Rag Doll Ch. 01bybeachbum1958©
This story was inspired in part by the old Frankie Valli song 'Rag Doll' which I first heard when I was a small boy and never managed to get out of my head; listen to the song and you'll get this story too.
As always, my deepest thanks go to Mriceman1964 for his editing, proofing, story prompting and excellent sense of reality, which he imposes on me at every opportunity!
When I was just over 2 years old, my father left my mother and took me with him back to England, where he was born. I never knew this until much later in life. I always thought his wife, Barbara, was my mother, although he insisted I always called her by her proper name. As I grew older, I began to realise that my father was not a nice or pleasant man. He had few friends, and we seldom had visitors, and those we had were usually people like him; abrupt, driven, money-obsessed, and consumed by the need to protect and hoard their possessions, including wives, children, everything they could buy or grab for themselves, at all costs. I was kind of the exception there. Through my formative years I knew I didn't like being around him, and avoided him as much as I could; he seemed to have the same aversion to me, and so his wife, a sweet, quiet lady, brought me up, almost in isolation from his other children, with whom I had soon discovered I had nothing in common with whatsoever, probably because they were smaller, piggier versions of him
When I was 11 years old, he decided I should attend the local secondary school instead of being tutored at home, for which I breathed a sigh of relief; being tutored with my two piggy little half-brothers was an excruciating experience, and I'd had enough of their spoilt whining and excessive demands for attention. Now at least I would be among kids my own age and could finally make some friends. I never understood why my father had forbidden us to attend primary school; I never asked, and he never volunteered an explanation, but at least now I would be free of the house and those poisonous brats he called sons.
I ambled through school, not the most gifted of students, not a slacker either, but definitely not academically brilliant. I wanted to be a mechanic; I loved cars, the thought of driving, of stripping down and rebuilding engines, transmissions, the thrill of firing up a rebuilt engine and having it turn over sweetly the first time was a recurring day-dream of mine as I laboured through calculus and trigonometry, or dissected Gray's 'Elegy In A Country Churchyard' to find the deeper meanings in it.
When my old man discovered the only class I was good at was machine shop, where I discovered I could rebuild overdrives and gearboxes almost instinctively, he literally blew a gasket. In his world mechanics were grease-monkeys, to be hired and fired at whim, and he was furious that the only effort I seemed to be making was a determined one to join the working classes; Oh yes, as well as all his other sterling qualities, my father was the worst kind of arrant snob, and the distaste I felt for him as a child soon transformed into active dislike. His other two sons were just like him, and, distant as we were, I couldn't help but try and put even more distance between us; I couldn't believe that I belonged to such an appalling family, and began to dream of running away, joining a ship and running away to sea, going off and being a vagrant, anything rather than live amongst these people and eventually come to be like them
The only saving grace was Barbara. She was the only person I had any real connection with, her warmth and kindness was a constant reminder of how little else I had from this family, and she seemed to save her best time for me, rather than her own sons, who she seemed to barely connect with at all. When I had sports days at school, she would be there, cheering for me; when we put on a production for the drama class, she'd be there with the other parents, watching raptly and clapping hardest. She was a lovely lady, and didn't deserve what my father did to her; Oh yes, I knew, I could hear, and I'd see the bruises the next day, soon figured out why she sometimes wore long sleeves on even the hottest days. I tried to get her to leave, asked her why she put up with it, but she was so thoroughly cowed all she would answer was "Where would I go, Nicky?"
I went to the local technical college when I left school at 16, to study for my BTEC Certificate in Automotive Mechanical Engineering, and City & Guilds of London Institute L6 Certificate in Automotive Engineering, and eventually qualified as an Automotive Mechanic when I was 21, much to my father's disgust. I tried to ignore what was happening at home, tried to block out the sounds at night, but it never stopped, never eased up, and I grew more disgusted with myself for doing nothing to help that poor lady who'd done so much for me.
It all came to a head one night when I couldn't take the screaming and crying any more, and barged in to see him standing over her with his belt, Barbara huddled in a corner with her hands over her head. I tried to pull him away, got a crack across the mouth for my pains, and he started on me with the belt. Barbara put herself over me, trying to shield me, my father, big man, screaming and frothing as he lashed us both until his arm was too tired to continue. That night I discovered what kind of man he truly was, as the individual cuts from the belt-buckle all merged into one big hurt that burned in every nerve-ending.
