The Whore Of Babylon, A Memoir Part 1
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The Wh.o.r.e of Babylon, A Memoir.
By Katrina Prado
I'd like to thank my parents, Ray and Nancy for their eternal and extraordinary love and support. Thank you to my husband and son for their unfailing encouragement. To Dan Hoover, thank you for your keen eye. Thanks to the Sisters, Januaria, Guadalupe, Ilse, and Nirma for your invaluable examples of love and courage.
Thank you to Margaret, my inspiration for Sister Margaret; and quite possibly the best boss in the entire world.
And to Tammy: "A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words." This quote by Donna Roberts says it all.
June 30th, 2002.
"You are not going out in public in that outfit young lady!" I scream. "You look like the wh.o.r.e of Babylon!"
My teenage daughter Robyn scowls at me. At five feet seven inches, her long, strawberry blond hair streams down her shoulders in silky ribbons, hugging her statuesque body. Her dark obsidian eyes burn with fierce intensity. Lithe, bubbling over with a s.e.xuality well beyond her years, which I'm certain she's not aware of; she is the definition of lovely. At least before she dressed herself in that ridiculous outfit.
"There's nothing wrong with what I have on!" Robyn says.
She's wearing a sh.e.l.l pink nearly see through tube top that ends above her belly b.u.t.ton, and a skirt so short I'd have bet money that the manufacturer used scarcely half a yard of fabric to make it. Fish net stockings cling to her thin, beautiful legs and are finished off by spiky, black heels I can't believe she can wear and remain vertical. Costume silver bangles and hoop earrings the circ.u.mference of cantaloupes complete her ensemble.
"I cannot believe you," I jab a pointed finger accusingly. "You look cheap and trashy."
"I hate you!" Robyn shrieks. "I hate this place." She glares at me, fists on her dainty hips. "Why did we have to leave Aztec? All my friends are there. My life is there!" she shouts.
Robyn is of course, referring to our move to the chaotic, writhing sprawl of the Bay Area from the hushed quiescence of Aztec, New Mexico. As I fight the sting of tears, glaring at my daughter, I marvel at how my small, fragile family has begun to unravel.
"Daddy lost his job at Conoco," I say defensively. "When Tasco offered him this job, we had no other choice."
My name is Margot Skinner, and this is my story. I have decided that setting pen to paper is the only way to properly chronicle the events that so altered our lives. G.o.d knows there were enough salacious rumors circulating in town that distorted everything from my and Rob's marriage as having been open and bi-s.e.xual, to downright lies that we produced p.o.r.nographic videos of young teens engaging in s.e.x with older men.
And, I suppose, also to a.s.suage my own personal sense of guilt. The guilt that all mothers experience when they feel responsible, seeing their children make bad choices. Horrendous choices.
Robyn clenches her fists. For half a second I think she might try to punch me.
"It's my birthday. I'm fifteen years old! I'm not a baby anymore, Mom."
"Robyn, I do not have time for this young lady. I have a test to study for and homework to complete."
"So?" Robyn sa.s.ses back.
Where is Rob when I need him?
Always this question of how to respond to my beloved daughter. It has always been this way.
Robyn proved to be a challenge from the day we brought her home. Colicky, she cried for weeks, seemingly non-stop. Ear infections had us in the pediatrician's office more often than at home.
When she was five, her Kindergarten teacher suggested testing, saying Robyn was "lagging a bit". Her tests came out low, but too high to qualify for any special help. Not that anything like that was available in Aztec, anyway. By the time she was in third grade, Robyn had a reputation in school for being the problem child. The psychologist in Santa Fe diagnosed Robyn as having ADD and a non-specific learning disorder and put her on thirty milligrams of Ritalin. By the time she was in fifth grade she was taking 40 milligrams of Ritalin and 300 milligrams of Wellbutrin and cutting all her cla.s.ses half the time. Her grades were in the toilet. We hired private tutors, I made the two hundred mile round trip to Albuquerque for her to see "best counselor in the state" twice a month, and we even sent her away to a private boarding school for one semester, almost driving us to bankruptcy, but nothing helped. Rob began drinking, sometimes heavily and some nights it seemed we fought until the sun rose. I had hoped the move to California would mean a fresh start. For all of us.
