Promises

 

            Every Wednesday, at quarter to two in the afternoon, I sat outside the office of the psychologist ofLamarJunior High school.

            The tight feeling in my stomach and throat was familiar. It was the same tightness I felt when I came home and found Daddy drinking in the kitchen on days he wasn’t supposed to be at the house.

            The psychologist was the welfare lady’s idea. We went on welfare shortly after Daddy went into theStateHospital. The lady from the welfare agency, Miss Gorman, came every week to check up on us.

            She always said, “How are things, Dear?” or “Honey, you know I’m here to help,” to Mama. She never addressed Mama by her name. Hell, my mama was way older than her. She had no business talking to her like she was a child. Miss Gorman was too uppity for her own good. And she would look me right in the eye and say, “Are you being good for your mother?”

            I took it she meant, “Are you taking care of your brother and sister and are you cooking and washing dishes and making the beds and studying hard and getting passing grades?”

            “Yes,” I always answered. I hated her.

            But that welfare money sure came in handy.

            I never did trust Miss Gorman. With good reason. The day I got called into the school office, I couldn’t imagine why. I was careful not to get into trouble at school. I kept quiet and to myself, being bound and determined to lose the phrase that had appeared on my report card every year throughout grade school: “Talks Too Much.” 

            Shortly after I started seventh grade at Lamar Junior High, I was called to the office. I knew something was up because my second period history class had just started and nobody ever got called out of class unless they were in trouble or had an emergency at home. I was pretty sure I hadn’t done anything wrong, so I figured something must have happened to Mama. My heart raced as I hurried down the hall behind Mrs. Whitcome, one of the office ladies.

            Mrs. Whitcome walked me to a door I saw every day, but had never been through. I opened the door, walked in and gave my name to the lady behind a gray desk. She looked up at me from her papers. Her beehive hair bobbed like gold cotton candy on a paper stick. I bet she used Aqua Net hair spray, like my big sister.

            “Alright, Dear, you just have a seat over there. It’ll be a few minutes.”

            I sat on one of those of pea-green leatherette chairs that must be state issue for school offices. I noticed a door near the desk with a glass pane I couldn’t see through, like over at the principal’s office. Only, this door had a plaque above the glass that read, Leona Outwater, Psychologist. My heart started beating faster. I was hoping someone would just tell me if Mama was okay. I didn’t dare ask, though. Aunt Edna always said a kid should speak when spoken to, and I knew Mama put a lot of store in what Aunt Edna said, so I just stared at my worn penny-loafers wishing I had a pennies to put in them.

            Soon, the cotton-candy-hair lady came out from behind her desk. She opened the door with the plaque and looked at me.

            “Okay, Cassie, you can go on in now.” She closed the door behind me.             Inside the office, a small woman with glasses sat behind a big brown desk piled with stacks of papers and books. Big books. I wanted to open up the books and see what was in them, but first I wanted to know why I was here. I took stock of how dark the room seemed; the framed pictures on the wall that weren’t really pictures, but fancy lettered words on paper. They reminded me of myVacationBibleSchoolcertificate, only that was smaller and I never put it in a frame.

            “Come in. Sit down. You’re Cassie Bonhoff. I’m Mrs. Outwater,” the lady with the glasses said. “How do, Ma’am?” I waited for the bad news that surely must have brought me here.

            “Cassie, do you know why you’ve come to see me?”

            “No, Ma’am.” My stomach was already tight, and my throat started to follow suit.

            “Miss Gorman tells me you’re having problems at home, Cassie. Are you having problems at home?”

            I stared at the beige linoleum floor, it would look good in the other room with the pea-green chairs.

            If Miss Gorman told you I was having problems at home, what do you have go and ask me for?, I thought. But I nodded and didn’t say anything out loud. I felt my eyes start to burn and water. I knew if I caved in now, she would be obliged to  walk me to the Girl’s Room, then everyone would see me with her.

            I realized there wasn’t anything to get my bowels in an uproar over as far as Mama being in an accident was concerned. But this line of fire surely didn’t feel good.

            “I understand your father and mother are divorced. How does that make you feel?” She wasn’t going to give up.

            “I don’t know.”

            “Well, do you feel bad or sad? Do you feel lonely? I understand you have brothers and sisters. How do you get along with them?”

            “I don’t know.”

            Right then and there I made a promise to myself: I was not about to tell this lady anything important. “I don’t know” was the least important and the shortest thing I could think of to say.

            “Cassie, your test scores indicate that perhaps you’re having trouble with your school work. Are you having trouble with your school work?”

            Why did she have to repeat everything? Besides, my grades were passing, even if they weren’t perfect. And I always got A’s in art. I figured that made up for C’s in English.

            “I don’t know.”

              The rest of the dialogue went pretty much the same. I got to know every seam in that beige linoleum floor. We finally came to the end of the first of what was to become a weekly hour of questions about my family and how I felt. My answers were pretty much the same every week: I don’t know.

 

            I never did get used to the knot in my stomach that came each time I opened the door to Mrs. Outwater’s office. I lived in terror that either Mrs. Outwater or Miss Gorman was going to tell my teachers and everyone else I was on welfare. I wouldn’t be surprised if they even knew that Mama had put me in the Settlement Home when I was nine, when she was sick and couldn’t work and didn’t have enough food in the house to feed us. This could all be a plot to put me back there.

 

            I buckled down and worked extra hard at English so there could be no reason whatsoever for them to tell on me. And I made sure I took care of the housework and Rory and Kittie Sue, so Mama wouldn’t think of putting me back in the Home. I promised myself I would never go back there. I promised myself Mrs. Outwater would never find out how hard it was for me not to break down and cry in her office and tell her that I did know how I felt. I did know I felt mad that Daddy was drunk most of the time. I did know I felt scared when Mama yelled at him for yelling at her. I did know I felt sick in my stomach and more than scared, when my brother-in-law and his friend put their hands inside my panties and stuck their fingers in me. I did know I felt jealous that Mama saw other men when she went out to the beer joint on her nights off. I did know how I felt but promised myself I would never tell.

 

THE END

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