Rye, NH : 8-11yrs
Wentworth-by-the Sea was part of Gram’s unfathomable charm school. Being the only East Coast female granddaughter, her quest to mold and control focused on me with laser accuracy.
The ideal this steadfast ‘tomboy’ failed was Shirlee Temple.
An adorable doll that danced and sang and only said charming things. I was to model and pose for photos in an endless line of revealing bathing suits and tight, itchy outfits. I learned I’d only get her attention if I obeyed, acquiesced to her whims.
If I complained that I was embarrassed my vaginal lips were visible through the bathing suits I’d get a slap. There was no actual ‘me’ when with Gram, only her projection of what I should be. Though I began my rebellion soon into my double digits, I did not understand for decades she was grooming me for the slavery of being a Lady.
She was trapped in some kind of illusion where appearances and status mattered. Emotional needs were uncomfortable signs of weakness she’d avoid, unless it was her own black hole of trauma. In which case the whole room must sit rapt through her oft-unlikely tales.
Gram longed for a moment in time, something she somehow missed that still belonged to her.
She dug the luxury of the Gilded Age hotel.
The illusion of wealth still held in the peeling gold paint.
I enjoyed the rolling grounds that spanned a thin forest & view of the water.
I romped across great lawns and sloping hills to the rocks in the bay.
The scents of pine forest, ocean air and ocean mud proper to my senses.
I enraged her by getting too-tight frocks ocean water filthy touching the fish that swam to me, poking their curious snouts up to greet me.
A sticky sappy tree at the edge of the great lawn quickly Off-Limits! The spattered polyester frock thrown into the tiny tinny hotel garbage pail.
You ruin everything!
I ruin everything. Echoes through my mind for years. Masquerades as my truth.
I was supposed to be enjoying the spa, the palm-lined grand walkway.
I was supposed to be practicing talking with strangers.
Men she seemed to know but pretended she didn’t.
Charm School, she said.
Testing my skill with certain hand gestures and terms that seemed terribly outdated and rude. The permanent guests insisted Gram was correct.
They’d tsk that I was a child out-of-sorts, tweaking my chin or cheek as they faded through the wall or mirror, Parasols & canes & all the men wore hats.
Shadows and lights bounced around our beds.
Clear voices make threats or mumble regrets.
Forms morph and shift.
The place was haunted as fuck and I preferred the outdoors.
She poo-pooed my discomfort about The Wentworth as lack of couth & what can she do but make sure I didn’t end up a waitress too.
I was supposed to wear highly flammable fabrics that stunk like poison.
Use the right utensils.
Put away my wrinkled cotton shirts and ripped jeans at her screeching request.
I tried to follow other directions, but they made no sense whatsoever.
Instead of dutifully using the right fork I insisted the whole thing was fucking ridiculous.
But, look, I just use the napkin to wipe the fork. I explain gently.
All I knew was someone had to wash all that shit.
Ssssssssssstop it! She hisses, grabbing my hands. This is how a young lady eats and goddammit you’re gonna eat – with – the – right – fork!
Accentuating each word with jerks of arranging my hands in the right place, with the right fork. She was confounded by my stubborn left-handedness.
A terrible, unforgivable fault passed on from Mom.
Often utensils seemed an unnecessary thing to me altogether & that’s when Gram really hit the ceiling.
She thought me barbaric for disliking all seasoning.
Butter slathered on all foods.
Grossed me out, man.
I preferred greens more raw, not boiled to tendrils.
Gram had convictions about meat and potato and vegetable, the holy fucking trinity.
Eating a piece of fruit or god forbid a carrot for a meal –totally insane!
She’d nag for hours about food until I acquiesce.
Then she’d bitch about having to get up and make food.
She’d force me to eat her giant meals, choked with butter & salt.
Then tell me how disgustingly fat I was getting.
I rarely left her home without some new constrictive undergarment she’d make me promise I’d wear.
My posture ruined by the unknown spinal cord injury.
To her it just looked like I was a lazy, slouching slob, wouldja stand up straight for once, goddamnit!
Her male children and in turn their male children, allowed her strange games.
By giving her complete control and never reacting to her constant jibes, they’d earned the right of Golden children.
They figured out how to flow around her killer obtrusions.
Mom, being female and a creative spirit, rubbed Gram all the wrong ways.
Their story quite painful.
But in the end Mom won her over.
They fixed something together, I guess.
No small feat.
Gram exhausted me. Sucked me dry.
She’d find a way to be mortally disappointed in me within any short amount of time.
In my most agreeable and willing place, I failed her.
Mom had an intense self-hatred of her body & a massive complex about being clumsy. Gram created those things on purpose. She enjoyed degrading others.
High Matriarch behaviors I was supposed to model.
I adopted the tone without understanding the substance.
It appeared those who behaved this way were in charge.
So everyone acted one way in private and another in public?
Didn’t add up. Something wrong with the equation.
Cognitive Dissonance, baby.
Battling between the urge to imitate and the horrible ache in my gut.
Not understanding it was my intuition SCREAMING.
Their perceptions too skewed for building upon.
Gram was devious. Delusional even by my standards.
She had a sense of grandeur that humiliated me.
