I was a young child when I lived at the house on Clarendon Hills Road and I recall that time as if viewing an impressionist painting. Vivid emotions are applied to my memories in unmixed primary colors with details that are like small strokes reflecting the light of my perspective.
The home was the middle one of three in a row built by an architect in the early 1900's. Mrs. H. lived in the biggest home of the three. It had a coach home that she rented out. Inside the coach home was a great room with cathedral ceilings that had floor to ceiling bookshelves lining one wall. Once, I asked her if she'd read all those books. She said she had and that her father had even written one of them. It was all about the time he stumbled upon Abraham Lincoln in a wood praying by himself all through the night during the Civil War.
I thought to myself: How divine to know each of those words like a friend in that great quantity of books.
Our home, which we rented from Mrs. H., was delightful. It was a white, cedar-plank cape cod in the English cottage tradition that was situated on three and a half acres. The sloping roof had a most feminine curl at the lip and upon it perched twelve wrought iron American eagles in array, wings outstretched. It has been my desire since childhood to reclaim those eagles and establish them on my own adult home, a desire not yet fulfilled but not to any degree palliated. Climbers, with beautiful seasonal flowers of drooping fuchsia bells, enhanced the outer walls but modestly, like a sophisticated lady who knows how to apply her makeup.
The garage was a recording studio. My father was in a band called The Ides and The Shames during those years. After his band, The Cryan' Shames, broke up and Jim P. left The Ides of March for a solo career, remaining members of each band hooked up and - Voila!
The home was crawling with skinny hippies in faded bell bottoms. People were constantly renting rooms and hanging out. I couldn't walk through the living room without being picked up by my ankles or thrown over someone's shoulder. It was lots of guitar strumming and enormous amps, microphones I was forbidden to touch, beautiful roach clips with feathers on the end that I wanted to be old enough to own, and lot's of smoking: the good cigarettes and the bad kind, the kind we had to leave the room for when people lit up.
I told my kindergarten teacher that we lived in a home with fifty-six people and that I wanted to be a rock and roll singer when I grew up. She was very concerned.
We had a fabulous tree house and a wood out back with a stream. We spent our lives in that wood, exploring, being tough. The ground was covered in arrowheads thick, like clover covers a field. The earth gave up her treasures cheaply.
I was serenaded every morning by bird song and at the end of every summer day, as the sun set behind an ancient golden oak, it illuminated the second story reading room in fairy dust for magical minutes.
My brother and I made a habit of climbing out of the second story bedroom window and playing on the roof. The roof had fabulous character and plenty of sloping terrain. From there we'd catch a limb on a mature tree and climb down to the back of the house. For a while, my parents just thought we had some scary, big raccoons living near us. They eventually caught on.
Once Boon, the mighty hunter cat, killed and ate a field mouse so quickly that my brother and I were able to watch the tiny, beating heart, laying in the grass amongst scattered bones as if in a nest, beat out it's last.
Ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom; the end.
And then there was Heidi.
She was my age and lived in the third white house that the architect built and was our neighbor on the other side. Their home was meticulously landscaped and both her parents were professionals. They had a flagpole in the middle of their yard and proudly flew the American flag. Heidi's mother made her jumper dresses that were reversible and sent her to school every day in pigtails. Each pigtail was a single, curled spiral. I stared at them in awe.
We met Heidi on a winter morning. My mother was brewing coffee in the kitchen when she noticed a hairy mound under a pile of snow on a table in the screened in porch. It was Heidi. She was wearing her pajamas, a thin robe and slippers. Heidi had snuck away in the middle of the night to escape her abusive mother and had sought the shelter of our porch, using the rug, dusted with snow, stored on top of the table as a blanket. In the safety of her hideout, she had fallen sound asleep.
When I came to the table that morning, there was a pretty girl sitting there.
"Heidi will be visiting us often." My mother explained cheerily. "We won't always know when she's coming but she can come whenever she wants. Kind of like this is her home now, too. And when she does, she's going to sleep upstairs with you kids in one of the beds."
It was like getting a sister when it wasn't even your birthday.
I remember her mother, a total drunk and strung out on pills, coming over for Heidi in the mornings after she'd discovered Heidi missing. Heidi would cling to my mother and beg to stay. Often, her mother would drag a sobbing and hysterical Heidi home by her hair.
