Our old house on Hammen Avenue was a modest cape cod, gray, with black shutters and a red front door. The chain-link fenced back yard was home to my swing set, sandbox, and the old oak tree that devotedly held my tire swing. There was a tall hedge in the back, separating my yard from Robby’s, the boy who hit me over the head with a shovel that one time.
All along the back of the house, there were ardent red and brilliant yellow tulips that had been carefully and lovingly planted by my mother. On the side of the house by the driveway, there were enormous hydrangea bushes with heavy-headed indigo and lavender blossoms. I loved to tuck myself away, deep inside those bushes, feeling the cool, damp soil beneath me as the sunshine filtered through the branches, striping my skin in sunlight and shadow. The all-encompassing world in there was a kaleidoscope of greens, lavenders and bright blues. I would lean my back against the house and gaze out between the branches like an obliging prisoner.
My brother, Joey, had been born just weeks ago on June 27th, 1974. My world had dislodged, and at 3 ½ years old, I was no longer the center of my parents’ universe. The crying, the nursing, and the endless diaper changing took my mother away from me.
I would sit in my room on the yellow and white-checkered bedspread that matched the curtains my mother had sewn, and listen to the seemingly endless demands of my new brother. I would lay on the soft, well-worn sheets with the Raggedy Ann doll I loved to drag around. She was soft and sort of flat, her shoddy pale blue dress, big freakishly large painted on eyes, and ropy brown braids with little red ribbons were horribly frayed from many nights of sucking on her yarny strands of hair.
One morning when I heard the crying, and the footsteps, I marched out the back door in my thin summer nightgown, barefoot and angry. I turned on the hose, full force, and let it run. I watched the water pouring out, turning my mothers tulip beds into what looked exactly like chocolate cake batter.
I stuck my forearms deep into the cool mud, and then watched my hands making great, sweeping arcs, handprints, and beautiful patterns across the back of the house. Tulips lay broken in the mud with no ground to support them. As I moved further and further down the side of the house, I was lost in the sheer pleasure of my accomplishment, until my mother saw me through the window from the rocking chair where she sat nursing my brother. “TRACY LEE RECORDS!!!”
It broke my trance. Back in the moment, I was shin deep in the muck, smeared head to toe, the ends of my white ponytails caked thick with mud. As I slowly lifted my gaze to meet the voice of my angry mother, I heard my brother start to wail as he was put down in his crib, his meal cut short.
The marching footsteps echoed out the window as they came closer and closer until she stood, spanking me with her eyes through the screen door. Tired and angry, wet milk staining the front of her shirt as always, she looked at the running hose, the fallen and crushed bed of tulips, as she flung open the screen door and grabbed me by the elbow.
She didn’t even have words, which was even worse. She yanked my ruined nightgown over my head and flung it over the rusted iron railing that led to the basement and marched over to grab the running hose. Before I knew what was happening, she turned the icy cold blast on me and began hosing me down. I screamed and cried as she held my elbow and I watched the mud/cake batter run off my body into a freezing chocolate pool around my feet. My brother was wailing bloody murder in the background as she reached over to turn off the hose.
She looked at me with exhausted, tear filled, defeated eyes. She left me standing there, shivering and soaking wet, as she walked back into the house, down the hallway past my screaming brother, and into her room where she laid on her bed and cried.