Everyone please give a warm welcome to Beth Fehlbaum. Beth Fehlbaum, an experienced English teacher, drew on her experiences as a teacher and as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse to craft the fictional story of a teen girl's first foray into recovery from sexual abuse. She wrote Courage in Patience to give hope to anyone who has to face their greatest fears and find out what they're made of.
(Just as a head’s up to everyone, Beth is doing RAD her own way!! Don’t say I didn’t warn you, okay just kidding!)
If MUNCHER was an acronym, what do you think it would (or should) stand for?
Many Unique New Creative Happenin’ Exciting Reviews*
What's the most embarrassing outfit you've ever been caught in? Or, if you are so fashion forward, what outfit would you not want to be caught dead in?
My husband and I went to a costume party once-- he was dressed as a sperm and I was an egg. We wore matching white sweatsuits with the words "sperm" & "egg" emblazoned across the fronts of our respective shirts; I crammed stuffing material up under my shirt, but I was quite heavy at the time so I didn't require a whole lot of padding. I can't believe we did that!
What is your favorite onomatopoeia? Why?
I like the word "crunch" because it is so true to the actual sound of crunching.
What was supposed to be the guest blog but has been redefined (basically a summary and excerpt from Beth’s upcoming novel Courage in Patience):
After six years of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse from her stepfather, 15-year-old Ashley finally finds the courage to reveal the painful details of her experiences with her mother, who refuses to acknowledge the problem and turns her back on her daughter. After confiding in her teacher—the only adult whom Ashley can trust—she is removed from her home and sent to live with her father and his second wife, Beverly, an English teacher. Nurtured by
Chapter 1 Excerpt: © Beth Fehlbaum, 2008
We go on—because it is the hard thing to do.
And we owe ourselves the difficulty.
My name is Ashley Asher. That’s right, go ahead, and laugh. Apparently, my parents thought it would be “cute” to make my first and last names nearly identical. My family and friends call me Ash. My mother calls me by my first and middle names, Ashley Nicole. Her husband, Charlie, thought he was real clever and called me Ash-Hole.
I’m fifteen years old, and I live in Patience, Texas, an East Texas town of about 3,000 people. In my wildest dreams, I never thought I would end up going to a school where the unofficial year-round footwear is flip-flops, and people pronounce the word cold like this: code.
Sometimes I think I miss living in a place where there are things to do on Friday nights besides cruise the aisles of the Wal-Mart in Six Shooter City (yes, that's the name of a real place), or see one of the two movies showing in Cedar Points. There’s even less to do in Patience, although pasture parties, where a bunch of underage, redneck, high-school kids bring illegally obtained beer to somebody’s pasture and see how shit-faced and stupid they can get before they run out of beer, are a common occurrence.
If I’m going to be completely honest, though, I'd have to say that I've been alone for so much of my life, I wouldn't know what to do if I suddenly had a social life. I’m a quiet person who loves to read and write more than anything in the world. There’s just something special about falling into worlds created by other people. I spent a lot of time pretending that I was somewhere else when I was still living at home, I mean with my mom, and I think that helps me write stories, too.
My dad. Sounds so funny coming from my mouth, because I never knew him until last summer. He and my mom split up when I was three months old and, except for child support checks and sporadic birthday cards, I never heard from him.
The way my mom tells it, my dad was always a loser, which leads to a natural question: why would she sleep with him if she knew that? He was one year ahead of her in school, but they may as well have lived on different planets. She was a cheerleader, honor student, daughter of a doctor and accountant, and ran with the popular kids.
He didn’t know his bio father, but he had a succession of stepfathers through his life. My mother, the Queen of Bad Decisions, says my dad's mom had terrible taste in men. I guess she would know about such things.
Dad excelled in auto mechanics, computer science, getting wasted on weekends, and talking girls into doing his English homework. Mom used to tell me that he had this way of charming a girl to get what he wanted, whether it was an essay on A Tale of Two Cities or her panties ending up on the floor. Since my dad never knew his father, his older brother, Frank, was always more like a father to my dad than a brother. Frank is ten years older than Dad, but he seems a lot older than that.
There is only one picture of my father and mother together, and it is from his senior prom. He is tall, dark, and gangly in his navy tux. His dark brown hair is puffy, and he's wearing aviator-frame eyeglasses. Mom is over a foot shorter than Dad, although her highlighted, permed hair is a good eight inches high. Otherwise, standing next to him she is tiny. Even though the picture was taken from at least ten feet away, her eye shadow is a frosty silver that makes her green eyes gleam. Her face is rounder than it is now, and she looks like she has been laughing, smiling in a way that I never saw very often. As much as she hates my dad, she used to say that he could always make her laugh. Must be part of his charm.
Her dress is snow-white satin, off the shoulder, and she tells me she tanned for weeks so she would look really brown in contrast to the stark white of her gown. Looking like a bride must have done something to her judgment, because they treated prom night as if it was their honeymoon, and, surprise! I was conceived. Mom’s parents, Nanny and Papaw, were horrified—not only because she got knocked up, but at the type of guy who did the knocking up. My dad never has fit in with the country club set. Papaw, an OB-GYN, set up my mom with a friend of his to give her an abortion.