She insisted we were secret nobility.
Her Mom Buffy had one last piece of treasure from our People.
A gold ring with a large ruby eventually handed down to my Mom.
She had it appraised.
Planned to buy a house with the proceeds.
It was worthless.
That greedy glint in her eye turned sour.
Mom in a wretched state for days.
Gram insisted the ring must’ve been switched out somewhere along the way.
Wentworth-by-the-Sea much like that ring.
Eye-catching but decrepit. Fool’s Gold.
It closed down for decades soon after our last visit.
A horror-movie set before being re-furbished by some conglomerate.
That hub-bub must’ve pissed off permanent residents.
They were much like Gram.
Overdressed, snobbish. Stuck in their ways.
As much as her attitude made me cringe, it appeared her majority ruled.
I adopted her mannerisms and mutated her style to better fit my tastes.
I’ve been accused more than once of appearing overdressed and snobbish.
I suppose it’s part awkward ‘spectrum’ speak as well.
I don’t see it in myself but that’s the whole thing about blindspots, yo.
At times reverberations of Gram hit me when there’s some revelation in people’s eyes. A click where my deficits register without question in their mind.
Then the person gets impatient, dismissive.
Gram had this click a lot.
I now know it means I’ve been judged.
My oddness quantified.
My value as a person instantly dropped.
Valued only for my creative mind or female body.
A performing walrus. A dancing elephant.
A trained animal to be put back into the cage.
I now avoid these people as soon as I see it.
No good for me.
She sometimes encouraged my singing. My art. My dance.
Everything of course brutally critiqued.
Improvements insisted upon.
But that was collaboration! Communication! Connection!
Most creatives in power were abusive. She prepared me for future work.
We both loved fashion and spent hours in her crowded closets.
I enjoyed her ex-husband’s long disused wardrobe.
Belts around men’s shirts, suspenders & skirts, bowler or riding hats.
I liked her array of 50’s & 60’s black dresses, large and roomy.
Adorned with rhinestones and beads.
I felt at home dancing on her lawn in the drapey fabric.
Singing the vowel-y sounds that bubbled from Aeons locked in my blood.
Knock off that Skwawking! Come inside!
You look like a goddamn witch!
What are the neighbors going to think!
Experimentation was not allowed in the Wentworth Wardrobe.
She had matching gaudy golf outfits for us.
Offensive over-acting plaids.
Complete with fucking pom-pom beanie hats.
Gram loved golf.
It was when I admired her most.
That steely gaze tracking her shot.
Her quiet concentration.
She was a warrior without a war.
Golf gave her a battlefield.
I remembered playing on ancient larger versions of courses embedded into rocky shores. In a place where the ocean horizon beckoned me back to voyage.
That tiny golf course land and the game of sticks and balls deeply familiar.
I wasn’t surprised any time she proclaimed a hole-in-one from my long drives down the lush green.
Thought I was hot shit for years until I realized she was just fucking with me.
Palming another ball as she reached for the hole.
I love that bitch.
She required us to change for each meal.
Polyester chiffon and doily bullshit that was always the size I should be, to inspire me.
Buttons and zippers bulging to obey.
Girdles putting up a good defense.
Creating a waist only starvation produces.
In the end wilted, defeated by my lard.
Rumpled and weeping on the floor.
Zipped into boned corsets so old the fabric disintegrating.
The scent of younger Gram locked in it’s ribs.
She smells intoxicating. Dangerous. Not yet sour.
Not yet the rotting baby powder scent of an angry woman beyond her cycles.
Her younger self had a killer scent. Remnants of killer survival instinct.
Pheromones that blissed me out.
Makes me willing prey with jugular eagerly exposed.
When I wear the corsets later in life I notice the numbing effect the scent has on men.
Like a hunter wearing deer piss.
Girl was fierce, yo.
Some bitch in HS even stole one.
Young Gram’s old sweat still fucking gold.
It was a Wentworth lunch.
As the waiter took our order Gram referred to me by name.
The waiter at once became far warmer.
So this is Princess Alexandria! I am so sorry, I didn’t know! I thought you’d be at the assigned table!
Gram fucking lit up!
Yes, Princess Alexandria wasn’t properly greeted at the entrance. She scolds him.
My goodness! I’ll see to it immediately.
He looks far across the grand dining room, toward a corner by the windows.
Oh, but. I’m sorry…this is Princess…Alexandria, yes?
Yes. This is Alexandria, she is my princess. Gram pats my arm.
Oh, but. I’m sorry, ma’am, is this Princess Alexandria or not?
She is my princess Alexandria!
I stare at unnecessary forks.
Ma’am, he says agitatedly, your table is taken. Pardon me.
He stiffly walks to the man in the suit at the door.
He comes back to the table. His paper pad in a tight grip.
He says icily, one Cobb salad and for you, Missssuh?
We are seated next to the bathroom for the next two days.
Gram accuses the staff of stealing pearl earrings.
Throws a scream-fest at the front desk.
I pretend the only person I know in the lobby is the potted fern.
Nice enough dude.
She discovers the HSN pearls in their box between the car seats on the way home.
Alexandria, you’re making me very cross, hiding my earrings like that.