Barbara helped me to bed, rubbed ointment on the worst of the cuts and weal's, and I did the same for her. My father was nowhere to be seen, most likely guzzling 12 year old scotch in his study, and that was when she told me about my mother, why he'd left her. She had a picture of my mother, and seeing it woke ghostly half-memories of this pretty woman with dark blonde hair and golden-brown eyes like mine, smiling at me.
"Nicky, your father left your mother because she had an affair and got pregnant. I don't blame her, knowing what I do about your father. You were 3, and you belonged to him, so he took you, and came back here. He didn't want you, but he wouldn't let your mother have you, because you were his, and you know what your father's like when it comes to his...possessions"
She handed me a packet and inside was my birth certificate. I was astounded to see I was born in Albany, New York State. "I'm American?" I asked her, incredulously, and she smiled. "Yes Nicky, until you were sixteen, your father could pick your nationality; he chose to make you British, but now, if you want, you can walk into any American Embassy or Consulate in the world and walk out an American citizen, with the passport to match. I want you to go home, Nicky, you need your family, a proper family, this is no place for you, your father doesn't care one iota for you, and he'll make you suffer. Now that he's done this, he'll keep on doing it. There's some money in that packet, it's all I could scrape together, but it should be enough for you to pay for your documents, and an airline ticket to Albany. Your mother's address and her telephone number is there as well, although I don't know if it's still correct, but it was all I could find out, that and her name. Her name is Lowry, Julia Lowry. Please take it and leave, Nicky, I can't protect you, and you'll get badly hurt if you stay. Don't worry about me; I'm taking you to the train station, then I'm going to fix this once and for all, I can't take this anymore, either.
Barbara helped me pack a bag and took me to the station, and waited on the platform with me until the London train came in, then hugged me, kissed me goodbye and said "Take care of yourself, little St Nick, I love you, sweetheart. Please remember me." Her use of my childhood nickname brought a lump to my throat, and I clung to her, trying to convince her to get on the train with me, but she gently disengaged me. "No Nicky, I can't. You don't know what your father's really like; he's never let your mother go, he won't let me go! I have to fix this, once and for all! Please, go, I'll be fine, it's all going to be fine, don't you worry about me, just you take care of yourself, and please, remember me." That was the second time she'd said that, like she was trying to fix it in my mind, and I was beginning to get an uneasy feeling about it.
The doors started to chime, so I jumped on and stood there, watching her wave goodbye to me; if only I had pulled her onto the train with me...
I arrived in London at about 10pm, and immediately made my way to the United States Embassy in Grosvenor Square, determined to queue all night if necessary. Many other people seemed to have the same idea, as there was already a long queue outside the barrier, so I settled down to wait, sitting on my bag and leaning against the barrier.
When the Embassy opened its doors at 8:30 I was ready, and queued in the American Citizen Services section, directed there by the imposing-looking US Marine on guard there, his chest a riot of ribbons.
The very helpful lady at the Enquiries desk listened to my story, and disappeared with my birth certificate, qualifications, driving license and two photographs I'd taken in the photo-booth in Euston Station, then briefly reappeared to call me into an Interview room, where a man not much older than me asked me some searching questions about my circumstances. I told him about my father, and his removing me from America when I was three, and my reasons for wanting to return to America. He asked if I wouldn't mind showing him my injuries, and that I wasn't required to, and when I unbuttoned my shirt he gave a sharp intake of breath.
"Ok Mr. Davies, I can understand why you want to return to the United States, I'll try and fast-track your passport application, but it may take a while. Take this and show it to the guard on duty if you need to leave to get something to eat or drink, there's a very good sandwich place around the corner, and several deli's where you can get a decent coffee. Welcome back, Mr Davies, I just wish it were under better circumstances." He handed me a plastic card with a number on it, and I took a seat in the waiting area, which had enough seats for an auditorium, already almost packed to capacity.
