Yellow has been the embodiment of my inner strength and has developed this uncanny ability to make me smile. It is and always was my favorite of colors, but most have no knowledge of why…until now.
While this story occurred long ago, it continues to feel as though it were just yesterday, mostly because I still wake up in cold sweats from the terrifying imprint it has left on my soul. From the terror she has left in my heart. She went by “Grandma Lee” and she was the first and most memorable of the many foster homes that I would ultimately come to live in. Some were great, others not so much.
As far as Grandma Lee was concerned, I have always thought of her as a sculptor by trade for she had this crazy ability to mold my body into such indescribable deformities that I had never thought humanly possible. At that time, my father had placed me into foster care after receiving custody due to the severe abuse I had been subjected to while living with my mother and her boyfriend, which resulted in my fear of anything and everything (a story for another day).
In the beginning, I had hoped that I was finally arriving somewhere safe and protected. Unfortunately, that was far from the reality of the situation. Of course she took me in her arms when I arrived with the social worker, but that quickly changed as I came to be nothing more than an annoyance to her. It seemed as though everything about me annoyed her…that my very existence annoyed her, which left me in a constant state of anxiety stricken anticipation for what was to come. One of her biggest issues with me was my eating habits. She truly believed that I ate too slow and needed to speed things up as she apparently never received the memo that I had little to no concept of what to do with food and I never received the memo that she could have cared less. Who knows, maybe I was too slow of an eater as I know I certainly am now…seems I never could get the whole eating thing right. However, it turns out she lacked any ability to handle it and soon after moving in she started this ongoing ritual of screaming at me to eat quicker and telling me that she did not get paid enough to sit around waiting for me to finish when she had better things to do. Slowly, her anger over this escalated to pure rage, as did my fear at the realization that something far worse was coming. I would watch her every movement as she inched closer while her screaming only grew louder. At some point it escalated to a good quick smack to the back of my head, which further escalated to the grabbing my hair while pulling my head back to scream in my face. Until one morning she finally grabbed my hair pulling my head so far back that I was able to see this horrifying look cross her face…it almost reminded me of a cartoon character when a light finally goes off in their mind when they have thought of something seemingly amazing…and she proceeded to grab the food right off my plate and began shoving it into my mouth, but she could not leave it at that. Instead, she continued attempting to force it further and further down causing me to choke. I was terrified and I tried as hard as I could to keep from reacting because I did not want to be the cause of her increasing anger, but that was inevitable because she was trying to force it down for so long and hard that I was unable to breathe. This whole dance of ours almost always resulted in my inability to contain it and my gag reflexes would kick in.
So often I feared that I was going to die from suffocation on my own vomit, but at that point she would take a step back while I dropped to the floor attempting to gasp for air. It was as though she had a momentary realization of what she was doing, but only a moment because upon seeing me on the floor she once again was unable to resist grabbing me by my hair to force my face down into the floor…into my own vomit until she had finally had enough and stood up to walk away while instructing me to clean myself up and go to bed.
When I finally did crawl into bed…literally crawl…I was always left in a state of high alert. I would often wrap myself in a blanket and curl up in the farthest corner of the bed out of fear of being near any edge…and I would wait. I always tried waiting out the night, but I could not resist succumbing to my sheer exhaustion and would unwillingly fall to sleep. It angered me when I awoke each morning knowing that I had failed to stay awake thus leaving myself at risk. Of course, more often than not were the nights that gave reason to my anger, the nights that I would fall asleep and suddenly a hand would wrap its death gripping fingers around my tiny ankle and drag me off the bed…my head almost always pulsating with pain as it would inevitably hit the floor…and suddenly I was back in the dining room waiting for another beating or having to clean the most random of things over and over and over again as she watched. I cannot even begin to tell you the number of times I had cleaned one specific tile in one night only to result in being beaten anyway, but I had already become used to the beatings…my mother’s boyfriend had seen to that. At some point I fell into this routine of cleaning a tile and always expecting to be beaten so as not to be disappointed.
