Charlie knew there was no such thing as a Prince Charming by the time she was ten years old.
After all, when Charlie was ten her mother’s prince charming Rowland had thrown a full glass of wine at her mother and in his anger at apparently missing his intended target, her mother’s head, he turned his rage towards an unmovable object, the front door. With a six pack of beer, a few tumblers of Wild Turkey straight pumping through his system and a need for immediate release of his alcohol induced anger he smashed his fist through the decorative glass pane of the front door.
Unfortunately for Rowland this act didn’t achieve the desired effect of striking fear into the hearts of his wife and children but it did effectively slice his wrist open from palm to elbow causing her mom to have to rush him to the hospital while Charlie and her brother and sister were left behind to clean up the shards of broken glass and the blood that had splattered on the floor, the carpet, and the walls.
If this was a prince charming, Charlie knew she never wanted one.
As luck would have it Charlie’s mom brought Rowland back from the hospital that same day alive and well. For a few weeks it seemed as though her parents had taken a hiatus from their habitual quarreling, but before long the palpable tension that seemed to have existed in Charlie’s home for as long as she could remember came back with a vengeance.
Laughter was nearly non-existent in Charlie’s little world. The sound of laughter was only heard in the home if Rowland happened to be in a good mood. The rest of the time was spent tip toeing about the house so as not to disturb him while his favorite current sport’s team was playing on tv or he was reading the paper or doing something else as earth shatteringly important. It seemed as if anything at all rated higher on his list of priorities than that of being even a mediocre dad or husband. Happy times were but a foggy distant memory.
At the rate Rowland consumed alcohol and was continually unemployed it was only a matter of time before he found something new that angered him. Though Charlie spent hours practicing the art of invisibility, at times like that she could only hope she would not be the next target of his misplaced anger.
Charlie lived in a “historic home” which, as a child, meant old to her, in a quiet little country town at the base of a small range of rolling hills. It was a wood sided house, its white paint in need of a fresh coat, with black faux shutters adorning the sides of the two front nine pained windows; windows so old that when you looked through them the world outside seemed distorted and eerie. The house was located far back from the main gravel road at the end of a long tree covered driveway. The driveway split in two halfway to the home so that a person could drive either way around the historic well that was smack dab in the center of the front yard. This created a tear drop effect and allowed someone to pull up right to the mossy rock faced front porch that ran the full length of the house.
The teardrop driveway was gravel for many years but about the time Charlie was eight years old her dad had somehow managed to wrangle some extra asphalt, equipment and laborers out of the asphalt company paving the roadway in front of their home and within days their long driveway was neatly asphalted. The new smooth asphalt and the fact that it was a relatively circular driveway finally allowed Charlie the opportunity to learn to ride a bicycle, one that she shared with her brother and sister, but a bicycle none-the- less. After repeated attempts, a split chin and many scraped knees later, Charlie finally mastered the old hand me down bicycle and felt a certain sense of freedom when she rode around and around that circular driveway.
There were twenty eight trees on their property. Charlie knew this because she counted them daily. It was her habit every day when she got off the bus from school to walk the property counting the trees and on weekends right after breakfast she would count them again, except on Sunday’s when her father made them attend church or at the least read to them from the family bible. Though Charlie wondered where frightening your children and hitting your wife were allowed in the bible she kept her mouth shut.
Her parents thought she was being silly counting the trees daily. They told her repeatedly that they hadn’t cut any down and that the number had not changed from the day before, but they obviously had no idea the real reason Charlie counted and recounted those same twenty eight trees.
Those twenty eight trees provided the house with shade, the family with fruit, and Charlie endless wonderful climbing adventures where she could disappear into another world and pretend to be whoever she wanted; a monkey in the jungle, or perhaps a swashbuckling pirate swinging from mast to deck on a legendary pirate ship. She was never a damsel in distress, never. She was terrified of the possibility, however minute, of being rescued by a prince charming and she knew it her heart of hearts she never wanted that to happen.
The trees were Charlie’s secret world that she shared with no one else, not even her brother or sister. They were her fantasy world, her ‘other’ life. She didn’t have to hide or pretend to be invisible here. Here she was safe and completely without fear.
