by Maria Mize
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Family · #1348120
This is a short story about growing up, written in a conversational tone.
COMING OF AGE
Names have been changed to preserve privacy.
It happened during the summer of 1972 when I was about to enter the ninth grade at Middletown Freshman High School in Middletown, Ohio. My name is Karen Jewel, but then my name was still Karen Stoddard. I was one of the Stoddard girls.
There were five of us girls. Mom and dad had the first three --- Yvonne, Karen and Candy --- when they were very young; we were born in quick succession, eighteen months apart. Then they waited another seven years before having my two younger sisters --- Patty and Misty --- always hoping for a boy to carry on the Stoddard name, but God had a different plan. I’ve learned to appreciate His humor. We even had girl dogs. Poor dad. Somehow he survived.
With five girls at home and seven mouths to feed, my dad worked a lot. He also had a couple of extra part-time jobs when he wasn’t at his regular full-time job at Armco --- anything to make some extra money. He also went to night school and eventually graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a degree in criminology. He later taught there as an adjunct professor. We didn’t see him much. When he was home, he sat in a chair and read the newspaper with his feet stretched out in front of him, propped on a round green vinyl footstool.
Because he was gone so much, after awhile I didn’t know how to relate to him. He regrets that now. He did what he felt he needed to do at the time and that was to provide for his family and to better himself so he could make more money.
In the summer of 1972, while mom was home taking care of my sisters especially the younger two, dad was walking me through orientation. He was good at that sort of thing.
When dad took me to orientation at the Middletown Freshman School that summer, I felt so grown up. My menses started on my fourteenth birthday, on the fourteenth of June. It was a time of maturity.
Dad and I walked together, arm-in-arm through the halls of the school. What a fine dad. He shined with love and admiration for me, and I was confident beside him. Mom and dad were hard on us, especially the older three. They matured by the time Patty and Misty were born and had learned a few things raising Yvonne, Candy and me that mellowed them, making them better parents of the younger two.
As we walked, I remembered a particular day several years earlier. A cafeteria monitor pulled me out of line and made me stand with my nose to the wall for five minutes or so during lunch break. I had been talking in line. There I was in front of the whole wide world --- or at least all of the other kids who took lunch the same hour as me. One of our babysitter’s boys saw me there and promptly told my dad about it. I’m not sure why. Do you know what dad said? “So, what?” I was so happy when he said that. I thought I was in deep trouble, but he said, “So, what?” He never punished me either. On the way home in the car, he asked me about it, and I told him what happened. That was it. Just a little thing like that makes you feel loved. It’s always the little things.
Because of desegregation throughout the U.S., kids were bussed all over the place just so there was a good mix of black and white. Because of desegregation I spent my freshman year at the same school both of my parents graduated from. We lived in the Village of Monroe, in Lemon Township just beyond the outskirts of the City of Middletown. Monroe kids went to the Lemon-Monroe Elementary School from Kindergarten through fifth grade. Then we were bussed to George M. Verity Middle School for three years for sixth, seventh and eighth grades. We were bussed to the Middletown Freshman School for the ninth grade, and then we came back to Lemon-Monroe High School for tenth, eleventh and twelfth. When you were at the Middletown Freshman School --- all the kids your age in the ninth grade from both Middletown and Monroe were there at the same school for one year; then we separated again for our final three years --- the Monroe kids went back to Lemon-Monroe High and the Middletown kids went to Middletown High.
Middletown and Monroe were always rivals, but we were in different leagues. Middletown was a bigger school with more kids and they were in a bigger league --- as far as sports. So, we never played against each other, but we were rivals nonetheless.
While at the Freshman School, the teachers elected me “Student of the Month” three times. I was obedient, friendly, participated in class and always worked hard to get good grades. My older sister, Yvonne, and I were always on the honor roll.
Just a few years later in the fall of 1975 I was crowned Apple Butter Queen at the yearly Apple Butter Festival in Monroe. It was the first year we had a queen and my time to shine. My name was in the mix, and the good people of Monroe elected me. There was a parade in my honor. I wore a pretty old-fashioned dress and rode in an antique car, waving at everyone with a crown on my head. All of my friends in the marching band were right behind us throughout the parade.
Starting my menses was a big event for me the summer of 1972. All the other girls in my class started when they were twelve or thirteen. I was always checking, but never starting. I wondered if something was wrong. Most girls didn’t like bleeding. When I finally started, I was ecstatic. It was especially grand because it happened on the fourteenth of June on my fourteenth birthday. God loves me. It was a day to remember in the annals of history --- at least for me. Every month I continue to celebrate. I’m a woman!!
We had been learning since fifth grade about ovulation and menstruation. Fifth grade was the year the boys and girls divided up for health and gym classes, prior to that we were together. Finally, some four years later, my day came.
My only regret is that puberty brought on adolescent acne. With pimples on my face, I road the bus and went to class. There were many days I would have preferred staying home because of breakouts. Along with some of my pimple-faced class mates, there were times I considered putting a paper bag over my head. One day on the bus, a girl my age from down the street asked me if I had the chicken pocks. Yvonne jumped to my defense, sarcastically responding, “No. It’s called ‘puberty’.”
My hair got wavy, especially my bangs. I spent a lot of time in the bathroom working to straighten them. Much to my chagrin, the slightest humidity would cause my bangs to flip and curl. Ugh.
Throughout both my freshman and sophomore years, my face was consistently broken out, reaching its peak in tenth grade. With face red and swollen, my mother took me to a dermatologist, who gave me prescriptions for an oral antibiotic and Oxy-10 cream for the breakouts. I watched my diet. I abstained from pizza, greasy foods and chocolate. Finally, my face began to clear.
