard shed. She started in on her own feelings about Auntie Terry, "Orval, she's horrible. She sits around all day smoking cigarettes. She doesn't help me with anything around the house. She eats and eats and eats and complains about everything. The worst part is that she never sleeps! She watches television all night long!"
My mother was becoming very agitated as she continued to talk about her sister.
"Orval, I don't think I can live with her anymore. I can't talk to her. All she ever does is complain about how bad I am to her. How bad I am to her? What have I done to her, but offer her a place to stay and food in her belly? She is so ungrateful!"
"Mom," I replied, "you sound really stressed out from all of this. Let's take a few days and let Auntie Terry spend some time by herself. Would you like that?"
"Orval, she is a discusting pig! Do you know what she said the other day?"
I knew I was going to hear about what she did, whether or not I wanted to hear it.
My mother continued, "I brought her over to meet my friends, the Pimentels. Do you know, Orval, she was so disrespectful? She addressed Maria and Refujio by saying, "hola putitas!" Do you know what that means!? Orval, I was so embarrassed."
"Yes, mom, I do understand." If I heard my mother correctly, my aunt had just greeted my best friend's parents by saying "hello bitches!"
"Orval, I can't take this anymore. If I have to live with her for another day, I'm going to hit her. I will not allow her to abuse me or disrespect me or others in this way. You have to do something about this!"
I thought to myself, great, I'm on vacation and instead I'm here to clean up a domestic dispute.
* * *
Back in the house, the lights are turned off. The shades are drawn. The only light in the living room is coming from two sources: the flicker of the television and the burning red tip of Auntie Terry's cigarette. She addresses me, "so, you see, Orval. Now I know. Now I know you're on her side. I know you were out there talking to her about me."
She starts to cry again.
"Auntie Terry," I say, "are you happy here?"
"No, Orval. No, I'm not happy here."
"If there were a place where I could take you, where would that be?"
"You could take me back to Benicia. I could stay with our cousins there."
Benicia, California is located in the east San Francisco Bay area.
"Orval, you don't want me here, either," Auntie Terry continues.
"What I don't want," I respond, "is to see my mother and my aunt arguing and unhappy.
She continues crying.
* * *
It's now late afternoon. Several days have passed since my arrival from New York for a vacation. My mother and my Aunt Terry are not speaking. My mother has made a particularly nice dinner spread and she continues to prepare it as I watch her and help her when she asks for my assistance. Auntie Terry is seated across the room. She is watching a show on The Filipino Channel. The volume on the television is turned up to maximum.
I can hear my mother mumbling to herself. She thinks I can't hear the curse words she's mumbling and mouthing to herself.
Auntie Terry has entered into a period of rapid chain smoking. I don't know if this is behavioral, or if she's attempting to do something that will elicit an explosion from my mother. The house seems full of cigarette smoke and cooking smoke. I'm experiencing difficulty breathing. The food my mother is preparing on the kitchen table becomes more plentiful and elaborate.
Something is going to happen. I can feel it.
Mom finally breaks the silence. She says, "Orval, ask you Aunt if she'd like something to eat. You, sit down and eat, Orval."
Terry hears my mother. This surprises me. It surprises me because I've come to believe Auntie Terry has a hearing problem, since the volume on the television is turned up to maximum. Aunt Terry replies, "no thank you. You've probably poisoned it. I don't like your food anyway."
My mother replies by throwing the food she's just prepared on the floor. She screams, "I've had it with you, Terry. I want you out of my house! You are a selfish cunt and I'm tired of being your slave!"
Aunt Terry retorts, "I'm your slave? Who drives you to town you ungrateful bitch!?"
Aunt Terry does have a point with that one. Mom doesn't drive, and Aunt Terry does do all the transporting, but, I also know she does it all, everything, entirely on my mother's dime.
An unnecessarily long and drawn out argument ensues. Many hurtful things are said between my mother and my aunt. Ultimately, Auntie Terry decides to pack up all of her things, insisting that I drive her to Benicia, immediately. Fortunately, between the arguing, my mother has left the house. While Auntie Terry is packing, I steal a quick meal from the delicious spread my mother has prepared.
I go out to the backyard where I spy my mother wiping away a tear. It is one of the few times in my life when I've seen my mother cry. She says to me, "you know, Orval. That cunt and I, we've been through a lot together."
I reach for my mom and give her a long, close hug. Towards the end of my hug, she embraces me, too. Almost as quickly as she embraces me, she releases me, pushing me away from her and wiping at her eyes again.
I say, "I know, mom. Is there anything you would like me to do for you? For her?"
"Yes, son. Here is $1,000." She takes out a small black vinyl coin purse from her back pocket. It is decorated with smiley faces and hearts. She continues, "this is some money I was saving for a rainy day. I just dug it up from the garden where I was hiding it. When you reach Benicia, give it to Terry."
* * *
When I return to the house, Auntie Terry is sitting on her luggage, smoking another cigarette. After the conversation with my mother, I see Terry in a very different light. It is from my mother's act of kindness, even after the altercation between the two of them, that I now see my aunt very differently from how I'd viewed her, before. Unlike my previous view of her, I find myself feeling wary of her, unsure of what to expect from her.
I ask her, "Auntie Terry, it looks like you're ready to head out for Benicia. Would you like me to pack your things into the car?"
"You're just like her," she says, "you're a hateful person, you know that, Orval?"
I just look at her. My face is neutral. Inside, I feel like I want to slap and shake her.
"Auntie Terry, I'm going to put your bags in my car. I'll be waiting for you."
* * *
The drive to Benicia is not an easy one.
Over the course of four and a half hours, the length of time that it takes to drive non-stop, from Alderpoint, California, to Benicia, California, I listen to my aunt become increasingly belligerent. About halfway through the trip, she begins to alternate, to vacillate between the vitriol she has for my mother, her elder sister, and the irrationally bitter anger she has for their younger sister, Linda. Over and over, she berates and lambasts her sisters.
By the time we arrive in Benicia, she has convinced herself that her sisters are slave-driving whores who deserve not a lick of attention from her. In-between the barbs for her sisters, she jabs at me, saying I'm one of them for not agreeing with her. Near the point of our arrival in Benicia, she asks me to abandon my mother for the remainder of my trip, to spend it with her, getting her settled into Benicia.
I don't answer.
When we arrive at our cousin's home, no one is home. Terry locates the extra key to the house that they have hidden out back. She comes to the front, asking me to bring her bags inside. I do so. Then, we sit on the front door steps. She looks at me and begins to cry again. I get up and start to walk back to my car, and then I remember the $1,000 my mother asked me to give to her.
As I hand it to Terry, I think, here's something for you from the slave-driving whore who abused you. But I don't say that to her. I just hand the purse to Auntie Terry and tell her my mother asked me to give it to her.
Then, I leave the front steps of the house. Quickly, I get in and start up the car.
As I pull away from the house, Terry is still looking at the contents of the purse, counting the $100 dollar bills my mother has asked me to give to her.
I continue to look back at her in the rearview mirror as I drive down the street.
She doesn't look up.