I grew up in a house bursting with girls. Jodi, Julie, Kellie, Susan, Sherri and then me. When we all line up, I am reminded of those pictures you see of a mother duck with all the ducklings trailing behind. Mom had six girls in eight years. Dad often joked, "All we needed to do was wash our underwear together and she got pregnant." Shortly after I was born, my mom hemorrhaged requiring an emergency hysterectomy. You would think a hysterectomy would end my Dad's daughter-running-streak. But a few years later we crowded into a church brimming with anxiety and excitement. There we met and took home our new sister, a thirteen-year-old Navajo student named Darlene. Then there were seven.
I am very young when my parents gather us together.
Dad explains, "As a family, we need to look out for one another."
Dad works hard for his girls. He has three jobs so he isn't around much and Mom needs help. Everyone receives an assignment; Jodi looks after Darlene, Darlene takes care of Julie, Julie watches over Kellie, etc. until he comes to me.
"Who am I in charge of?" I demand.
Dad contemplates a minute, "Mmm, let me think about it."
His solution comes on my fourth birthday. "Teresa, can you get my brush out of the car?" Mom calls from the other room. I open the door to our 1968 red suburban. I climb over the seat hunting for the brush and hear a soft whimpering sound. There in a box is a small ball of blonde fur. The Cockapoo puppy licks my hand excitedly. Forgetting the brush, I run to show my sisters. I have my responsibility.
Dad tells me he found the puppy while on a fire inspection. I call her Cuddles. When Cuddles has her first litter there are complications which make it her last litter. This makes her puppies uniquely special. Wrinkles is the runt. She is small, hyper and spunky. As she grows, she begins to exert her place in the litter. I stare in fascination as six blind, wet, rat-like creatures wrestle their way to suckle. Wrinkles tries unsuccessfully to push her way into the buffet. Finally, in desperation, she jumps, smashing into her siblings, burrowing between feasting heads and effectively claiming her place.
People often comment on Dad's "son" deficiency. I mean even Cuddles is a female. With a twinkle in his eye, Dad smiles and says, "I love my girls." And he does; we all feel like we are special. I am his baby. Even at fifty, Dad hugs me and says, "This is my baby girl." As the runt, I hear comments like, "Oh, the youngest, I bet you were so spoiled," or "You must have gotten a lot of attention." To which I respond, "You are absolutely right."
I received a large amount of attention, mostly because I am a brilliant child. It's my fifth birthday, and I receive three goldfish. We keep them in a clear glass fish bowl on the bathroom counter. I watch in fascination as round and round they swim. I am curious about the speed in which the fish swim. After flushing the toilet, I have an ingenious idea. With excited anticipation, I watch the fish push faster and faster trying to keep up with the swirling current in the white porcelain toilet bowl. Where did they go? Trying to keep a straight face, Mom attempts to comfort me by telling me my fish are happily swimming in the ocean.
First grade is exciting. I learn about Washington and Lincoln; I notice their pictures on my sister's birthday money. An idea strikes me with such clarity; every fiber of my being vibrates with my brilliance. Very carefully with my best first-grade-cutting skills, I snip their images out of the bills. Placing tape on the back, I proudly display their portraits on the front room mantle place. Jodi is not impressed. "You always have to be the center of attention," she huffs.
My best invention comes as I am learning the notes on the piano. It's hard remembering which note goes with the right key. With great insight, I take a knife and carved into the wood of the piano the appropriate letter by the matching key. "Someone should have thought of this earlier" I beam.
Occasionally, my brilliance warrants Mom's exasperated, "Go to your room. You're going to get a lickin when Dad gets home."
Waiting is torturous. Dad comes in; looking at me, he shakes his head.
"Teresa, do you know why you are here?"
Head down, I mumble, "Yes."
He sighs, "Do you know why it was wrong?"
I lie, "Yes?"
With a determined look, he gets the belt out of his closet.
Turning he says, "Lay on the bed and when I hit, I need you to scream and cry really loud."
"Well, that shouldn't be hard." I think as fear courses through me.
I close my eyes and press my face into the pillow; I hear a loud smack. I turn my head. With an expectant look, Dad is waving his hands motioning for me to scream and cry.
"Oh." I start to scream.
Dad hits the mattress again and an actress is born.