At about 1pm, I was called to the desk again, and was once again escorted to an interview room, where the same man had a package for me. "There you are Mr. Davies, one new passport, and all your paperwork, please guard them carefully, and I would like to wish you well, I hope you can locate your family and that they're well and happy!"
I thanked him, zipped and locked my paperwork and passport into my bag, and left, heading for Heathrow, where I bought a standby ticket to Albany via Newark; I had enough money, thanks to Barbara, to buy the ticket without the tedious business of booking; she had given me £8,000 sterling, almost $14,000, so after I bought my ticket, I changed it all to US dollars; I wouldn't need UK pounds any more, I was never coming back.
I cleared departures without any hitches or visa issues; I was an American citizen returning home, after all, with cabin baggage only, and waited in the departure lounge for my flight to be called, idly watching Sky News on the overhead TV, when suddenly Barbara's face flashed up, and the caption read 'Prominent businessman's wife found dead; police are treating her death as not suspicious'. My eyes blurred as I realised what she'd meant when she said she would fix things, why she'd asked me to remember her, and I swore, by all the angels and saints, and all the devils in hell, that one day I would make him pay, if I had to tie the rope around his neck and kick the chair away myself.
I found an empty cubicle in the men's washroom and cried for the only mother I'd known, the kindest person in my life, who'd stood over me and tried to protect me, who I had left to her fate, my loss and guilt burning a hole through my heart. I swore again, that if it took me the rest of my life, I would find a way to repay that bastard for every cut, every bruise, every mark he'd put on that poor lady, that every tear she'd cried would be repaid with blood and pain and horror, that all the fear and anguish she had felt would be visited on him a thousand-fold.
I sat in silence through the entirety of my flight, unable to eat or drink because of my guilt at not forcing her to come with me, or taking her somewhere safe; I felt like I had abandoned her to her fate, and the guilt and misery was like an enormous knot around my heart, tightening with every passing minute. Eventually I slept, exhaustion and emotional trauma wearing me down, to dream of Barbara sitting in the front row in the school hall, watching and smiling as we stumbled and fluffed our way through 'Titus Andronicus', our drama teacher still hoping against hope she'd find the next Kenneth Branagh or Scarlett Johansson. I woke as the 'plane began its descent, the 'ping' of the seatbelt alert startling me awake. The middle-aged woman sitting next to me silently passed me a tissue with a mixed look of concern and sympathy, and I realised my cheeks were wet where I'd been crying in my sleep.
Once I cleared customs and Immigration, I looked for a 'phone desk, to try and call my mother, to introduce myself, and ask if I could come and see her. I found the Verizon desk, and dialled the number, it rang a few times and then a soft voice answered.
"Hello," I replied, heart in my mouth," is this the residence of Julia Lowry?"
"Speaking, how can I help you?"
My heart leapt. "Um, hello...this is Nick Davies, I'm in New York, waiting for my connection to Albany...I wanted to come and see you if that would be alright?"
There was silence, then "Nicky! Oh my God, baby, where...how...yes, yes, of course, please, oh God, yes! When are you arriving in Albany?"
I could barely speak as I read off my ticket.
"Flight UA 4271 out of Newark, scheduled to arrive at Albany at 5:23 pm, I'll be wearing a black leather jacket and carrying a blue holdall. I'll see you then...Mother..."
"Of course Baby, I'll come get you, oh God, Nicky, I didn't know where you were, I couldn't find you...!"
I could hear tears in her voice, and I was almost in tears myself.
"I have to go, I'll miss my Shuttle, see you in an hour or so, OK?"
"OK baby, I'll...I'll see you then...!"
My head was whirling; in little more than an hour I was going to meet my mother, the woman I had been taken from because my father didn't want her to have me, not because he wanted me!
I boarded the shuttle bus for the short hop to the terminal for my flight, and waited in line to board, ticket at the ready. I boarded and, after what seemed an interminable time, the cabin crew closed and sealed the doors and we moved out to the taxi-way, engines gunning as we began the takeoff sequence.
