Letting Those Decisions Slide By

How do we let those decisions slip and slide by? How did my dad do it? Each and every decision that led him down the path he chose. We each make those decisions every day. Famous people we learn of in the news make them and we hear of them going to prison or getting away with what they do. It is so easy not to focus on some decision, to let it slide. I do it every day when I decide to eat something I know I should not. “That’s not really good for me, but if I don’t think about it too hard, I’ll end up eating and enjoying it before I can feel guilty,” and down it goes. By then it’s too late. Deciding about food is one thing. Kindness, morality, and integrity something else. Is that what Dad did? He did this or that without thinking about it too much, and it was done. Too late now. No sense in worrying about it. Water under the bridge and all that.

I don’t think he planned ahead on separating us from everyone we trusted. He just did it. One person at a time. That is what perpetrators do.

School might have been a problem. But in those days, no one had any idea what to look for. I was shy. Mary was shy. Diann had a stuttering problem that could be solved by a speech therapist. No one thought of digging deeper.

I don’t recall being afraid of school, but I did have nightmares of missing the bus home. I had a difficult time in class until the teacher told Mom I couldn’t see the blackboard.

I hated those eyeglasses. I wore them in class, but took them off right after. Until the day I walked home and unknowingly dropped them on the highway walking home. We caught the bus at Rathbun’s grocery store on South Turkeyfoot Lake Road, about a half mile down the hill from Pillar Avenue. Once home, I discovered my glasses were missing, hurried back to search my route, and found them smashed on the highway. Eyeglasses cost money. Lots of it to us in those days. Dad was going to kill me. I told Mom, who could tell how terrified I was. Diann has since told me she said prayers for me that day before Dad got home, she was so scared for me. I lay down on the couch and buried my nose in a book, which was my escape from reality. Mom must have told Dad of my terror because he said not a word. And I was so very careful of my new eyeglasses for ever after.

One of the finest things about school was meeting my best friend, Mary.

Mary loved reading as much as I did, and was even as horse crazy as me. I had to share her with her other friend, Janet, who lived next to her. At recess the three of us ran around the playground playing horses. Over the years, our playing became more sophisticated, and we developed characters based loosely on books we read, even going so far as to research history for more interesting drama. As an adult many years later I learned that both Mary and I used our stories as an escape from what happened to us at home. We emulated different characters, acted out scenarios, and took control where we had no control over our real lives. Mary was always a strong-minded female; I became the adventurous male romantic interest. Janet, a tomboy in those days, generally played my rival in our stories, and often she and Mary continued on when I was absent, as they lived next to one another, and my house was miles distant. As young as I was, I felt left out, lonely, and somewhat jealous of their time together.

Growing up, I generally felt cut off from other kids. Years later I learned how Dad separated us from everyone but his own immediate family, and how typical this action is of someone like him.

In January of 1952, Mom’s mother died.

I was in first grade and me and Diann were left at Dot and Vic’s while the adults went to the funeral. Dot and Vic’s—Sally and Nancy’s—for several years this was a convenient place to remove me and Diann from the “goings-on.” We weren’t much aware that we had only one grandma left, Dad’s Mom, Grandma Plotner.

Only recently I learned that Grandma Plotner gave me and Diann a little beagle puppy named Dusty. I believed she was Dad’s because he took her over to breed her for purebred beagles. He kept her in a small pen in the backyard. When he walked up there with a rifle under his arm she ran around in circles so fast her tail practically wagged her. They would disappear together across the field and into the woods behind our house. You could always tell when she scared up a rabbit and where they were by the sound of her bugling cry. Mom slow-cooked the caught rabbits with spiced flour in a pan for supper. For years a vase full of pheasant feathers sat on the shelf over the unused fireplace. Dad and Grandpa Jack (he had two beagles) shot pheasant outside of Strasburg where Grandma Plotner lived.

Dusty would have nothing to do with the purebreds with which Dad attempted to mate her. She chose her own mate, dug her way out of her pen, and at least twice dropped a litter of unwanted puppies. The second time Diann and I were old enough to get attached to the four of them. Dad helped with the birth, and I found the pups curled up with Dusty in the doorway between the house and garage before their eyes were open. They were all spotted brown and white, and the biggest male was a fat little guy. Before long we had played with them, named them, and discovered their different personalities.

Diann and I were driven to Sally and Nancy’s for a weekend. I recall perfectly the ride home in the back of the car when Dad announced the puppies had “gone to heaven.” Diann and I were silent. What could we say? I expect we both felt the same. I stared out the side window. Felt the return of that black balloon in my chest and stomach. It would grow and grow and want to burst, but it couldn’t. I hated those lies. He had killed the first litter and now he had killed this one, all four of them. 

Maybe it was the Baker kids who had told me about the first litter. “He drowned them in a bucket.” I don’t know if that was true. They would say anything to make me feel bad. But I did know how he took care of a rabbit I “rescued.”