After graduation, I sought work in the secretarial field, having learned shorthand and typing skills in high school and not quite ready to start college --- though I had taken college preparatory courses as well. My first secretarial job was for the head of the Quality Assurance Department at Aeronca. My grandmother had recently retired from there, and a nice man named, Jack Farrar, decided to take a chance on someone fresh out of high school with no prior experience as a secretary. I worked there for a few years.
Through the late 70s and early 80s, in the evenings after work, I enjoyed going to discothèques with my friends. We went out almost every night after work and on the weekends as well. I’m not sure why I wasn’t fired. All I can say is that I worked hard regardless of how tired I was.
When I was laid off from Aeronca, I took a job at Ohio Casualty Insurance Company in Hamilton, Ohio where I moved up the ranks from policy assembly to typist. As a typist, I was sent to Overland Park, Kansas to train girls when Ohio Casualty opened an office out there. My first time away from home, I enjoyed rooming with three other girls. Ohio Casualty paid our rent, gave us a car to drive and a living allowance. It was quite an adventure for several months.
Once I had trained four typists, I moved back to Ohio, where I continued working for Ohio Casualty for several months as a secretary. I later quit working for them to start a much better job at Armco Inc., the local steel plant. I worked in the correspondence center at their General Office headquarters.
When I was nineteen and working at Armco, I started dating a boy I knew from school. After losing track of time, I came home the next morning one too many times. My mother, who was never easy to talk too, told me to pack my things and get out. I found an apartment at a nice complex in Middletown and moved out that weekend without assistance from my parents. My uncle helped me. I barely had enough money left to buy groceries and my grandma brought over a couple of bags. I was all alone for the first time in my life. When you’re used to a family of seven, solitary living is a shock. I felt like nobody loved me.
Being lonely, it wasn’t long before my boyfriend moved in. My parents were appalled. On December 16, 1978 we got married to please my parents. Knowing my husband and his family better than me, they weren’t pleased. Not too long after we were married, I became pregnant. I thoroughly enjoyed the pregnancy. My body shouted for nine months: I'm a Woman! Somebody loves me! and I'm having a baby!!
After a positive indication on an E.P.T., I made an appointment at the offices of Dietz, Kay & Miller our local OB-GYN. As I sat in the office, I was a bundle of emotions. After being there for more than an hour, I walked to the reception desk and asked a middle-aged, heavy-set woman behind the counter how much longer before I could see the doctor. She asked, “What are you here for?” I replied, “I’m pregnant.” Without sensitivity, she responded, “Oh, that’s not important. Let me make you another appointment.” Apparently, all the doctors were at the hospital delivering babies. I went home and cried because she said being pregnant was not important.
I finally got in to see the doctor and vitamins were prescribed. I took the vitamins and went in for monthly appointments at the OB-GYN. The vitamins made my hair shiny and thick and my fingernails got stronger. I was the picture of health. Many times, tired after work I lay on the bed with hand on my stomach, trying to feel something. When my daughter kicked for the first time, I was elated --- a tiny kick then a quiver as she moved within my womb.
Unfortunately, my husband began going out in the evenings without me. I wasn’t as appealing with a bulging belly. I believed in the fairy tale that after marriage, you lived happily ever after --- like my parents --- but I was rudely awakened by a guy with big problems. After moving in with me, he quit his job. He not only abused alcohol, but he sniffed paint and took just about any other drug he could get his hands on. LSD was still big in those days. He used to sit and sniff paint all day while I was at work. When I came home, the air was thick with fumes in the apartment and I was pregnant. Sometimes he would go into the bathroom while I was there and spray paint into a plastic bag and hold it around his face, breathing in the fumes. I would be watching television when he would come out of the bathroom stumbling around, quiet and weird. I told him, “You need to quit this. It’s not good for me, and it’s not good for our baby to breathe this stuff.”
Did I mention he was physically abusive? When you’re drunk or drugged up you behave differently. After some encouragement, he began HVAC School in the evenings. He did well but continued going out, drinking excessively and abusing drugs.
One night he came home. He choked me. He knelt with his knees on either side of me, holding my arms and slapping my face; then he almost bit off the end of my nose. My nose was bleeding. He disconnected the phone. When he was out of the room, I hurriedly put it together and called my parents, saying, “Come get me, now.” I believed in my marriage, but I knew God didn’t expect me to die for it. My parents came and took me to their house and my marriage ended.
Six months pregnant, I was alone --- except for my parents and siblings. They were there in a big way. After my daughter was born, I took an apartment not far from my parents and began life as a single mother. It was difficult. A lot of my friends were single, still running around to discothèques while I was tied down.
I joined the girls’ softball team at work and hired babysitters now and again. One night I came home and the babysitter had the house closed tight, all the windows and doors. It was summertime and there was no air conditioning in my apartment. My daughter was alone, neglected in her crib crying; she was blotchy red, sweaty and in a dirty diaper. The running around ended for me that night as I got a good look at reality and my daughter became my priority. My girlfriend had a hard time with my decision not to go out that evening as she tried to persuade me to join her. “Come on. She’ll be okay,” she said. “Let’s get showers and go out.” “No way. I’m staying home.” My girlfriend wasn’t as friendly after that. Apparently our friendship was one of convenience. She wanted a “going out buddy” and since I wasn’t going out, I wasn’t her buddy. That was fine with me because I’d made my decision.
Many years have passed since I turned fourteen on the fourteenth of June and I’m a grandmother now. I work as a Legal Secretary and Assistant to a partner at a local law firm in St. Petersburg, Florida. I've remarried a few times, but marriage never seemed to work for me. You get used to being alone after awhile, and it’s hard to commingle your life with another person. I’m set in my ways but content as life continues to beat its drum and I march on.