The flight was short, slightly over an hour, and I was quickly disembarked, as I had no hold luggage to collect, and I walked through the concourse, trying to spot the face I had only seen for the first time in a photograph a couple of days ago. I spotted a medium height slender woman, hair the same colour as mine, and my heartbeat quickened. As I looked at her, she turned to face me, and I felt an immediate shock of recognition; her eyes, her nose, her ears, even her chin, were all mine, and I knew immediately, this was my mother, at last, still as beautiful as she was in the picture I had!
I know she recognised me, her hands flew to her mouth and she started running towards me, and I ran to her, to catch her and hold her tight, while she kissed me and hugged my neck almost hard enough to break it.
"Nicky, my poor baby, I never thought I'd see you again, Oh God, he took you away, he said I'd never have you back, that you were his son, not mine, that he was only taking what was his...!"
I was trying hard not to cry, and not succeeding very well. Everything about her was awakening more and more memories, her playing with me and tickling me on a mat of some sort in a big garden, swings and laughter, carrying me on her hip and tweaking my nose, kissing me goodnight, a whole cavalcade of forgotten moments suddenly reawakened and swelling through me, and I reached up on impulse and rubbed the tip of her nose with my thumb. She burst into tears at that. "Oh baby, I never thought I'd ever have you do that to me again, my poor, stolen baby, I missed you so much, I didn't know where he took you, I tried to find you, but I didn't know where to look...!"
She hugged me tightly again, making me wince as she pressed against my injuries, and drawing back with a start. "What, what happened, did someone hurt you, Nicky? Please, talk to me!" I was reluctant to talk about it, the grief over Barbara's death and my guilt still too close to the surface, but eventually it all spilled out, me crying on her as she held me. She gently unbuttoned my shirt, and hissed when she saw my torso, her liquid brown eyes suddenly flashing like polished citrines, hard and unforgiving.
"He used the buckle on you, didn't he? That was always his favourite, just to make sure he marked you properly. There's a special corner of hell for people like him, and he's already staked out his own plot; someone will fix him one day, mark my words!"
She stood up. "Come on, we're going home, your home, if you want it. You will stay with me won't you...?" I nodded. "I would love that, if you'll have me, if it's not too much trouble?"
Mother smiled. "After 19 years, I want to keep you as close as I can; I've got a lot of missing you to get over!"
We walked arm in arm to the short-stay parking garage, and climbed into a 1990 LeSabre that had definitely seen better days, the engine wheezing and hitching as we pulled away. Mother grinned apologetically.
"Sorry about the car, honey, we're not exactly living the high life right now; bills come first, so the car's a little...temperamental right now!"
I grinned at her. "Do you have any tools at your home, Mother?" I asked her.
"Sure, my husband's old tool chest is in the garage, why?"
"Because I'm a qualified Automotive Mechanic, well, barely, the ink's not quite dry, but I may be able to do something with this old beauty!" She smiled a big, lovely smile at me.
"Really honey? Because I've been driving on the edge of calamity with my baby here for months now, I can't afford the mechanic to fix her, so..."
"Sure thing, just let me get some rest and I'll see what I can do!" I smiled.
After training on the endlessly complicated European cars infesting the roads in England, as well as the multitude of design variants each manufacturer came out with every year, I was itching to get my hands on a big, powerful, uncomplicated American road-machine like this lovely old LeSabre.
"Mother, you mentioned a husband, are you...?"
She looked sad for a moment. "No honey, my husband died four years ago, it's just me and Ashley now. And you can call me Mom, honey, no need for formality. You used to call me Mommy!" she said, tears in her voice again
Oh yes, Barbara had mentioned that mum had gotten pregnant.
"So Ashley, is that a boy or a girl?" I asked, unsure, as it's a unisex name in England.
"She's a girl, your little sister, or perhaps not so little, she's eighteen now, be nineteen soon; she's with friends now, she should be home tonight. You'll like her, she's a good kid!"
We arrived at Mom's house, a medium-sized 3 bedroom ranch-style house in a nice looking neighborhood, with a small yard and a drive-in garage, not exactly ramshackle, but definitely not in the same class as the extensively remodelled homes surrounding it. We jumped out and mum led the way in. The house was neat and clean, but decidedly shabby; obviously money was being spent on the essentials, and there was none to spare for fripperies; I decided I'd better get a job as a priority if I was going to stay here.