I once chased our neighbor’s cat that had caught a baby rabbit that was still alive. Over the roof of our house we went, across the wall, over the roof of the neighbor’s house, across their back yard, the back wall, back onto our side and through the bushes. Though it wasn’t easy, I was determined to save that little white-tailed bunny. That cat finally got tired of carrying the weight, and I picked it up, still alive, but likely frightened half to death. I took it inside, at my age believing I could save it. Dad let me hold onto my hopes for a couple hours until the bunny went catatonic, I think, or whatever bunnies do. Then he took it into the garage. I sneaked after him to see what he would do. He put the bunny’s head into a vice and hammered a nail into its head. A quick, humane death, I suppose. Or did he shoot them?

Fortunately, I had lots of stuffed animals upstairs in my bunk to tell my troubles to, since it was dark by then.

Dad once took Diann and me into the garage to shoot his black pistol. The plan was to teach us to be afraid of guns. The shot in the garage was plenty loud enough to scare us, to say nothing of the kickback in the hand of a little girl.

I grew up with what I consider a healthy fear of guns.

Though I turned out to be a good shot with a rifle, I don’t like them. I don’t care to be around guns, and I am wary around people who carry them. I believe gun laws in this country are much, much too lenient.

Did Dad shoot the puppies or use the nail? He liked Dusty, I think, though he didn’t take care of her properly, not enough to have her spayed. Maybe he still hoped for those purebreds. I don’t believe he was entirely without feelings. What did it do to him to “take care” of each of those puppies?

I had always wanted a dog of my own.

When Mom went to work, they decided we needed a dog to protect Diann and me when we were home alone. I named the black and white puppy Maverick after a calf that had lost its mother. He was originally for both my sister and I, until Diann got tired of feeding and cleaning up his messes, then he became mine alone. I read one of Dad’s dog books from cover to cover and trained poor Maverick in everything, from sitting to staying to sneaking around under blanket-covered furniture, including silent hand calls. I never hit him, as I believed in positive reinforcement—plenty of love and treats. 

Maverick

Maverick became another place I’d go with my troubles. His fur got dampened more than once with frustrated tears. Good ol’ buddy.

Now we had Maverick for protection while Mom worked, but none of her friends lived nearby. Aunt Amy had ceased visiting us, even during storms. Dad made her uncomfortable. When I was older Mom said that Amy began walking to a local bar for company, (she didn’t drive) where she met a man she invited to live with her. 

Mom’s sister, Dot, and her husband were the only ones of her family left, now that Grandma Flavel was gone. Dad would close that possible loophole next.

Integrity and Morality have Little to do with Where You are Born

Mom said I wandered from the time I was old enough to walk. I wandered down the sidewalk from Grandma’s house in Akron when she turned her back for only a couple minutes, practically terrorizing Mom who she went up and down the street calling for me. Fortunately, an older black man took me by the hand and brought me back, asking where I belonged. 

At seventy-six I have ceased wandering. Maybe. Temporarily. Due to Covid. 

Karen and Mommy, Christmas

I found my first girlfriend when I was five by wandering up Pillar Avenue. Sylvia was my age and lived about half-mile over the hill from our house. 

I barely recall sitting on the floor in Sylvia’s beautiful home and playing with dolls. We had a short friendship, as one day she turned me away for no reason I understood. This rejection sticks in my memory to this day. What had I done? Mom was her usual loving self and attempted to make me feel better the best she could. Thank goodness, Diann and I had a mother who was always there for us, loving us unconditionally. 

I recall having told a terrible lie in school and being terrified about revealing this to Mom. For hours I was sick with worry, as we had been taught not to tell lies. I couldn’t stand carrying around the awful secret of what I had done and why. Finally I told Mom I had something bad to tell her, so we sat together on her and Dad’s bed upstairs when I finally let it out, in tears. I told her I had changed someone’s mark on a test and had been caught. I felt awful, as what I had done was the same as a lie. It was a terrible thing to do.

But she still loved me! This was such an overwhelming relief. I promised to never lie, again, and I never have.

First Grade, Turkeyfoot School. I am third from right, second row. My soon-to-be best friend, Mary, is sixth from right with the dark hair.

In reality, it was difficult not to compare myself to the girl whose test I had changed. Her name was Karen, like mine, but she came from a more well-to-do family than mine. She always came to school dressed in new clothes, she was blonde, like me, her last name began with “K” like mine, therefore, we sat before or behind one another throughout school, and, at one point, a teacher teased us about the resemblance of our last names. She never spoke to me, though. Our school, even then, had its own “cliques,” and the more well-to-do children kept to their group. These cliques stayed the same throughout grade school and pretty much into high school where they separated into “college prep” and otherwise.

I now suspect the situation with Sylvia may have had something to do with her mother, as her father was a white collar person and my father was a truck driver. We were from separate “sides of the tracks” so to speak.

I have since learned that integrity and morality have little to do with which side of the tracks one was born on. This fact becomes more obvious every day.

In spite of Dad and a few rough kids in our neighborhood, we had a pretty good life, mainly due to Mom’s unconditional love, one another, and the open fields where we lived.

