Archive for November, 2006

Another Cinderella Story

Cinderella stories didn’t mean the same thing to me that they did to other little girls. My mother died when I was three. My father remarried almost immediately thereafter. It was not a happy union, so this is not a happy story. If you are in the mood for handsome princes, glass slippers and fairy godmothers, don’t continue.

My stepmother did not want a little girl. She wanted a doll. She would dress me in the most gorgeous dresses, curl my hair, decorate it with ribbons and set me on the couch. That is where she expected me to stay all day. Sometimes when she wasn’t looking I would hop down to play. The play would then consume me and I would forget to listen for her.

Soon I would be caught. She would jerk my fancy dress off me, yank the ribbons from my hair, and plunge me into her version of the dungeon – my bedroom closet. Wearing only my slip, I would sit on a pile of shoes in the bottom of the closet. It was pitch dark and clothes hung in my face. Once I opened the closet door to let in light and fresh air and security. After that, she taped my hands behind my back.

Another time I heard my grandfather’s voice and I called out to him. Actually, he was the father of my stepmother, but he was a nice man who truly cared for me and often defended me against my stepmother’s rages, which always made things worse for me after he left. My stepmother came and got me, put my dress back on me and took my stepbrother and I into the living room to visit. After that day, whenever she threw me in the closet she taped my mouth shut.

My stepmother had a loud, joyful sister who had five wonderful kids. I loved it when they came to the house because on those days I was allowed to be a child. I got to run and play and dance and sing. I was also given dessert.

In my stepmother’s home dessert was usually something I watched everyone else eat, not something I was allowed to have. I never had a piece of my fifth birthday cake. Only good little girls deserved food.

In case you are wondering where my father was through all of this — out of town. He worked in a silver mine over 100 miles away. He came home every Friday evening and left every Sunday after dinner. Whenever he was home, I was treated like a beloved and pampered princess. As soon as he left the nightmare returned.

On Sunday evening when dad came to the dinner table his suitcase full of clean clothes would be at the front door, waiting. After the meal was over he would go around the table, kiss and hug each of us, and then leave. I would listen as his pickup backed down the driveway; headlights would sweep the wall and the sound of the engine would fade in the distance.

My stepmother would reach across the table, snatch my plate from in front of me, grab me from my chair by one pigtail and drag me into the kitchen, where I was expected to wash, dry and put away the dishes. I was five. I drug around a big heavy chair to climb  so I could reach the sink and cupboards.

Are you wondering why I didn’t tell my father? That was the cruelest thing of all. When my mother died I was living in a big loving house full of siblings – my mother’s children. My maternal grandparents lived there as well. In that house, I was precious and perfect and loved beyond reason. My stepmother used that love against me.

I didn’t really understand death. What I did understand is that I was taken from my family to live with a cold, hateful witch. My brothers and sisters were not allowed to see me. My grandmother was suffered rarely. And my stepmother told me all this happened because I was bad. She said that it made my dad very sad, and that’s why he wouldn’t stay home. She said if I would behave better, he would come home and live with us and love us again. She also said, that if he knew how much I really misbehaved he wouldn’t come home at all, and that guaranteed my silence.

The nicest lady lived next door. She always talked to me on the rare occasions I was allowed outside. Sometimes she gave me candy. I learned to eat it quick and not tell my stepmother. The lady used to always check my arms and legs. Now, looking back, I realize she was looking for marks or bruises.  I didn’t have any. And the few spankings my stepmother gave me I can say I truly earned.  Her abuse wasn’t physical.

It was the nice lady next door who finally saved me. By then I was six years old. That Sunday evening my dad left as usual. My stepmother snatched me from the chair and drug me into the kitchen as usual. I was doing the dishes as usual. Then something very unusual happened — the back door opened and my father came in. He lifted me from the chair and carried me into the living room where my stepmother and brothers were watching TV.

It seems he had not driven away in his truck. The neighbor man had. Dad watched everything through the dining room windows. He told my stepmother to pack my things. That night I went to live with my maternal grandmother, where I was once again a beloved and precious child.

A few years ago when my father died I called my stepmother. I didn’t have my little brother’s phone number and I wanted to tell him dad was gone. I talked to the woman for quite awhile on the phone. My sister, Caryl, wanted to know how I could be so pleasant to such a hateful person, especially when she had been so cruel to me.

See, this is the thing about evil stepmothers: they either kill you, or they make you very, very strong. Though I still fear going hungry, and am afraid of cramped, dark places, I know I never sat in that closet alone. Jesus was with me. My stepmother’s cruelty kept me still and quiet. I learned about God from God, long before I learned to read his Word. He is my rock and my fortress. In him I have strength and peace that no one can destroy. I was not rescued by a handsome prince on a white charger, I was rescued by the Prince of Peace, and I will one day live happily ever after.