There were mighty oaks on her property that some in the town said were five hundred years old or more. Charlie found that hard to believe. How could anything be that old and still be alive? There were also pine trees, a few redwoods, walnut, apple, apricot, and fig trees, and one sad, mysterious willow that doubled as a secret fort with branches that hung all the way to the ground concealing anyone hiding within them. A veritable jungle as far as a child was concerned. All packed on to a one acre parcel of land.
Though an acre may seem on the small side to an adult, to Charlie it was her own personal wilderness. More land than one could ever need, let alone use. There were lawns of crabgrass and dandelions to run on, gardens of wildflowers to pick, rock outcroppings and fences to climb and conquer. If she wasn’t swinging from the trees, or racing on the bicycle, she would play imaginary cops and robbers, slide down the grassy hills on old cardboard boxes or play her favorite game of all…jungle safari with the family dog as the proud lion of the pride lands.
Sometimes she would find her special spot high in the redwood where she could sit safely straddling an enormous limb with her back firmly against the body of the tree, just close her eyes and listen. If she listened long enough, careful to breathe softly, she could hear the ocean waves as the wind blew through the trees. This always made her smile. Those precious seconds of the sounds of paradise were priceless to Charlie.
Charlie had always dreamed of going to the ocean but her special spot in her special tree she knew would be as close as she would ever get. Some days when the soft wind would blow just right and if she really tried hard to imagine the ocean she could almost feel the sea mist on her face, taste the tangy flavor it left on her lips, and smell the salty scent in the air. At times like that Charlie was at peace.
From the top of the tall redwood Charlie could just barely make out her house. The house itself was situated at the back of the acre and had three small bedrooms, one bathroom with a bath, no shower, a diminutive yet functional kitchen, a dining room and a living room boasting a massive stone fireplace. The most magnificent feature of the house in Charlie’s mind was the fact that each room was connected causing a circular path through the house. Charlie could run around and around her house all day if she wanted. Of course this drove everyone nuts and was absolutely not allowed when dad was home, but it was what made the house special in her eyes and helped alleviate the boredom of long winter days when she was not allowed to be outside even though her trees would have protected her from the rain.
The kitchen always seemed to have the aroma of some wonderful creation baking in the oven or simmering on the stovetop. On a shoe string budget it was always a wonder the scrumptious meals that came from her mother’s kitchen. Add a little of this, a pinch of that, and next thing you know that ham bone boiled in some culinary concoction was fit for a king. Charlie would sit at the kitchen table pretending to color while she watched her mom create. She never realized that her mother was creative because she had to be.
When Charlie was just about six years old, her mother’s apron would constantly and mysteriously become untied while she was cooking and since Charlie was just learning how to tie her shoe laces she was put in charge of tying her mom’s apron strings. This was an honor that none of the other children were allowed to perform. It never occurred to her that this was bow tying practice and her brother and sister already knew how, she just thought she was special.
Her mother always made her feel special. Every small achievement, every perfected math equation, every newly painted rock she brought from the garden, her mother ohhed and ahhed about. Constantly telling Charlie how talented, or creative, or smart she was. Charlie never lacked for compliments or love from her mom. Her dad however was a different story.
When Rowland wasn’t drinking, he was a fun dad. He would rough house with the kids, rolling around on the ground with them playing his own special made up game of ‘rumble rumble.’ This game had two players, a dad and a kid. The dad would lay down at one end of the living room and the kid the other, each end called base. At the word ‘Go’ both would roll towards each other trying to get to the others ‘base’ first. Of course the dad would roll right over the kid every time and win. But that was the fun of it. Laughter was always accomplished with that game, until dad stood up and had to swipe the dog hair or dust from his clothes causing him to yell at mom for being a horrible house keeper and how he had to slave away each day to make money the least she could do was keep his home clean. Then came the beers to add to his sullen mood. A volatile mix.
Looking back, Charlie could remember the look of worry on her mother’s face each time rumble rumble was about to begin. Charlie always thought it meant her mom was worried she would be hurt, now she realizes that her mother was anticipating the fallout, the abuse that was bound to occur, either emotionally, physically or verbally. How her mom managed to laugh at all during those years was a mystery to Charlie.
Like most children of her generation Charlie learned how to deal with parents divorcing, though secretly and not without guilt she was actually relieved to have her dad out of the house. Her mother, though scarred and troubled by what she viewed as failure, always managed to have enough love and laughter to help Charlie through that traumatic life event. Her mother slowly but surely became her best friend, her confidant, her rock.
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