Purple was always my favorite color. I wanted everything to be that color. The walls of my bedroom, my stuffed animals, dresses. Everything. Because purple seemed to make my eyes happy somehow.
But the walls of my bedroom were beige. My stuffed animals were long ago given away to the Salvation Army. And I had to wear my brothers’ hand-me-down clothes. Overalls, flannel shirts, tennis shoes.
I had one church dress. It was denim. Pieced together from old jeans my father wore out. Lucky for me, my mother had patched up the holes.
The teasing from other kids was merciless. It didn’t help that she gave me the same haircut as my brothers.
“Ain’t gonna have no girlie girl in my house,” she’d say. “You just teach them kids a lesson. Knock their lights out or somethin’. They’ll leave you alone.”
“But, Mama, they call me a boy,” I’d say, trying my hardest not to cry. “The girls won’t play with me and the boys just push me around.”
“Nothin’ wrong with lookin’ like a boy. You should’a been a boy anyhow. Never wanted a girl. Too much trouble. Now quit your cryin’ and get your chores done.”
I hated her. There was nothing I could do when I was little. I never got to make a decision. She controlled everything. But when I got older, into my high school years, I knew that I needed to take over my life. All I could think to do was rebel. It was how I could fight against her.
Every time I got drunk it was to hurt her. Every time I slept with some guy I hardly knew it was to show her how much trouble I could be. All my friends were having fun. The only thing I wanted was to punish her.
She kicked me out on my sixteenth birthday. I came home from school and my things were packed in a duffle bag on the porch. The door was locked. She sat, looking out the dining room window. Stone-faced.
I left the bag when I walked away.
The next day I was waiting tables at the diner in town and living in the apartment upstairs. I got paid in greasy food and cockroach infested living quarters. Tips were mine. At the time it didn’t seem like such a bad deal. I had a lot to learn.
One thing that I did learn was how much money I could make by playing up my cleavage and tightening the apron around my waist. Red lipstick didn’t hurt either. Neither did the big hair. I made enough money in tips that I bought all the purple dresses I wanted.
My parents and brothers would eat dinner there every Thursday. I’d take their order, pretending they were just another customer. They’d ask for chicken fried steak and lots of gravy. We all pretended that we didn’t know each other.
But my dad would always leave a twenty for the tip. It must have been his way of making up for never defending me. Never telling my mother to back off and let me be a girl. The money was his offering to earn forgiveness for my ruined childhood.
It took me a few years to realize that I had to get away. I left. Moved to a bigger city. Finished high school and went to college. Found a good job and a good man. Every Christmas I’d send a card to my parents. Sent pictures with every child my husband and I had.
Eventually, I forgot that this wasn’t a normal way for a family to work. It just stopped hurting. They were a part of my past that only deserved a couple of letters a year. They never wrote back. Never tried to get a hold of me.
It was just as well.