THE DON'T GIRL by JoLynne Beuhring
“I told you not to poop. Don’t you ever listen to me? The doctor wants only the pee for a test. Now I’ve got to deal with this mess.”
I heard you, but I’m only three. I couldn’t help it. I tried, but I couldn’t hold it. Please don’t be mad at me.
“You got just what you deserve. I said don’t go wading. Don’t you cry. Keep that foot in the tub while I pour in the hot water. We have to soak it. Don’t pull your leg up. Quit your bawling, or I’ll give you something to bawl about.”
It’s too hot! I wasn’t wading. I fell down on the rocks and twisted my ankle. Mom, stop! The water is burning me. Look, my foot is turning red. It hurts. I can’t help crying. I’m only five. You’re hurting me.
“Come in here, young lady. You don’t mind. You don’t do what I tell you to do. If you won’t behave, I’ll make you wish you had. Bend over. This is for your own good, if you can’t learn any other way.”
Here comes the flyswatter. I thought I hid it so she couldn’t find it. She must have bought a new one because the handle on the old one broke. This time I’m not going to let her make me cry. Third graders don’t cry. Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.
I can’t remember when I first started thinking of myself as the Don’t Girl. I do remember when I decided to become a Do Girl. I was going to do whatever she said I can’t or whatever would make her mad.
My first rebellion was when I refused to cry as she hit me over and over with that rubber flyswatter. Tears rolled down my face, but I managed to keep silent. This seemed to infuriate her more, and it was the worst spanking I ever had. But it was the last one. She exhausted herself and finally quit. I had blisters on my backside for days and had to sit very carefully, but I enjoyed my small bit of triumph.
Her torments became verbal.
“Don’t get a big head. You are never going to amount to anything. Don’t think you are something special, because you aren’t.”
Then came the games with food.
“You are fat. Don’t eat so much. You are a lazy, fat blob.”
When my feelings were hurt, again, at one of her barbs, I refused to talk or eat. To coax me out of it, she would make something she knew was a favorite—macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, coconut pie.
“Look what I made for you. You don’t appreciate anything. The least you could do is act like you want it. Eat. Have some more.”
This cycle was repeated ad nauseam.
“If you get into trouble at school, you’ll get it twice as bad when you get home. Don’t think you can get away with bad behavior.”
I didn’t get into trouble in school. I didn’t need to, or want to. Good grades or bad didn’t matter. In her opinion, I wasn’t smart enough to make a difference. She signed report cards without looking. I got good grades because I like learning.
“Whatever makes you think you can sing? You can’t carry a tune.”
I auditioned and got a solo role with the school choir. I also got a part in the school play when we performed a scaled down version of The King and I.
“I don’t know why you bothered taking Home Ec. in school. You can’t cook and you can’t sew a straight seam. You won’t learn a thing.”
The fully lined wool suit I made won the ‘Sew It With Wool’ contest sponsored by Burlington Mills. My Sweet and Sour Pork was a hit at the cast party.
“Why did you sign up for Driver’s Ed? You are never going to be able to drive, not my car. You don’t pay attention to what you’re doing.”
The driving instructor let me be the first in our sophomore class behind the wheel. The only reason I didn’t qualify for a driver’s license was that I was only fourteen years old. That didn’t keep me from sneaking the key to our car, while my parents were out of town with friends, and going for a joy ride.
“You are too clumsy to be able to ice skate. You are wasting your money to buy skates.”
Instead of buying skates with my hard-earned babysitting money, I borrowed a pair from a friend and spent my money on foolish things I knew wouldn’t have her approval. I refused to admit I had all the athletic ability of a mailbox. And suffered from numerous falls she never knew about.
“You’d better get some work experience so you can support yourself. College is out of the question for you, and homely, fat girls don’t get husbands.”
A school for medical assistants accepted my application. Graduation led to a job in a pediatrician’s office.
She forgot we are from a long line of big, less-than-attractive women. I married the first guy who asked me. The hardest thing I ever did was tell her I was getting divorced after twenty-one years.
“I told you so,” came as I expected it to, accompanied by an equally expected lecture on my shortcomings. But I defied the rest of her proclamation. I not only went to a four-year college and graduated with honors, but followed it with a Master’s Degree, becoming a professional with my own business. I can, I did, and I do.
When she died, her best friend said, “Your mother was really proud of you. She talked all the time about your accomplishments.”
Why couldn’t she have told me?