Dinner at our house was a time for tornado. Wet hair dripping, arms flung out, out of control bodies twisting and slamming. Bare feet climbing up blonde-wood cabinets, trampling the rest of of the Macaroni n’ Cheese. Slamming both the door on the cup cabinet and the plate cabinet or jerking the faucet violently off and on while piercing the room with high-pitched howls. Long, painted fingers my mother thought could have played piano or modeled rings, now snatched up by my mother and held just high enough to stretch out my toes to meet the ground as her other hand landed on my butt.
Hot body and steaming tears chased me to my bedroom where I upturned every doll, marker bin and box of legos. Hurling the hardest objects at the door I was aloud to burn out into a puddle on my bed. Other times being held with my arms crossed either direction around myself and my mother trying to keep her head clear of my jerking. Sitting on the floor. I, almost on her lap, fought with everything to get away from her body. More fuel added to my cyclone. Needing to run, get away. Don’t touch me. “I’ll fucking kill you, Mom!” Until I had to give up again to another person. My body not my own, it could not run away and break things but it had to do as it was told. I didn’t think about it that way when I was seven, I just thought “I have lost.”
Dinner at Grandma’s house was stuffy. We knew the restrictions before getting there. My heart would beat faster, my temperature rise, my teeth grind in preparation of the carnage. “Ill stay quiet. I just won’t talk.” I’d plan it out with myself. Along with breasts and hips for days, 6th grade had given me the gifts of forethought and reflection. “I’m going to make it through this Easter dinner under the radar. No disasters this time.” It’d start out nice enough, Grandma asking how we were and complementing us on looking so nice.
Soon enough Fred would start in on me. “Why aren’t you talking? What’s wrong with you?”
And my mother joining in, “This is the first time I’ve heard her quiet all day. Usually it’s non stop arguing.”
And Fred, “How come you give your mother a hard time?”
Grandma, “I wish you two would just behave for your mother. After all she does for you and all her hard work. You need to be nice to your mother.”
Fred, “If I ever talked to my mother the way you do or if I acted out my father would be there with the belt…”
I was gone. Anger, tears, hot skin pinking, reddening and ripening ready to fall off. I wanted to run, scream, kick, bite, hurl myself into something solid but I was too old for that now. I had only my words. My body was, except for the age-appropriate door slam, stilled years ago into submission. No longer able to fight back. And words came. They weren’t nice ones. They couldn’t stop. They were out of control tornados hurled at the people who’d just wanted to have a nice dinner. “Saundra, why can’t we just have one nice dinner?”
Dinner at White Hall cafeteria at Lesley College was unrestricted. I was alone and I could think of whatever I wanted. Or I could not think. I could have chocolate pie every night. I did. It was soothing to eat in peace. Even while the rest of the cafeteria was noisy with the chatting voices of newly freed young women. I could sit and eat and eat and eat.
And then I would go home to the Vineyard on breaks. Home to my family. Home for the holidays. Home for dinner at Grandma’s house. Newly sophisticated, learned, better than my family who hadn’t graduated from college in four generations. Home to, “Why aren’t you talking? What’s wrong, you don’t want to talk with your family?”
“Oh, Fred,” my mother would say, “Don’t get her wound up already. You know she’ll get going and we just want to have a nice dinner.”
“Oh yeah, did they teach you to behave at school?” Fred would ask.
“At least she’s not climbing on the counter tops like when she was little. Do you remember how horrible she was, Lor?” My grandmother would ask my mother.
“She was swinging from the chandeliers!” my mother would chime in.
We didn’t have chandeliers! I’d want to scream! But I didn’t.
“Have you heard of traumatic response?” I asked my mother one time after she’d, laughing, recalled one of my childhood tantrums. She had. She knew. She had been told how I sometimes couldn’t stay in my body. How I needed to destroy–the way I’d been destroyed. How the screams let out the violations against my child body. She’d explained to my grandparents on the phone and quietly while the kids were in the other room. They all knew I wasn’t acting out. That I was reacting from within.
“Why didn’t anyone tell me?” I wanted to ask her. Why didn’t any of you tell me? Help me to understand where my rage, and running, and screaming tornado body had come from? Why didn’t you tell me to tornado in the living room with the soft pillows? Teach me to tornado safely. Tornado with art, writing, moving. Why did you spank me and tell me I was a bad kid?