Read Why Me? Online

Authors: Sarah Burleton

Tags: #Non-Fiction, #Autobiography, #Memoir

Why Me?

BOOK: Why Me?
11.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

I was born in Melrose Park, Illinois, on a cold day in November 1978 to a young woman not ready or willing to have a child. I would be told later in life that I was supposed to be an abortion, but the hospital called my grandma instead of my mother to give her news of my pregnancy; thus, my mother was “forced” to have me. Looking back now, I think I spent my childhood paying the price for a hospital nurse dialing the wrong number.

I wrote this book after debating over it for a decade. I didn’t want to insult anyone or make anyone mad by telling my story—I was worried about how my mother would feel about it if she read it and how my sister would feel. But in the end, I feel compelled to share my story with others. I know that there are other abused kids out there, kids who on the outside may just seem weird or who maybe don’t have the best haircut or the best clothes, who are facing the same teasing at school and torture at home that I faced.

Abuse for me was something that happened on a daily basis. It might have been a hair-pulling, a punch to the kidneys, a kick down the stairs, or Mom’s other favorite activity: name-calling. Over the years I have been called Thunder Thighs, Nigger Lips, Kidney Kate (because I had kidney problems when I was younger), and Anorexic Annie, just to name a few. I’ve been beaten with brooms, whips, extension cords, belts—basically, if it was in arm’s reach, I was getting hit with it. I spent nights awake in a bathroom, hovered over a tray table writing
I will not lie
until the wee hours of the morning, and my hand would cramp up so badly I couldn’t move it the next day. I never fully understood why I was beaten so much. Some days it was because I didn’t do a chore properly; other days it was because I took too long in the bathroom. A lot of the time, after my sister was born, it was because Mom thought I was being mean to my sister.

Another reason I avoided writing this book for so long was that I didn’t want to play the victim. I wanted to just suck it up, take my knocks, and learn from my experience. Yet I don’t believe I am playing the victim in this book. If anything, I am releasing years of hurt and anger that I have been harboring.

I had a tough time figuring out exactly what to include in the book. Should I detail every single abusive experience I had growing up? That seemed silly and outlandish. What seemed right for me, and I hope will feel right for readers of this book, was to write about what first popped into my head when I thought of my childhood.

What childhood events and experiences do you remember the most? When many people think about growing up, they remember events and experiences such as birthday parties (and even I can say that was one thing my mother did—give me great birthdays), sleepovers, and family times together. But when I looked back, seriously sat down and looked back on my childhood, certain traumatic experiences came to mind. These are experiences I can never block out and have never forgotten. These are the experiences that I believe shaped me into the person I am today. These are the experiences I wanted to write about.

I want readers of this book to know that I’ve been there and I’m still alive and I’m happy and there IS light at the end of the tunnel. No matter how dark it may seem some nights when you are lying in bed, sniffling because you have just been beaten again, it WILL get better. Abuse is not acceptable in any form, and if you are being physically or mentally abused, please tell someone—a friend, relative, teacher or neighbor. It’s not right! You deserve better!



Dedicated to Aron, Evan, and Gage

Thank you for loving me so much.

Chapter 1

Where were you that day?

Do you remember where you were the day the space shuttle
exploded? I will never forget. I was sitting in my first-grade classroom trying not to pee my pants. You see, I had already been to the bathroom three times that day, and Mrs. Slagle had told me that I was not allowed to go anymore, I was just messing around. To my mind, that was absolutely absurd.

“How does she know how many times I have to pee? I drank two huge glasses of juice this morning!”

Two glasses was a lot of juice, and Mrs. Slagle was a brilliant teacher. She should have realized that a little girl’s bladder couldn’t hold that much! But I couldn’t tell Mrs. Slagle that I had drunk so much juice because then I would have had to explain why.

I had been bad again that morning. I didn’t finish my oatmeal “because it tastes like glue,” and Mom got mad. Sometimes when Mom got mad she would just yell and scream and push me around a little bit. But a lot of the time when Mom got mad things went very, very badly for me. This morning was one of those mornings.

I had gotten up on the wrong side of the bed that morning. I was dreading school because Mom had just cut my hair … again. This time she had not only cut my hair, she had Ogilvie-permed it, and now I looked like a French poodle. Mom wasn’t the best at perms. She rolled the rollers so tight that the little needles cut into my scalp, and she layered on the stinky perm solution so thick that it dripped down my face and left red marks wherever it touched.

I knew the kids at school would make fun of my hair that day. I already got teased on a daily basis because my family was poor. We didn’t live in a cardboard box or beg for food, but we were poor enough that, for some reason, the local paper had done a cover story (with a full-color picture!) about how poor my family was and how we were struggling in the current economy. That newspaper article provided the kids at school with enough ammunition and jokes aimed at me to last until middle school.

“This hair is going to really get them going today,” I thought to myself as I looked in the mirror that morning. I wrapped my bath towel around my head and swirled around, pretending that I had beautiful, cascading black hair that streamed all the way down my back. As I swirled, I imagined myself dancing in a ballroom in a beautiful blue gown.


I jumped and snapped out of my daydream. Mom was at my bedroom door, and she had the “look.” It was the same look people get when they have just stepped in dog droppings—a combination of disgust and sickness.

“What the hell are you doing in here?”

I quickly pulled the towel from my head and acted like I was getting dressed. “Nothing, Mom. I’m getting ready for school.”

Mom looked at me and didn’t say anything for a moment. It was as if she was waiting for me to say or do something wrong. A knot grew in my stomach.

“Quit messing around,” said Mom. “Come out and eat. It’s oatmeal.”

