Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Art and The Math Workbook
"Juno!" I heard the rattle of keys as my Aunt tossed them onto the kitchen table. "Juno Lisa Kughler, you get in here right this minute!."

Iris scooted against the bed and watched with round blue eyes as I slowly got up from the floor where we had been playing Barbies. Getting called into the kitchen by Aunt Fran always meant trouble, and the fact that she used my full name meant there was probably going to be a belt or a paddle involved.

"Juno! Right now!"


I walked slowly towards the kitchen, trying to figure out what I had done this time. I knew she had just come back from an open house at our school, but my grades were actually ok and my second grade teacher seemed to like me.

My aunt was sitting at the kitchen table, one leg crossed over the other, her foot bouncing fast back and forth. She was taking long drags on a cigarette, and her hand shook as she tapped the ashes into the silver ashtray she kept on the table. I felt my stomach drop, and I licked my lips nervously. This was serious.

She watched me with narrowed eyes. "Do you know where I was just now? Do you!?"

I knew better than to answer.

"I was at the school talking to your teacher--that's where I was! ALL the parents were there as a matter of fact, which makes this all the more embarrassing!"

I stood perfectly still. I still had no idea where this was heading.

"All the children had their work laid out on their desks for all the parents to look at--to see the progress you had made, the teacher said." Her voice took on a sarcastic edge.

I knew this, of course. My teacher, Mrs. King, had given each of us a manila folder to display some of our tests and class projects and had us place them on our desks along with our workbooks. Each of us had drawn a picture for our parents that we set on top. Mine was of a deer in the woods. It was pretty good if I said so myself. Brian Johnson had offered to buy it from me for fifty cents if I would let him sign his name and pass it off as his. I wouldn't do it.

"Of course when I got to your desk all I could see was your filth! Everybody saw your filth!"her voice had risen to a shrill scream.

"What?" I was so startled I broke the cardinal rule and actually spoke.

Aunt Fran angrily stubbed out her cigarette. "Don't you dare try to play innocent with me young lady! I will beat the truth out of you if I have to! Anne is a teacher at that school--people there know this family! What do you think they're going to be saying about us now? Do you know how embarrassing this is going to be for all of us? Now you had better explain to me right now why you have naked women drawn all over your math workbook!"

"I was just d-drawing," I stammered.

"Really. Just drawing. " My aunt jumped from her chair and stormed over to the corner where I stood staring at the floor. She bent down until she was just inches from my face, and her voice became dangerously soft.

"Are you a little pervert? Is that why you were drawing nasty pictures of women? Is that it? Do you think it's funny to make filthy pictures in class?"

"They are NOT filthy pictures!" I yelled , looking her right in the eye. "They're ART!"

Her eyes widened in surprise, and her hand flew out and slapped me across the face. "Don't you ever raise your voice to me again--do you hear me?" She shoved me hard against the wall. "DO YOU HEAR ME?"

I held my hand against my sore cheek. "Yes, m'am." I whispered. I hated her.

She grabbed me by the hair and dragged me down the hall towards her room. "You are not going to speak to me that way--EVER! I'm going to teach you a lesson you will never forget. Do you understand me? DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?"

"Yes! I understand you!" I tried not to struggle despite the sudden panic welling up inside me. It was always a lot worse if you struggled.

My aunt slammed open her closet door and grabbed the thick black belt that had belonged to her husband. She shoved me face down against the bed and and began to strike my back with the black leather. I had long ago learned not to move or to try to block the blows with my hands. Instead I pressed my face hard into my hands and curled forward, trying to make myself as small as possible.

"You will NOT . . .EVER . . . backtalk me AGAIN . . . "

Each phrase was punctuated by the sharp crack of the belt, and I clenched my jaw tight as hot tears ran down my face.

I hated her. I wanted her to die. I wanted to take my sister and run away.

"You are going to STOP . . . drawing that FILTH . . .DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME!"

Iris and I could leave that night. We could pack my little red suitcase and go to an orphange. There had to be somebody who wanted two little redheaded girls. But then what if they didn't? What if they only wanted one? I bit my cheek hard as the belt cracked against my leg.

Finally, her fury spent, my aunt dropped her hand to her side and stepped back. Breathing raggedly, she returned the belt to the closet, while I cautiously got to my feet. My body felt like it was on fire.

"I hate that you make me do these things but it's for your own good." she said over one shoulder. " Believe me, it hurts me more than you. But I have to teach you a lesson or you'll never learn.