"You can't stop me," Robyn declares. In her eyes is the steely resolve that all fifteen of her years can muster.
She spins around and yanks open the front door. I blink as the door slams shut. Silence spills into my ears with such force it makes my head hurt.
Should I have tried to physically restrain Robyn? Would that have saved her? Looking back, I think the answer to that question is yes. I should have done whatever it took to rescue her. The problem was that I truly didn't know what saving her included at the time. Or that I might need as much rescuing as my beloved daughter. On so many occasions I have pondered my choice of words that fateful night; the night that was the beginning of the end, and I have wondered. Did I drive her to it?
Later that night I am lying in bed talking with Rob about the argument. He's cuddling next to my limp form, his body smells of aftershave and sweat; my favorite combination. The lingering smell of old beer and an even older bar also linger on the air but I choose to ignore that.
"You should have seen her," I say between silent tears. "She looked awful. Like a hooker," I sob.
Rob sighs. It is the sigh of the defeated. One who believes any future effort will be wasted.
"I don't know what to do anymore," he says.
"I know," I add. "She's always been such a headstrong girl."
We remain silent a moment. Then Rob says, "I guess being a teenager means she's just going through that rebellious period. They all go through it." He presses me closer. "We did; remember?"
I nod but don't say anything. My greatest act of rebellion had been watching Rob and his high school buddies cruise the Aztec UFO Information Center's gift shop as they shoplifted alien head key chains.
"Did I tell you, Thompson at work said his fourteen year old daughter Trish came home last week with her tongue pierced."
"Lord," I murmur.
"It's probably just a phase. Hopefully she'll grow out of it."
"Hopefully," I sigh.
Little did we know how tragically wrong we would be.
July 1st, 2002.
The kitchen clock ticks just past five in the morning. My eyes open suddenly and at the same time, a sharp pain shoots down my neck settling into my shoulder, a result of falling asleep in the living room chair, waiting for Robyn to come home.
I throw off the afghan I used to cover myself, my body rebelling at the sudden movement. I wipe off a sheen of sweat already gathered on my face. Instinctively, I know my daughter had not come home yet, and I fight down that bowel-wrenching panic that she lies dead in some gutter, or else unconscious in a hospital room somewhere. Thoughts that bloom in my mind like tenacious weeds; unwelcome and unbidden, yet doggedly persistent.
I realize, from Robyn's previous disappearing acts, that she is probably sleeping at her friend Jenny's house even though she hasn't called and her curfew is midnight. My eyes fall to the overflowing laundry basket sitting on the edge of the couch as the air conditioner kicks on. We can't afford to run the air. I stand up and walk to the thermostat, moving the dial up to 86. Pickles, our little tabby, regards me disinterestedly from the couch.
I move to my purse, plowing through its contents for my Rolaids to quiet the persistent burning in my gut. I dig out two from the roll and greedily chew them.
"Did you see this?" Rob growls, suddenly at the doorway to the living room. He is fresh from the shower; heading to work on the weekend after a full forty hours during the week; picking up extra s.h.i.+fts whenever he can. The idea was so that we could save to buy a house. But with the prices of everything, including housing out here, we might as well be trying to save to buy an island in Belize.
He holds his brush in the air as if it were a wounded animal. It is his good one, the one with boar's bristles he bought last month at the mall. Rob is fastidious when it comes to grooming. But his brush has long blond hairs in it and most of the bristles look as if they've been matted down with some type of gooey substance.
"And the bathroom?" he says, a clear thread of anger woven in between his words. "There's c.r.a.p all over the place."
"From her getting ready last night." I face him. "She hasn't come home yet."
Rob is still scowling at his brush. "Good," he says.
"Rob," I admonish him.
