Blood gushed between my bony fingers and down the back of my arm. I grabbed my chin, beads of scarlet dripping off my elbow onto the dirty linoleum floor of the kitchen.
I was eight.
My sisters and I had been in the backyard, splashing around in our above-ground “Doughboy” pool. Just a few days later, the whole structure would collapse, flooding the backyard with thousands of gallons of water. One by one, the steel panels would burst, sending a torrent into our neighbors’ yards, toppling fences that separated us, “the renters,” from the rest of the more-legitimate neighbors.
But today, in the hot Sacramento sun, the pool still stood, majestic. We were having a great time. Until I ruined it.
It all started because I was thirsty.
“Go ahead,” my sisters said. “Go on in and get some water.”
Dripping, I ran into the house, looking for a glass. I opened the cupboard and could see the cup I wanted, just beyond arm’s reach: the tall Tupperware with the snap-on lid. Since I couldn’t reach it, I did the kid-logical thing. I climbed onto the counter to snag it.
As I hoisted my still-dripping body up the tile countertop, my wet hands slipped. I crashed down with an audible thud, as my chin caught the very edge of the counter, splitting it open.
I was a bloody mess.
I ran outside, hysterical, as my sisters gasped, looking out over the edge of the pool.
“You were like something out of a horror movie,” they later told me.
Scrambling out of the pool, they cleaned me up while making crazy faces and telling silly jokes to distract me. In time, I stopped bleeding. I was bandaged and given a grape popsicle.
Then, they started to worry.
Past experience warned us all how mad Mom was going to be. There were three of them and only one of me. All they had to do was watch me, and they had failed. They knew they’d hear it from Mom when she got home from work.
A few years earlier, my sister Marlene had learned first-hand about Mom’s almost-hostile protectiveness of me.
Each morning, on her way to sixth grade, Marlene would walk me 15 houses down the street to my best friend Kelly’s. I’d hang out with Kelly, watching cartoons and eating pancakes, until it was time to leave for Kindergarten. This particular morning, Marlene was riding her bike. She’d been given a stern warning by our mom that I was to walk, not ride on the back.
But I loved riding on the back of that bike.
As soon as we were out of Mom’s sight, I climbed onto the metal bookrack over the back tire, one arm around Marlene’s waist, the other holding her sixth grade science textbook. It fit perfectly into the crook of my elbow.
A few pedals in, the book began to slip. So did I – right off the side of the bike and into the gutter. Face first.
We ran back toward the house. Arm around my shoulder, Marlene threw open the front door, my road-rashed, tear-splotched face front and center. Our startled mom rushed toward us as Marlene hastily tried to explain.
Mom lost it.
Grabbing Marlene by the upper arm, she spewed rage into her face, reprimanding her for disobeying. She reminded her that she was the big sister; it was her job to keep me safe. Twisting Marlene’s twelve-year-old body and shoving her out the door, Mom hissed, “Get to school. I don’t want to see you.”
I felt terrible.
That afternoon, I waited with my gravel-grated face for Marlene to return home from school. I wanted to tell her it wasn’t her fault; I wanted her to know I wasn’t mad like Mom.
More than that, I hoped she wouldn’t hate me because of what Mom had done. I didn’t know the word “resentment” yet, but knew the feeling I didn’t want her having toward me.
Now it was three years later and, just as we’d expected, my sisters caught hell from Mom for my chin crash. She told them it would leave a scar…and it did.
My sisters saw Mom as fiercely protective of me, the baby. I suppose she was. Or maybe, more likely, she was just angry about the inconvenience an injured daughter would cause. As a single mother of five, working full time and barely getting by, she could ill afford any time off or extra expenses. There was no room for any of us to get hurt, especially when those hurts were preventable.
Safeguarding us from other, more insidious harm was a different matter altogether. For, as ferocious as she might be when my older sisters failed to protect me, she was curiously complacent when it came to saving us from our two abusive fathers.
Those men left scars, etched in the psyches of her five children. Scars so much deeper than the tiny scratch still visible on the bottom of my chin.
Georgianna Marie is an aspiring author, currently developing a series of essays about her upbringing. After discovering the beautiful North Oregon Coast in 2020, she purchased a cabin in Manzanita. She spends half her time in Oregon and the remainder at her home in the Phoenix desert.