Diann and I told stories to one another at night after we went to bed, often pretending we were other people and having adventures. We both grew up playing stories with our closest friends. This was a great way to escape our everyday lives. We found laughter to be a great escape, too, and sometimes got into the craziest laughing fits. We still do when we get together and reminisce.

Not that we didn’t get into arguments when we were kids. Boy, did we. Diann developed asthma and stuttered at a young age. I expect this was her response to constant anxiety. I developed migraines.

I was constantly told not to argue with Dad, not to argue with my sister. Any fight was always my fault because I was the oldest and “ought to know better.” And Diann was “sick.” This was so unfair. It appeared to me that it didn’t matter if I was right or wrong, I had no rights, either way.

“Bad” language was not allowed in our house. We heard those bad words from other kids in the neighborhood, but never in our house or from anyone in either of our families. Once Diann was angry enough to call me a “grunt,” which was considered cussing by Dad, and his temper took over. He grabbed Diann by the arm, took her outside and struck her bare legs with a sassafras switch.

We had no privacy in the bathroom. There was no lock on the door. Dad came in any time he wanted. And did. I began holding “it” in as long as I could, until I felt safe. Then—hurry up in case he comes.

We had no door on our bedroom alcove. Diann and I had no privacy anywhere in the house. Outside was the only escape, though Diann told me she used to hide behind the coats in the closet under the stairs. My place was in the tree at the top of the hill in our backyard. I loved that tree. I couldn’t climb it in rubber boots in the winter when snow fell, though. I was shit out of luck in the winter. Though the sassafras bush next to the tree was a pretty good substitute.

Mom piled us into layers of clothes in the winter, especially when we went sledding at the golf course. It must have been more than a mile to haul our sleds up Pillar Avenue and through the trees to the edge of the golf course, but the long hill at the top was worth every trudge. Diann reminded me that Dad took us the first time when we were too small to go by ourselves and didn’t know the route. 

Diann and neighborhood pooch. That snowman was a lot of work.

In later years on our own we were lucky to get in three rides on that hill because the walk back up was so long and tiring, especially under all those clothes. Layers of snow melt stuck to your gloves and boots and weighed you down, but that long, speedy glide swooshing down the hill . . . wow! Mom had sandwiches and hot chocolate ready when we returned—chilled, exhausted and hungry.

South Turkeyfoot Lake Road with golf course on right. Obviously, you can’t see the grand hill from here. Pillar Avenue is a mile or so ahead and to the right.

It’s strange to consider there actually were good times with Dad, as there were so few of them. Who was that man who hauled us both up that golf course hill, rode down it with us in glee, yet beat Diann with that switch? He would play with us one minute and frighten us half to death the next. 

Worse was to come.

Two Minds: An Adult Woman, A Fearful Little Girl

Apache Junction Sunset, photo by Karen Lynne Klink

This is a difficult post. I came to the conclusion that I was not willing to back my manuscript with $10,000 or more. I am of two minds. One is an adult woman willing and able to take risks. The other is a fearful little girl. They are the product of an incest survivor. It took a few days for me to realize that little girl had to have her say about this entire process.

My angry, depressed dad alienated our family from everyone but his relatives. Yet he presented the picture of a wonderful man to all except us. 

I and my younger sister grew up in a home with a living room and exposed rafters. We wore the same three or four outfits to school all year long. I wore hand-me-downs from my older cousin. We each had one coat that lasted until we outgrew it. Dad purposely ran over my sister’s bike to teach her not to leave it in the driveway. Mom complained to me about her fears that he didn’t pay the bills on time. Yet he found time to help his brother with his house, bought golf clubs, bowling equipment, guns, a stereo, and records.  

When we started school Mom found a job at the local drugstore. I thought to help pay bills, but years later she said it was to get out of the house and be around people who appreciated her. 

He was emotionally abusive to the three of us. We lived a childhood of constant anxiety: Diann stuttered and developed asthma; I got migraines. Mom was a loving, dear, but weak, person, who my sister and I believed we had to protect. Dad took advantage of that when he took advantage of me. “Don’t tell your mom.” I knew what he meant.

Only after years of therapy did I realize she should have protected us. 

I am grown now, but that little girl’s feelings and fears concerning money, security, and trust never go away. The adult in me jumped at the chance to follow my dream of publishing a book I believed in.  A few days later that little girl freaked out. Another couple days and I realized what happened.

I don’t have to give in to fear once I realize the truth. That’s the first step — recognizing the fear and where it comes from. I sat down and checked my finances, found it will not destroy me to lose $15,000, only make my life more difficult. I can handle that. I can reassure my little girl. I have.

I know there are survivors, men and women, like me out there. I hope this and the books I write will help us all. By us I mean not only survivors but all minorities: LGBTQ, blacks, Muslims, Jews, Native Americans, Latinos, immigrants, elders, . . . Who did I leave out? Imagine how strong we would be if we all united!

It’s why I write. That’s my platform.