They Come Up Sometimes

Baby Bottle from the hospital

Crying, wrinkled and 6 lbs, I entered the world at 11:48pm within the delivery room at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital on January 11, 1964. As I emerged headfirst into a sterile fluorescent lit room, who can speculate if the forced expulsion from a warm human swim tank was the motive behind the crying? On the other hand, did hunger pangs, craving for food, stimulate the response? My steadfast rejection of mom’s humongous milk-filled breast confirmed that food was not the reason for the tears. I wanted nothing to do with food and after hours of coaxing and belly rubs, I gave in to the bottle.

Mom’s strict pregnancy diet, administered by Dr. Katz, resulted in little weight gain and assuming this affected the fetus, my eating habits became cemented in the womb. I emerged with an eating disorder while mom returned easily to her pre-pregnancy weight of 125 lbs.

I refused to eat during the formative years of 1-7 and inherited the label of “fussy eater”.  Processed food was gaining preference and Lipton Tea with Pep milk (condense milk in a can) and spoonfuls of Domino sugar were my staples. In the morning, in the afternoon, Lipton Tea was the main course but not before bed. By then the sugar highs of the day had worn off and sleep was eminent. Mom could not get me to eat. Breakfast was the biggest battle, as I abhorred the usual milk and cereal course, unless it was loaded with mounds of white sugar. This battle I won continuously until Mom started to think.

“Elenita, turn off the TV and eat your cereal.”

“Where’s the sugar?”

“We don’t have any left.”

“I can’t eat it then.”

“Bubie, come here I have something very important to tell you. You’re old enough to know   this and it’s important to know.”

“Sure mommy, what is it? Did J***y do something again? I saw her do it. She did it on purpose too.”

“Oh no Elenita, this is about the worms.”

“In the backyard?”

“No, in the stomach.”

“What?!!!!”

“Little one, did you know that you have worms in your stomach?”

“Really?”

“Oh yes hunny. Did you ever wonder why your stomach growls? It’s the worms and when your stomach growls it’s them telling you that they are hungry.”

“Mommy, is that true?”

“Oh yes. And you know what happens if you don’t feed them?”

“No, what happens?”

“Well if you don’t feed them they eventually crawl up your stomach to your throat and choke you!”

My eating disorder miraculously disappeared. Food was no longer a problem. Forget refined sugar. I ate my Kellogg’s cereal and milk without it as if it were caviar and crackers.

I grew older and my tastes became refined. Chef Boyardee, Spam, Vienna sausages, pizza, hot dogs, bologna, made its way into my mouth while broccoli, spinach, lettuce, peas and just about any vegetable, made its way behind the radiators. Going to the bathroom with a mouthful of food to spit into the toilet was so cliché, a typical thing to do and not worth the trouble of concealment. I had to make a statement and disposing of the unwanted food in this manner was my “dirty little secret” which worked well, until the rotten, decomposed ordour, with the flock of roaches underneath, led to discovery, by mom.

T o say Mom was amused would be inappropriate. She was perplexed and unsure what the crime warranted in terms of punishment. The brown belt would have been severe. While Mom thought through the options, she also sought relief by informing everyone in the immediate family of my crimes against vegetables. Of course, she didn’t realize the family’s laughter and ridicule for a month would be sufficient punishment in itself. Eventually the need to punish faded but the memory of the food behind the radiator was a constant source of laughter especially around Thanksgiving when food was the focal point.

Father’s Day June 18, 2000-excerpt

I last heard my Dad’s voice when he visited my eldest sibling to say goodbye to his grandchild on the way to the airport en route to Jamaica. I was twelve at the time and my niece was his first grandchild.

The irony of Dad’s solitary return to Jamaica was that he had left Jamaica as a married man with a wife and kids. He arrived in America in 1953 with three children, to reunite with his wife, my mom, who had travelled previously to secure lodgings for the family. The family settled in Washington Heights, NYC, because Dad found a job as a Super in a large apartment complex. My parents saved money and eventually bought a three family brick house in Park Slope, Brooklyn purposely avoiding the West Indian community on Eastern Parkway.

I became his fourth child on January 11, 1964 and his place as a nuisance in our six person fragmented family became apparent as I began to dissect the relationships amongst adults.  During my formative years, his contributions to my development were few and not substantial as his focus was on concealing his taste for Fleischman’s Whisky.

Dad lived in the finished basement while Mom, the siblings and me, lived on the first floor, 5-room apartment. When she was at home, mom ruled the first floor with a semi iron fist while Dad was a nod in passing. ‘Yes we know you’re here, not to our liking, but we have no choice but to greet you with a nod and an occasional grunt’.  He worked as a plumber, repairing pipes and whatnot of buildings in the area and I’m not sure, if he was self-employed or company employed. He left in the morning, came home, ate, went to bed only to repeat the routine the following day. 

Our father/daughter bonding took place at five o clock, Monday through Friday over a shot of Fleishman’s whisky, Dad’s method of relaxing at the end of the day and for me, nothing better to do.  With the whisky filled to the rim and holding our shot glasses (thumbs and forefingers), our glasses met in an unspoken toast and consumed in one take. Our ritual afforded a drink and nothing else.  The burning of the throat ceased some time ago along with the grimacing. As a dog that desperately waits for its masters’ approval, I too waited for the nod that approved of my emptied glass.  Whisky was much better than Ovaltine chocolate milk in the mindset of a seven-year old trying to connect with her father through any means possible.

My siblings were the recipients of Dad’s verbal and controlling abuse in Jamaica-West Indies-not Jamaica, Queens. I was born in Brooklyn, New York in America and for eleven years, Dad the semen donor, was a figure without much substance; he took up space without any useful purpose.

 Mom, my mom, sought refuge from the husband by way of her 9-5 job and Saturdays where outings with the “girls” (aka her sister) was spent at Roseland for ballroom dancing and socializing. Those Saturday nights would find me clinging to her high-heeled choice of the evening,  begging for her to stay home instead of leaving me in the babysitting hands of my brother and sister who took great pleasure in torturing and teasing me while watching Creature Feature horror films. The oldest sister was always out on a date with a boyfriend who eventually became her husband.

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