"I know," he says, frowning." But look at this room," he adds, waving his brush in the air.
I look around and see evidence of our daughter everywhere. Clothes strewn on the surface of every piece of furniture. Barrettes and scrunchies and tubes of lip gloss dot the coffee table. Her school ID is partially obscured by a comb. A can of Diet c.o.ke is on top of the TV. Even from here, I notice s.h.i.+ny splotches of spilled soda covering the screen like freckles.
"She thinks the entire house is her own personal closet," he snarls. He shakes his head. "I can't wait till she moves out."
"The minute she gets home she cleans all this s.h.i.+t up," Rob adds. He turns to head back to the bedroom and then stops and swivels around. "And you tell her she's grounded. She's supposed to call when she stays over at what's-her-name's."
I drop my face into the palms of my hands, rubbing the sleep from my eyes with my fingertips. I need coffee.
I trudge to the kitchen, opening the cabinet over the microwave and pull out the bag of filters and a can of store brand coffee. I think about happier days. Days when Robyn, young still, would come into the kitchen while I was making dinner; or into the bathroom as I was hunched over the toilet with a scrub brush. She'd worn a smile as big as a silver dollar. "h.e.l.lo, Mama," was all she would say. And I'd feel my heart melt with love. Two little words that said everything.
Minutes later, Rob swings into the kitchen.
"I almost forgot," he says, "There was a message on the answering machine. Your mother called. Again."
A horn honks in front of the house.
"That's Dusty," he says of his coworker and drinking buddy who gives him rides into work so I can have the car.
He pecks me on the cheek, then dashes out the door, even before the coffee is finished. I hope he won't use his ATM card to pull any more cash out of the checking account for Starbuck's. I need every cent in there to pay the bills and buy food for the week. I mentally kick myself for not reminding him of this fact. My thoughts alight on Rob's message from my mother.
I haven't spoken with my mother in at least two weeks. She loves to call and give me updates on my sister Petra's perfect little life. Though Petra and I are separated by only two years, a gulf the size of The Hundred Years War lies between us. She stayed in Aztec, married right out of high school and a year ago just had her third child. Her husband, Larry, an accountant has the salary to afford Petra the luxury of being a stay at home mom. Their house is perfect. Their cars are new. Their school-aged children are on the honor roll and "The Baby" is so beautiful that Petra is thinking of having her model in baby food commercials. Mom calls me regularly to castigate me for not communicating with Petra. She also finds it necessary to list and catalogue all of her health problems, starting with numbness in her fingers to the ulcerating corn on her big left toe.
I busy myself with the task of making coffee, mentally going through my day. Print reports for work. Finish my homework that's already late for my Excel cla.s.s. Laundry. Walking across the kitchen floor, my bare feet stumble across an island of something brown and sticky. I add 'mop kitchen' to the list. I open the refrigerator door to get the half and half only to discover we're out. I add 'groceries' to my ever-expanding list of tasks. I feel my body sag with fatigue.
And just then, I hear it. The quiet whoosh of the front door being opened with stealth. My heart flip-flops in my chest. Unconsciously, I take in a cavernous breath of relief.
"Robyn?" I walk to the edge of the kitchen and peer through the doorway. There, on the other side of the living room at the front door stands my daughter. Her mascara is smudged in thick, dark smears beneath her eyes, giving her face an innocent, panda-like quality. Her lipstick, too dark to begin with, has left her lips stained, looking almost as if she has a Kool-Aid smile. A tear the size of quarter scars the left thigh of her fish net stockings. In her hand, she dangles her shoes in the air by their straps. She looks tired and bedraggled. She meets my eye and in that first instant a jagged pain slices my heart. I find myself wanting to comfort her so badly I literally feel my arms ache.
"h.e.l.lo, Mama," she says.
I cross my arms in front of me.
"Where have you been, young lady?"
She scowls and rolls her eyes.
"I know," she says in a suddenly snotty voice. "I'm grounded. Big deal."