When Mom told Dad what Papaw had arranged, my dad hit the ceiling and said that nobody was gonna kill his kid. He talked my mom into running off with him, and a preacher married them in Patience,
They lived in a camping trailer behind Frank’s house while my mom attended her senior year at
I was born in January of my mom’s senior year. School was out for Spring Break when Mom packed me and all her stuff up in the car my dad gave her for Christmas—a dented up, brown four-door Datsun. We headed back west on Highway 175 to La Salle, Texas, back to the two-story red-brick house in a fancy part of town that Mom grew up in. Back to a bedroom that, unlike her bunk in the trailer, was lacking in field mice nesting in her shoes and the snake that shed its skin around her hot rollers. Nanny and Papaw welcomed back Mom with open arms, praised her for her return to sanity and civilization, and donated her old Datsun to Goodwill before she'd been home for twenty-four hours.
My dad never came after her, never questioned her leaving. Papaw’s golf buddy, a divorce attorney, took care of all the paperwork to annul the marriage, which means that legally the marriage never took place, so I don’t know what that makes me. They sent the papers to Dad, and he signed off on everything, including paying support to the child born to their non-existent marriage.
Mom finished her high school studies through a correspondence program and attended community college, earning her medical assistant certification. Then she went to work in Papaw’s office, and we did okay for ourselves. She even bought a small house in an old neighborhood in the center of
My life changed forever on the night my mom met Charlie Baker. Nobody in Mom’s Third Thursday Bunco group thought he’d ever go for someone like her—no longer high school cute, a little overweight with a big caboose, and saddled with a kid. Mom’s friend Neshia was dating a guy who worked highway construction. His friend Charlie had just been transferred in from
The guy in the peppermint stripes looked nothing like the Charlie I came to know: the pot-bellied alcoholic madman with wild auburn hair, almost clear gray eyes, and a shiny gold front tooth. Charlie’s appearance is off-putting to people who don’t know him. His long bushy hair seems to have a mind of its own, like Medusa’s hair of snakes. When Charlie is pissed, he radiates hatred, and it is scary. When Charlie chases you down with the intent to tackle you, it is downright terrifying.
The Bunco group held a singles night, and Charlie was there. I was there, too, playing waitress to the adults as they played the game and progressed from table to table. I was enjoying my job—I'd done it before—and I didn’t mind being the only child in attendance. Charlie paid a lot more attention to me than any of the other guests did, even my mom’s friends that I knew. I kept telling him that my name was Ashley, but he insisted on calling me “Kiddo.” It is a name I would come to hate.
The next night, Charlie took Mom and me to a carnival that was passing through town. I was riding the bumper cars, and when I got rammed from behind, I bit my tongue—hard. It stunned me, and I sat with my bloody tongue hanging out of my mouth, while other bumper cars zoomed around me. My mom called my name, but I could not focus enough to move. I was frozen. Out of the crowd, Charlie bounded across the floor, dodging bumper cars and looking for all he was worth like a super hero. He scooped me up out of the seat and dashed back to my mother with me.
“Gotta keep that tongue in your mouth when you drive bumper cars, Kiddo,” he said, winking, as he gently set me down. I felt like
My mother and I were sold on him that night, but Charlie sealed the deal by bringing me toys and games every time he came over to our house. Four months later, in a ceremony held in Nanny and Papaw’s living room, my mother and Charlie were married. After years of being without a daddy, I finally had one.
Within a few months of the marriage, Charlie announced that he wanted to start his own construction business. He decided we needed to move to Baileyville, so he could land construction contracts easier than he was able to in LaSalle, which was overrun with the same sorts of start-up businesses. Nanny and Papaw were not happy about it, and neither was I. I loved my house, my neighborhood, and the only school I had ever known. I heard Nanny and Mom arguing about it on the phone, and Mom said, “Mother, I am married now, and my loyalty is to my husband. I am selling the house. We are moving, and that is final.”
We moved in the middle of the school year to a very small town and a ramshackle house out in the country. There were no other houses around ours, so I had no other kids to play with. When I got home from school each day, my only companions were the turkeys, geese, ducks, chickens, rabbits, and two stray dogs that wandered up and adopted us. My mom went to work for a podiatrist’s office in town as an assistant, and, irony of ironies, the only construction contracts Charlie could land were in Northside, right next door to LaSalle, so he went to work early and arrived home late most days. I got the feeling that things weren’t going too good. Mom asked Charlie about money all the time, and he didn’t like her questions one bit.
About the same time, my body decided it was time to start puberty, and my mother insisted on getting me a training bra. A true tomboy back in my old neighborhood, I hated the idea so much that I insisted on spelling the word, b-r-a, instead of coming out and saying it. It was hell, getting used to having straps around me and over my shoulders. On the inside, I kicked, screamed, and cursed Mother Nature for making me a girl.
