Ch. 8. St. Matthews

Lyn had started out with an interest in theatre at an early age. While still in elementary school she wrote a play and performed it in the basement of her house for the neighborhood children. She was a beautiful child, and lived with her father Harvey Lee and mother Edie and sister Teri in a one-story brick home in St. Matthews, a suburb of Louisville. Harvey worked at a tractor manufacturing plant, and her mother stayed home to raise the kids. By all outward appearances, it was a picture-perfect setting: nice home, loving parents, good schools, beautiful children. Like many families–perhaps all families, to some degree– Lyn’s home life was more complicated than the picture presented to the outside world.

Lyn’s home was in a reasonably modern suburb of the 1970’s. Large leafy trees lined the streets, which were orthogonal and smooth, with unbroken pavement and lines painted neatly in maintained intersections. Sidewalks lined the edges of the yards. The interior of the home was dominated by a large living room window, which had blinds that were always open; passers-by could see inside the beautifully decorated home, with leather couches, tastefully decorated fireplace mantle, bookshelf lined with books, some of which were turned outward so you could see the covers.

Lyn’s older sister dominated the attention of the family, as older siblings sometimes do, by getting into things her parents wouldn’t necessarily approve of. Teri was mature for her age, and Lyn often said she looked 16 when she was 12. She was also startlingly attractive. She had long, straight black hair and an arresting gaze. I only met her once, I think, but I can certainly see what brought all the attention of the opposite sex. She had a presence around men that commanded their attention, with little or no effort on her part. This brought the (not unwelcome) attention of many boys. Unfortunately, it also brought Teri experiences best left to adults, and she became pregnant just a few years later, when Lyn was only 11 years old.

The pregnancy devastated the family. There was no question, in that time and place, that the pregnancy must be accompanied by a marriage; and in the brief but tumultous period that followed, Teri married, became visibly pregnant, had a child before she was old enough to know how to care for one, divorced, and married again at 19– to a boy who was only 16 at the time. But those events lay in the future. When Lyn was 11, Teri was pregnant with her first child.

When Teri first became pregnant, Cheryl, Edie, and Lyn’s grandmother discussed what was to be done with Teri. The family would continue to support her any way it could, of course...that’s what families do.

These events had a profound effect on Lyn. Not only because it diverted her parents’ attention from her just as she entered her teen years, but because it altered their expectations and behavior towards her. And their fears for what might happen to her.

“What about Lyn?” asked Cheryl. “Do you think she’ll learn anything from her sister’s life?”

“Lyn just adores Teri,” said Edie. “I’m sure anything Teri does is just fine with Lyn.”

“Well then, I think we’d best keep a close eye on Lynnie,” said Lyn’s grandmother, affectionately referred to as Mamal. (Isn’t it strange how there are so many terms of endearment for grandparents, somewhat regional in nature? Mamaw, meemaw, granny, grandmother: In my house it was “granny.” In particular my grandmother on my mother’s side was called “Granny Grunt” by everyone; but that’s a story for another day.)

“What do you mean?” asked Cheryl.

“She might get the idea that behaving like her older sister is...acceptable.” said the eldest of the three women, who had a habit of being polite, if honest. I know–she was always friendly with me when I met her later, but always told the truth.

“Good point,” said Cheryl. “You don’t have room for another family here, in any case.” Edie glared at her sister. Of course we won’t have to face that, her face said.

Unknown and unnoticed to the three women, Lyn listened quietly to the conversation, taking it all in and absorbing more than they ever knew. Children listen even if they don’t respond. I know I did.

“Lynnie’s a good girl,” said Edie. Unlike her sister went unspoken, but they all thought it.

“Well of course she is, Edie,” said Cheryl. “But mom’s right. We need to think about how to protect Lyn. If we don’t–”

“Cheryl–” said Edie. Cheryl held her tongue for a moment.

“The way I see it, she’s likely to wind up as a nun, a slut or a lesbian. We have to do something to keep her from following in her sister’s footsteps.”

“Cheryl.” Edie stood with her hands on her hips. “A person can only love their children. You love them, and do the best you can for them. Sometimes you have to let them stand on their own. You don’t have children, so you can’t know–”

“Don’t start in with me with the when-are-you-going-to-settle-down speech again, Edie,” said Cheryl. “I haven’t found a man who’d put up with me and I’ve got bigger fish to fry right now, anyway, so you can–”

“Girls!” snapped Mamal. “I’d like to have you note our conversation has not been entirely private. Behave.”

Cheryl and Edie looked around the room and saw Lyn, wide-eyed, staring from the edge of a doorway. She gasped as she realized they knew she had heard. Heard everything.

“Lyn!” said Edie. Cheryl merely shrugged as if to say Someone has to come out and tell the truth here. It’s about time she heard it from us.

Lyn struggled briefly to decide what to say–if she should even speak, or could even speak– and finally decided to flee. She escaped to her room and lay down upon the bed, tears slowly crawling down her cheeks to the pillow below. Lyn looked around at the frilly pillows, stuffed animals, posters and pretty furniture. None of it seemed to be of any comfort.

I don’t want to be a slut, she thought to herself, eyes squeezing a few more tears out. I don’t want to have a baby that no one in my family wants in the house. I want children. Loads of them. And I want them to be loved by my whole family and to love the family back. She lay there as the sky darkened and her father returned from work, and the conversation in the farther reaches of the house became more heated, more fraught with pain and anguish. Teri was already known for having an undesirable reputation, and was on her way to establishing notoriety as a poor mother as well. Would that be Lyn’s fate as well? Could she avoid it?

I’ve always been the good child. I never get in trouble. Why would they say something like that about me? Doesn’t all the time I’ve been good count for anything?

She lay there staring at the ceiling as the evening light crawled its way up her wall. Eventually, her tears dried. No one, she noticed, had come to her room to check on her. Not while there were Bigger Problems that needed solving.

What if Aunt Cheryl’s right, and I am fated to be just like my sister? What will I do then? Can I live with myself?

She lay there in the dark, trying to figure out a way out of her conundrum, but nothing presented itself. 

© Jeff Adkins 2014