She shut the closet door and turned to face me, her eyes narrowing. "You're just lucky I don't tell your father about this. He thinks you and Iris are little angels because you put on such a good act for him. I wonder what he would say if he knew how disrespectful you really are?"

I idolized my daddy, and she knew that my biggest fear was he would disappear the way our mom had.

"You girls are just lucky I took you in when your mother died. Your father certainly didn't want to deal with you. Nobody wanted you--not even his own sister!"

I said nothing and roughly wiped away the tears from my eyes. I wanted to scream. I didn't want to hear anymore. I wanted her to stop. I wanted her to shut up!

"Now promise me you will never draw dirty pictures again."

I felt something within me crack. "No."

She froze. "WHAT did you say?"

"I said no."

I was as surprised as she was at my sudden bravery. But I couldn't stop myself. All the thoughts and feelings I had held inside slammed out of me in a tidal wave of emotion.

"They aren't dirty pictures--they're art. I'm an artist like my daddy. He draws naked women all the time, and people think it's good. They pay him a lot of money for it. I'm good. I'm one of the best drawers in school! I don't care how much you hit me--I'm not going to stop!"

Aunt Fran stared at me in disbelief. "Your father is an artist and YOU are not! You will NEVER be an artist. Do you hear me? He's a grown man. You're a child, and you are going to do what I tell you to do! It is not appropriate for a child to draw naked women! Do you understand?"

"I won't stop." My voice shook, but I held my ground.

"Really? We'll just see about that, young lady." Grabbing my shoulder she marched me down the hall and shoved me into my room. She snatched up a stack of paper and some pencils and forced me to sit at my desk.

She put her hands on her hips. "Now then. If you want to draw dirty pictures so much , you sit here and draw them until you get them out of your system. You will not leave this room until you fill up every sheet of paper. No food, no drink, no TV--nothing."

She slammed the door and left.

I wiped my eyes and, biting down on my lip, began to draw. I was going to draw the most beautiful women in the world. She would not break me. I was going to show her. I was an artist--I was!

The door cracked open, and Iris snuck into the room. I could tell she'd been crying. At four years old she was still just a baby and was terrified of everything. For a long time the adults thought she was retarded because she refused to speak to them. She talked to me though. She was just shy and didn't trust a lot of people.

"It's ok, Iris. Look--I'm alright. See?"

She came over and put her head on my shoulder. We stayed like that for a while, heads touching, leaning into each other. She smelled like baby shampoo.

"You better go," I said finally. "Aunt Fran will have a fit if she catches you in here." Sliding back the chair, I went over to my plaid bookbag and pulled out a book I'd checked out for her that day at the library.

"Look, here's a story I got you today--it's about those bears you like. You can go look at that, and I can can read it to you later tonight if you want."

"Ok," she whispered, tucking the book under one arm, and hugging me with the other. I suddenly felt like crying.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I didn't get to read to my sister that night and I never got my dinner. I did, however, draw pages upon pages of women--faeries, mermaids, goddesses, princesses--all gloriously naked with long flowing hair.

Every hour or so my aunt would peek around the door and demand to know if I was done.

The first three times I said no.

The fourth time I asked for more paper.

Finally it was bedtime, and the next day was school, then after school there was homework, and so on. My aunt and I never said another word to each other about my drawings, and the matter dropped.

But for me it was a new beginning. I had stood up to my aunt and won a small victory. I still don't know what possessed me to say those things to her, but for the first time I felt there was a piece of me she could never touch, a part of me that was mine alone.

Iris and I never did run away together. At least not literally. Instead we created a magical world we could escape to--a world where we were goddesses who played with lightening storms, sang mermaid songs to beach crabs, danced with the king of cats, and rode away at night on the back of a snowy owl.

Even now we smile when we think about the fairy offerings we wrapped in leaves or the gowns we created for ourselves out of rose petals and irridescent raindrops. In some ways those memories are more real to us than the woman who dominated our lives for all those many years.

Maybe that's why we slipped so easily into the imaginary worlds of our own children. Maybe that's why as adult women we love to write. For Iris and I, magic is not just some abstact fairy tale. For us, magic is coming home.

Memories and musings shared by Juno
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I'm a 40-something writer, artist, and Jill-of-All-Trades. For me, magic is looking at the ordinary and seeing the extraordinary. My writing tends to take me to unexpected places--not so surprising when I think about it. I had an unusual growing up and have always chosen the offbeat over the "safe". I prefer interesting people over beautiful ones, and I am fascinated by people's stories. What I love most about life is its glorious imperfections and fantastic plot twists.

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