To make matters worse, Baileyville has a long history of white-on-black racism, and most of the African-American students hated white people, whether they knew them or not. As if being white wasn't enough of a flashing neon sign that said, "Hit Me," I hit a growth spurt and got too tall for the clothes I had. There was no money to buy me new clothes. When my mom talked to Charlie about asking Nanny and Papaw to help us out so I could have some clothes, Charlie screamed at Mom, told her how stupid and fat she was, and said that if I wasn’t so fat, I would still be able to wear my clothes.
Who was this incredibly mean person? Where was the guy who risked life and limb to be my white knight on the bumper car ride?
My fourth grade school year, instead of dressing like an eight-year-old girl, I wore the fashion choices of a twenty-six-year-old woman. I had to wear my mom's clothes to school—and cowboy boots. The only shoes in our house that would fit my feet were some thrift store cowboy boots. Charlie said my feet were as big as beaver tails, like I could do anything about their size. He said that if my feet weren't so abnormally large, he'd buy me Adidas or Sketchers to wear, like the other kids had.
So here’s the deal: I am one of maybe ten white female students in an all-black elementary school. The black kids hate the white kids because for years and years, white people had treated black people like shit. My boobs have, against my will, burst upon the scene. I wear my mom's old lady clothes to school, and, in spite of its rural location, nobody, but nobody, wears cowboy boots to school. Oh, and my best friend is a rabbit named Cinnamon. Or she was. Until Charlie killed her.
I always had a creepy feeling when he got that look in his eyes and started breathing funny like he did when he was alone with me. Less than a year after they married, he gestured to me to sit on his lap. I did so, enjoying the idea of having a daddy like my friends did. I got so relaxed and content there, I dozed off. He started rubbing my brand-new breasts. I wasn’t actually all the way asleep, but it freaked me out so much that I pretended I was.
The next morning, a Saturday, my mother told me to go outside because Charlie wanted to talk to me. I approached him like I would come up on a King Cobra, full of dread and feeling like a tightly wound spring. His back was to me as he bent under the hood of our car, changing the oil.
"Mom told me to come out here. Said you want to talk to me," I spoke to the sky as I watched a black vulture circle over something dead.
Turning from the engine, he said, “Kiddo, slap my hands.” He paused as if waiting for my response.
"What? Why?" I played dumb, hoping that none of what happened in that chair had really happened. I was nine years old, and I already knew what he was doing was wrong.
"Last night … in the green chair …" Now it was his turn to stare somewhere else.
I tilted my head and, in a very high voice unlike my normal one, I said, "What chair? When?"
He smiled that closed-mouth smile from his "model" picture and said, “Never mind, Kiddo. You can go back inside now.”
My heart pounded in my ears as I walked away from him. The morning sun was blinding and felt hot on my hair.
Next time he patted his lap and smiled at me, I pretended I did not see him. When he grabbed my arm roughly and pulled me onto his lap, however, it was hard to fake being blind.
Not long after that, I walked out to the barn on a cool fall day to hang out with my friends, all of whom were covered in either feathers or fur. As I approached the rabbit cages in the barn, I saw Charlie facing the back corner of one of the stalls. He had killed a possum in that exact spot just a few days before. It had stood on its back legs, facing him full-on and hissing as it bared its mouthful of pointy teeth. He whacked it with a shovel and it either fell over dead or just looked like it was dead, "playing possum." Sort of like my faking being asleep.
"Is there another poss—" I began, and he turned to face me.
His penis was hanging out of his pants.
"What do you think of it?" he asked me. His hands were on his hips, legs wide, reminding me of the way Superman stands—like the super hero I used to believe he was.
Never having seen a man's privates before, I told him what it looked like to me: a fire hose.
Charlie smiled widely and looked pleased. I turned around and walked back to the house, the mental picture of Charlie's pose playing over and over in my mind.
A month or so later, I caught pneumonia and was very sick. When my mother could not miss any more work to care for me, I began to stay home alone. Then Charlie started coming home in the middle of the day. It's not like his job was right down the street, either. We lived a good hour and a half away from Northside.
I heard the back door open when I was in the bathroom on the toilet. I pushed the door closed and locked it.
"Ashley?" he called. I remained silent. I could hear his voice getting closer.
"Ashley? Oh, I see. You're playing hide-and-seek with me, aren't you?" He kind of giggled.
"No, I'm going to the bathroom."
He jiggled the doorknob. "Why's the door locked?" I heard him walk away, come back, and then the doorknob was being taken apart. He stuck his fingers in the doorknob hole, opened the door, and stood watching me.
I didn't know what to do. Stay on the pot with my short nightgown pulled as far down over my legs as I could get it—only to realize that doing so exposed my breasts—or stand and pull my panties up and hope he wouldn't see my privates when I did so? He took a few steps back into the hallway, kind of like a cat playing with a mouse.
Thanks Beth for visiting. Don't forget to check out her powerful novel, Courage in Patience.
You can contact her at one of the following:*aw, thank you Beth!!