Cherie was the most glamorous ten year old girl in the trailer park. With her glossy black curls, thick Southern accent, and squinty brown eyes she was everything this freckle-faced, skinny, ginger bookworm was not. Not to mention she sported bright pink or red nail polish with coordinating lipgloss. Snapping her bubblegum, she laughed loudly on cue at the idiotic things boys said like a seasoned pro. I would have given up quite a lot to have her savoir faire.
Cherie’s mother was movie star gorgeous. She had long dramatic eyelashes framing her huge eyes which always seemed to be opened wide in surprise. With deeply tanned skin even in the middle of the upstate New York winter, she wore her skirts short, her necklines low, and her shoes were never without a stiletto heel. Her voice was soft and high and somehow her beehive managed to rise up even higher. When she called Cherie in for dinner she extended her name out about twelve syllables or so. The glamour she exuded secured a firm footing in frumpville for the rest of the moms in the park. Especially my mother who was fat, mean, and pregnant. She didn’t have a glamorous bone in her body–not that you could see any of her bones anyway she was so bloated.
One night Cherie invited me to a sleepover. It wasn’t like a real personal invitation–all the girls in the park, that is all three of us–were asked. This minor detail didn’t trouble me in the least. I was in with Cherie at last. Everything fabulous about her was bound to rub off on me by proxy. Things went great at first. We spent the early evening doing the typical fourth grade girl sleepover stuff. Makeovers, gossiping, board games, eating every sweet and salty thing not nailed down, and of course lots of girlish laughter. When we finally started crashing, Cherie’s mom came in decked out for a night at the Oscars. She sashayed among us as we stood with drool puddling at our feet, “Mr. Daddy and I are going out,” she drawled.
Cherie’s mom wasn’t married to the man who lived with them and who might or might not have been Cherie’s dad. This gentleman, coyly referred to as “Mr. Daddy”, looked like the Marlboro man and was as talkative as his billboard ads. We all thought it was weird and kind of yucky to call him that and when our parents heard the moniker, eyebrows raised, dry coughs were coughed, and knowing looks exchanged. “Be good girls now,” she sing-songed blowing us all big shiny red kisses.
After they left I told Cherie I was afraid. She said not to worry, that they left her alone all the time and she was always fine and dandy. Her nightlight, a tiny shadeless lamp with a low watt bulb, and her kitties, two nasty little Siamese cats, would keep us all safe from harm. It was hot and humid and the four of us were wearing different variations of little shorty pajamas with our bellies exposed. While Cherie and the others lay snoring away, I stared at the ceiling counting the tiles and fretting about what might happen to us with Cherie’s parents gone. As I lay there manifesting nightmarish scenes from the recesses of my very creative redhead imagination, out of the shadows leapt one of Cherie’s Siamese cats. The dastardly feline jumped onto my exposed stomach squeezing its claws deep into my abdomen. All my worries and fears came shrieking out in one long howl of pain. The other girls jumped up, tried to calm me down, mercurochromed my boo-boos, and went back to sleep.
There was no way I could safely close my eyes after this assault on my already challenged vulnerability. No lamp bulb was going to protect me and obviously those vile cats were evil-plotting foes, not friends at all.
Eventually Cherie’s mom and “Mr. Daddy” came home. Her mother was laughing and singing and talking the nonsense I knew involved drinking lots of alcohol. I had plenty of experience of that in my own household. But in my house the giggles and revelry segued pretty quickly into shouting and broken dishes and usually viciously slapped flesh. Fortunately, that didn’t happen at Cherie’s house.
Instead Mr. Daddy navigated Mrs. Mommy into their bedroom as smoothly as possible without a lot of cooperation on her part. Eventually he was successful but the noises she was making didn’t stop much. They just became confusing. They were similar to the noises at my house. There was some yelling and even some flesh slapping but it was quite obvious that what was going on wasn’t rageful or out of control. Instead whatever was going on seemed to be quite a happy transaction. Whatever it was, good or bad, the noise only served to perpetuate my insomnia and to raise my ginger curiosity to a very high level. It fed that busy little imagination of mine which would come to fully understand and appreciate the scenario as I got older.
At this time in my young life, however, when my mother saw the marks on my stomach and pried the details of the evening out of me, as much as I idolized Cherie, I was never allowed another sleepover at her house.