There was nothing my parents could do. They wanted to adopt her. But, the state wouldn't intervene unless the police reported an incident of abuse and catching Heidi's parents in the act of abuse was an impossibility. That was the law back then.
One day in late summer, Heidi came bounding happily across her yard over to our home.
"My mom just bought fresh corn on the cob and said you can come over and have it for dinner with me." She told us.
My brother and I were excited. We loved corn on the cob. We quickly received permission from my father (What?!?!?!?!!!) who was "watching" us at the time and ran next door for dinner.
Her mother was drunk, nothing knew, but really nice. She had the table all set with a plate of hot something and of course, corn, waiting for us. We ate eagerly, in good spirits, talking about summer stuff and kid thoughts.
We had no sooner begun when her mother came into the kitchen swinging a broom over her head and screaming.
"Get out. Get out! All of you. Go!"
My brother and I popped out of our seats like they were on fire and headed for the door. Whacked out mothers were entirely foreign to us. It didn't even occur to either of us to ask questions. However, Heidi began to cry and protest.
"Mom, we just got started. Please, let us just finish our meal." She pleaded.
"All right." Her mother agreed nervously. "But you get goin' as soon as that corn's finished. All of you. You here?"
My brother and I were about as comfortable with this compromise as a cat in water. We shoveled the food down our throats without chewing, sitting with one foot extended towards the back door .
Minutes later, her mother came back more vicious than ever.
Swinging the broom above her head again in great circular sweeps, she screamed, "Get out! Get out! Get out now!"
We ran like rabbits. No sooner had the door closed behind us, Heidi and I were still on the door steps, when we heard four thundering, cracking noises in quick succession behind us.
Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!
I will never forget this. Heidi turned to me and with terror etched across her face and tears streaming from her eyes said, "It's my mom. My mom just shot my dad. I know it."
I thought: What in blazes made her jump to that conclusion? And anyway, why would she assume it was her mom doing the shooting when it was her dad who was the hunter?
"No Heidi. Your mom just got upset and picked up a hammer and banged it on the counter to get your dad's attention. My mom did that once when my brother and I were fighting." I reassured her.
"No!" She was adamant. "My mom just shot my dad. I know it."
My brother decided to solve the argument by standing on some cinderblocks that were underneath the kitchen window and taking a peak.
He flew back from the window like a great force had cast him off and, running, yelled behind to us, "Blood everywhere! Run!"
We told The Hulk, that's what we called him because he had curly hair and big muscles, when we got home because he was the first person we ran into. He set up the equipment for the band and was renting a room at the time.
The police were called.
Heidi's older brother, who had Down syndrome, was fetched and brought to our home.
My father went over to investigate, along with some other members in the band. They were cuffed based on their questionable looks, and then released.
The police questioned us later that night as we played in our room.
Someone came to take Heidi and her brother away and I only saw Heidi once after that. Once, in my whole life, and never more.
Heidi's mother had indeed shot her father, just as Heidi knew. But in her inebriated state, missed his chest where she was aiming and hit every extremity instead.
Her father lived and later went to jail.
Oddly enough, charges were dropped against Heidi's mother. And after she sobered up, was awarded full custody of her children.
Heidi's mother was the abuser. She shot her husband. And yet, he's the one who goes to jail. I was confused by those facts.
"Her father was a very bad man, very mean, even meaner than her mother, and the police found this out. That's why they put him in jail." My mother explained every time I probed.
This answer was sufficient for me until I became a grown woman with two children of my own and brought the subject up yet again one day, when my mother and I were having a nice coffee chat. Heidi lurks always in the shadows of my thoughts.
"Oh, Christy." My mother leveled with me. "Heidi's dad was molesting her. He had set up fantasy rooms in the basement with a whole bunch of sick stuff you don't need to know about and had intended on bringing you three down in the basement that evening. Heidi's mother was protecting you."
I owe that woman, imperfect as she was, a world of gratitude. I can not imagine how damaged and shattered my brother and I would be today if Mr. Sick-and-Evil had had his way with us that night. She stepped in between horror and innocence with a gun and made of herself a threshold that could not be breached.
...Who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth...And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?
I owe that woman a lot. I thank God for His mercy.
And I pray often for Heidi...
by C. C. Kurzeja
2005 All Rights Reserved