I was sitting on a couch in the lobby just outside the room where my mother was in labor. Mom had decided to have a natural birth. No drugs, no doctors, none of that. She and Cordell also decided not to know the gender of the baby until birth. That said, the midwife and my mom agreed that she was carrying the baby high, and most boys were carried high, whatever that meant. Apparently, I was carried high. In fact, Cordell and Mom were so confident the baby was going to be a boy, we painted the baby’s room blue.
Within an hour, I heard the first cries.
“What is it? What is it?” Mom gasped.
“It’s a . . . it’s . . . a girl!” said the midwife.
“A girl?” Mom sounded thrilled.
I almost cried.
One of the nurses cracked open the door and told me I could come in the room and meet my new sister.
Betina Juliette looked like a pinkish grub wriggling on Mom’s chest. I was slightly grossed out but utterly astounded at the miracle I was looking at.
I watched Betina take her first several breaths, my eyes wide and unblinking. She didn’t cry at all, she was perfectly calm, laying there, breathing.
Mom smiled. She seemed happy and peaceful in a sense I’d never witnessed before. I kissed her on her sweaty forehead.
Cordell stood at Mom’s feet, getting ready to cut the umbilical cord. I caught a glimpse of it in his hands and noticed it led right up under the bed covers and then I heard Mom’s afterbirth was about to come out and I spun around looking for the exit and bolted out the door.
It was December 6, 1988.
My little sister became a beacon in my world. I was fourteen years older than her, a big brother by quite the margin, and it would be my sworn duty to protect her from all the shitstorms in life I had already walked through. I’d be her rock, her refuge. She would always be able to count on me.
Betina was a cute baby with delicate features, wispy blonde fuzz on her head, and globular blue eyes. Grandmom said she looked just like a Kewpie Doll, so I bought a small poster of a Kewpie Doll, framed it, and hung it in Betina’s room. Which, by the way, had been painted yellow shortly after Betina’s arrival.
I was still grounded from everything, but it worked out in my favor. I would have spent all of my spare time with my new baby sister anyways. In the first few weeks I started reading to her, I napped with her, I cuddled her constantly.
I was amazed at this new creature and would get lost in her eyes imagining the infinitude of potential futures I saw in them.
Behind this stage play of domestic bliss, and beyond my teenage shenanigans, the cracks in the façade of the new Burkhartsmeier Family were beginning to show. Long before Betina arrived, Mom and Cordell were getting into spats. Nothing too crazy. Mom was silently compliant for the first six months, relinquishing her will in order to be the Godly wife she believed she was supposed to be. But it wasn’t long after Mom gave birth that she and Cordell got into a whopper and Cordell, according to my mother, kicked her in the stomach.
That was a familiar death knell. As a kid I witnessed Mom and Dad’s marriage decline into a homewrecking, furniture-destroying, screaming, scratching, terrifyingly physically abusive nightmare.
It all starts with someone hitting the other. Doesn’t matter who hits who. What matters is someone hits someone else. Once violence is initiated there’s no turning back. In fact, it usually gets worse.
Getting kicked in the stomach after giving birth was nothing to joke about and certainly not hyperbole. Cordell and Mom’s arguments had ratcheted up in intensity recently, but that was something different. I knew it was going to get worse.
My granddad had given me his Commodore 64 computer years ago and I was using it to write stories as well as record my days.
Here’s the last few entries for the year:
December 23, 1988
Cordell thinks I should obey and submit to him ‘cause of the commandment, “Obey your father and mother.”
If he thinks he’s my father, he’s crazy!
There is also another scripture which says, “Call no one on earth your father.”
Well, it’s rainy outside, no sun piercing through. The clouds are just caked on. I see it clearing up ahead a long ways though.
December 24, 1988
I was throwing the ball in the house and Grandmom told me to stop. So I did. I went into the bedroom where Cordell and Mom were, and I tossed the ball up and caught it. Then Cordell with a stern voice said, “Your grandmother told you to stop throwing that ball. You better stop with that sarcasm or I’ll have to whoop up on you.”
That made me mad. Where did he get the right to whoop up on me? He has only been married to my mom since January 7 of this year. So I said, “Whoop up on me? You can’t do that.”
“You don’t think I can?” he said. “I have some news for ya.”
I then looked at Mom and said with a smirk, “Where does this guy get off thinking he can beat me?” I walked out and tossed the ball from one hand to another.
“Just put the ball down!” Cordell yelled.
I threw the ball on the ground.
I went into the back yard and scared a black cocker spaniel half to death. It barked forever. Why do all little dogs think they are so bad with their obnoxious barks? I guess that’s the only thing they have.
Cordell left. Mom called me in. She wanted me to talk. I didn’t feel like it. I don’t feel like…I just don’t like to tell people things. That’s why I started a journal.
Betina farted and I laughed.
December 25, 1988
A sheet covers me. This is my bed.
December 26, 1988
Uncle Johnny gave me his British Sterling cologne. Aunt Sandra is allergic to it. Just as she is everything. She acts as if she is constantly on the verge of death. I really don’t think she is. She wants attention, to be felt sorry for, to be manipulating through emotions. She actually looks like she is gonna croak. Skinny, weak, no muscle, frail, and a temperish loud voice.
Goodbye clean air, peace and quiet [ed. note: I just returned from my grandmom’s spread in Llano]. Back to smog, busy streets and dogs barking in the night.
I called Dad at work. No answer. I made a collect call to the house. Denise answered. She’s sweet. I asked if Dad was still at work. “Yes, they just stop answering the phones at 8 PM.” She put Stevie on the phone. He was tired and ready for bed. He’s a Xerox copy of Dad. He said, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, bye-bye.” He’ll be 2 on April 7. My birthday is just four days after. I’ll be 15! One year from a car.
Tried to call Matt, JePahl, and Charles. Matt was gone, Charles’ line was busy (girls), but I got JePahl. I hardly recognized his voice.
I feel I’m missing so much of everyone’s lives.
I took a shower and hurriedly brushed my teeth, combed my hair, and put Sea Breeze on my face to get rid of the acne. It’s like I have chicken pox.
December 27, 1988
[missing piece of journal] . . . to stop because I was making too much noise when Mom needed to sleep. So, I went outside and played with the pups.
I shot some more footage of Cordell cleaning the Junk Van out. Then Mom woke up, gave Betina a bath, fed her, fed herself and watched what I filmed that day. When she left I was looking through all my old writings (reports, writing assignments, etc.). When I felt the urgency to write.
I love to write. Almost as much as I love to draw. I guess you can tell I like to write since I’ve almost written a novel on just one journal entry!
Well, it’s almost tomorrow and I’m sitting before this black and green screen with some skimpy blue shorts on, my Reebok high-tops on, and my favorite Fresno State Bulldogs NIT Champions 1983 red hat on my head. My eyelids feel like weights and I’m afraid I resemble Frankenstein right now. Ideas are leaving my head as I slip into unconsciousness.
Weather today was weird for the second day of winter. Warm and humid. Weird Houston weather. Now it just started raining! Must be that Greenhouse Effect.
Well, I better guzzle some coffee and hit the sack. I need a shower. Haven’t showered for about two days now. Feel like a bum. Need to shave too. Well, I’m too pooped to endure. Later!