Then around Easter she had me wear a dress and she actually brushed my hair because my father was scheduled to pick me up. I was so excited as I had always held onto this false pretense that, as my father, he would scoop me into his arms and wrap them around me so tight. That he would protect me. I have no idea where this idea came from, because he has never come close to doing that, and yet I still believed he would. In fact, for whatever reason, I continued to believe that for most of my life…well until recently. Although, I sometimes question whether I still do in some small way. Then I was disappointed as usual because (as usual) he never showed up. She was so angry with me that she started calling me names and telling me that no one would ever want me. Arguing, how would they when even my own father could not bring himself to see me, not even for Easter, and I began to believe her. I began to believe that I was unworthy of love. I believed that I was unworthy of anything really. She then made me stand in the corner that whole day and got a kick out of her brilliant idea that I should do it on one foot. Whenever I put my foot down, which was often because I was not all that great at balancing, she would knock me to the ground and I would have to start all over. So I spent that Easter standing in the corner in my dress listening to her with her son (who lived there) eating followed by the opening of his Easter basket until that night when she finally let me go to bed. My Easter gift was that she allowed me to finally go to bed without dragging me out that whole night.
The worst though was this extremely twisted infatuation she had for the color pink. I could never wrap my head around it and for the longest time I could not stand the color because it would literally cause me to become physically ill with thoughts of her. I should have known something terrible was bound to follow with the first of many times that she asked me what my favorite color was. Actually, I probably should have always been suspicious of anything that came out of her mouth, but I was a naive child. So I quickly responded in excitement by telling her it was yellow, which clearly was not the response she was looking for because she just as quickly smacked me screaming ridiculous ideas of how unfeminine yellow was and that my favorite color was to be pink. She was never able to leave it at that though. Instead, she had a pink cup and a pink plate that she forced me to use. Pink clothes that I had to wear. Pink everything…and every so often she would ask me again what my favorite color was and I would once again say yellow. I am not entirely certain whether it was sheer stubbornness or complete stupidity (maybe brain damage), but for some reason I fought her to the point that she would not allow me to eat or drink anything for extended periods of time. Sometimes for such long periods that I felt as though my lips were beginning to dry and my tongue would stick to the roof of my mouth.
At the time, I had this one doll…literally the only doll that I had…that wore these little white plastic boots that could be removed. One day I took one of the boots and pretended I had to use the bathroom. As I closed the door I immediately dropped to my knees while using the boot to drink water from the toilet because I was to afraid she would hear the faucet if I turned it on, which would result in another beating. So this became a typical routine for me whenever she was restricting me from food and water…I would grab the boot and drink from the toilet, grab the boot and drink from the toilet, grab the boot and drink from the toilet. The final time she asked me what my favorite color was, right before my father picked me up to move me elsewhere, I of course still said yellow and she became so enraged she hit me so hard that my nose and mouth began to bleed and she then pushed me down the basement stairs while watching as I instinctively and repeatedly attempted to catch myself, ultimately landing on the hard, cold, cement floor where I laid for several moments as I contemplated whether I should get up…whether I could get up. I would say that my experience living with her was close to being the most broken and bruised, spiritually and physically, that I have ever been.
It is funny though, how something so terrifying and humiliating can also be so defining in one’s life. As I had mentioned, I still wake up in cold sweats from night terrors of these memories that cause me to peel off soaked clothing and repeatedly change even more soaked bedding. However, I open my eyes and see that I am surrounded by a jar of yellow flowers, splashes of yellow pillows and the safety of a soft, bright yellow blanket to wrap myself in, which snaps me out of the all consuming terror and leaves me with the ability to do nothing more than smile at the simple reminder that I stood my ground. However small that ground was…it was and is mine. It always will be. So I grasp onto it…to yellow…because it is something so beautiful and bright that leaves me feeling so safe…it has the ability to carry me through even the darkest of days. It has the ability to make me smile. Sometimes that is all I ever need, something…anything…no matter how small it might seem, to carry me through. Something to make me smile.
(This picture was taken from Facebook…naturally, it also makes me smile.)