"Why can't you at least call?" I ask. "Is that too difficult?"
"I told you I was going to Jenny's. She had a party for me. You know I always spend the night at Jenny's."
"You do not not always spend the night at Jenny's," I say. "And another thing. You ruined Dad's brush. He spent twenty-eight dollars for that brus.h.!.+" My voice rises with each word. In my head I see dollar bills whirling madly out an opened window. always spend the night at Jenny's," I say. "And another thing. You ruined Dad's brush. He spent twenty-eight dollars for that brus.h.!.+" My voice rises with each word. In my head I see dollar bills whirling madly out an opened window.
"Well have you noticed all his beard hairs in the sink?" she shoots back. "It's h.e.l.la gross." She throws her shoes on the floor in a dramatic fas.h.i.+on. "Besides, you said when we moved that we'd buy a house with a swimming pool. And And that I'd have my own bathroom. It's not my fault we have to share. I hate Pittsburg!" she yells at me. that I'd have my own bathroom. It's not my fault we have to share. I hate Pittsburg!" she yells at me.
"Don't you swear!" I scream back. I take a deep breath in a futile effort at remaining calm. "Yes, you are grounded. And I want this room picked up and the whites put away, as I asked you to do yesterday," I say, looking at the laundry basket teetering on the armrest of the couch.
Robyn rolls her eyes again and huffs out a breath of disdain. The coffee machine hisses and coughs as if commiserating with her.
"Robyn," I say, calmer now. "We can't live like this. Not knowing where you are; who you're with." I fold my arms in front of me, feeling suddenly cold by images of an injured Robyn lying on a hospital gurney. "What if you get hurt? You didn't even take your ID with you last night. If you were knocked unconscious or something, the police wouldn't even know who to call."
"I'm not going to get hurt! My G.o.d, is that all you do at night is sit around and like, think of all the different ways I could die? Get a life why don't you?" She flips her hair back with a fling of her wrist. "I'm tired. I'm going to bed."
"Did you make it to summer school yesterday?" I ask.
She stops, dead in her tracks, a deep scowl on her face.
"Oh Mom. Please don't start with school again."
Her voice is bone weary.
"Robyn, your soph.o.m.ore year starts in a month and a half and you're already behind in English and Math. If you don't get through these summer school cla.s.ses you're going to start the new year behind and it's only going to get worse."
"I hate school," she says, an undeniable streak of resignation laces her words.
I know this. She has always hated school. Her learning disability has meant that every single day is an effort just to understand what is going on. Never mind about learning the material. Never knowing the answers in cla.s.s meant frequent hurtful remarks by her peers. I can only imagine the teasing she has endured. At this point, she is sick and tired of the battle.
"I know baby, but you're on the last stretch. Three more years and you're done." Even after all the years of struggle, my cajoling, helping, begging, and threatening Robyn, watching as she fought to understand a concept, so often failing, I still hold an irrational thought of hope in my head. "I could teach you some basic accounting skills or if you'd learn typing, combined with your high school diploma, you'd be able to find a decent job and"
"G.o.d Mom! I am not like you!" she says, her voice wavering. "I don't want to be like you! I'm not some pathetic little bookkeeper. Don't you get that?" She hesitates only a second. She is opening crying now. "I miss my friends."
"What about Jenny?" I say. "She seems like such a nice girl. Don't her parents have money?" I ask. I can't help but feel that if Robyn a.s.sociates with the upper crust, their good fortune will somehow rub off on my daughter.
"Besides, moving to California is a fresh start," I begin. "You weren't doing well in the schools in Aztec. They're still in the twentieth century, for heaven's sake," I say, trying for a joke.
"But I was happy there," she pleads.
"But you were failing." I stop a moment and then continue. "And with Daddy out of a job, we didn't have a whole lot of choice. Besides, we're lucky he got this job. The whole economy is starting to get shaky right now."
"I want my old life back," she demands.
"I know, honey. But I'm just trying"
The Whore Of Babylon, A Memoir Part 1
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