“Awwwww … oatmeal? Come on!”

Mom’s eyes seemed to glaze over. In two swift steps she was at my side. She grabbed me by my newly permed hair and dragged me out of my room. The pain was excruciating; my scalp was raw from the perm the night before, and my hair was still wet from my shower. I screamed and cried as Mom pulled me down the hallway, but fighting only made my head hurt worse.

“Shut up!” Mom yelled. “Do you want the whole building to hear you? I’m sick of you! I didn’t want you in the first place!”

“I didn’t want you in the first place” was a phrase I heard often. For a long time, I didn’t understand what Mom was saying because the idea that a mother wouldn’t want a child was foreign to me.

Mom dragged me to the dining room, where an extremely unappetizing bowl of gray oatmeal sat. I should have been grateful; a lot of people would absolutely love a bowl of hot oatmeal in the morning. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. I sat down, sniffing and sobbing, and picked at the bowl of oatmeal.

“Sarah, I’m not going to tell you again. Eat your oatmeal! You have school in half an hour.” Mom’s voice had gone from angry to pleading, but I was already too upset to buy into her up-and-down games.

“I DON’T WANT OATMEAL!” I yelled. Before the words even left my mouth, I knew they were a mistake. But I didn’t care; I was already dreading going to school and figured I had nothing to lose.

“You bitch!” Mom hissed. Again, she was at my side in two large steps. She grabbed me by the hair and dragged me into the kitchen. “Sit down!” she snapped, gesturing at a small stool next to the cabinet. I sat down and readied myself. I knew what was coming.

Mom reached into the cabinet under the sink and pulled out the Ajax liquid dish soap. “Open your mouth!” she ordered. I tipped my head back and plugged my nose. “No, leave your nose unplugged! I want you to taste it!” Mom opened the cap and poured what seemed like a cup of soap into my mouth. “Now sit there and hold that!”

One of my favorite movies was
A Christmas Story
. I loved the scene where Ralphie got in trouble for using a swear word and got his mouth washed out with soap. The square red block of soap going into his mouth looked like the most horrible thing anyone could ever taste. So whenever Mom put soap in my mouth, I flashed to this scene from the movie. It made me laugh a little on the inside and feel better as I thought of someone else getting soap put in his mouth. But I imagined that liquid soap must actually be worse than bar soap, because I always swallowed a lot of it as I sat there and tried to hold it in my mouth. My gag reflex would kick in, but if I spit the soap out, Mom would start all over again.

Finally, Mom brought over a bowl and told me to spit the soap out of my mouth. I got up and rushed to the sink to rinse my mouth out, but Mom grabbed me by the arm. “Not in my kitchen sink, you idiot! In the bathroom!”

I ran to the bathroom with tears streaming down my face and soap bubbling out of my mouth. I stuck my face under the faucet and let the water stream into my mouth. I spit and spit for what seemed like an hour, but I couldn’t get the soapy taste to go away. Then I heard my mother calling, “Sarah! Come here and drink some juice! You don’t have time to eat now!”

I wiped my face clean, spit one more time, and went out to the kitchen, where Mom was standing with a glass of orange juice. I downed the juice in three large gulps and held the glass out for more. Mom smiled at me and opened the fridge to get out the juice and pour me another cup. I immediately felt better. I thought that by her little smile, Mom had forgiven me, and everything was OK now. “Thanks, Mom!” I said.

“Mmm-hmm,” Mom said as she handed me my second glass of orange juice.

I downed that glass in two gulps and smiled at Mom as I handed the glass back. “That was good!” I said.

“Get your bag and get out the door to school,” Mom replied. She turned her back and went to the sink to wash the cup I had just dirtied.

So this was why I had to pee so bad and had already gone to the bathroom three times that day. But I couldn’t tell my teacher why I had to pee. Mrs. Slagle always asked a lot of questions when I told a story. If I said I had to pee because I had had two huge glasses of orange juice that morning, then Mrs. Slagle would want to know why I had drunk so much juice. The stories I made up about bruises on my neck or cuts on my arms usually involved falling down stairs or walking clumsily into door frames, but I could tell that Mrs. Slagle didn’t always believe me. Sometimes I tried more glorious adventure stories. But now I just wasn’t up to spinning a tale about being stranded in a desert the night before and becoming so dehydrated that I couldn’t live without two huge glasses of orange juice this morning.

So I was sitting in the back of the room wiggling like a worm on a fishhook, trying to hold my legs together until the bell rang and I could go to the bathroom, when the second-grade teacher ran into the room wheeling a large television.

“Ladies and gentlemen! Quiet, please!” Mrs. Slagle clapped her thin hands together and repositioned the large black glasses on her nose. “Today is the day the
takes off into space! Remember how we talked about the teacher on this flight, Christa McAuliffe? We are going to see her and the other astronauts launch into space in about five minutes, right here on television!”

Of course I remembered our discussions about the space shuttle. Until my class started learning about the
flight, I had known nothing of outer space. The whole concept of other worlds, deep space, stars, planets, and galaxies was amazing to me. The prospect of actually seeing a space shuttle take off into space with a teacher on board was almost too much!

As Mrs. Slagle and the second-grade teacher busied themselves plugging in the television, finding the right channel, and adjusting the rabbit-ear antenna, I tried to figure out how I was going to survive another five minutes without going to the bathroom. There was no way. I had to make a run for it. I began to slide down out of my chair. I was going to crawl out of the room, dash across the hall to the bathroom, and make it back before Mrs. Slagle had even turned around. The plan seemed brilliant, but then …

BOOK: Why Me?
11.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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