I was born in Rocky Mouth, North Carolina on June 2nd, 1993. It had been a Wednesday and I emerged from my mother’s womb screaming during a hail storm. I guess that should have been an omen of things to come.
My mother had been in labor for twelve hours before they decided she had to have a C-section. After those twelve hours of my big head banging on her spinal column and my already stubborn self refusing to turn the right way round, she was pissed.
“Why didn’t you do that to start with?!” she had yelled, according to my father.
But finally I was lifted out and squalling for the first time and I wouldn’t stop for…how old am I now?
“Looks like we have a brand new Tarheel!” the doctor had yelled, once again angering my mom, the Virginia-born nurse.
The family pictures detail the passing of the baby Chelsea from the ecstatic, protective grip of my father, to the equally excited but clumsier arms of my half-brother. And while the formal pictures of a giggling baby in a pink dress might be adorable, over the next few months I would veto any thought of more children after me.
I was so colicky as a baby that my mother’s post-partum depression took a lot out of her. While my father was doting and affection toward his two children, he soon showed his true colors as a husband. Accounts from my mother as she raised me from infancy to toddlerhood painted dad as the self-proclaimed patriarchal head of the family. My brother’s upbringing was very strict, almost like dad still believed it was the early 60s rather than the mid-90s. The family videos will dictate a smiling boy overjoyed at receiving his Super Nintendo and his seemingly good relationship with his father, but there was drama developing off-screen.
A tryst was beginning to crack the patriarchal dynamic. My mom didn’t believe in strict authoritative parenting as she still harbors resentment toward her own parents. Only once has she ever revealed to me the extent of her childhood trauma when she was in a rage trying to get me to go to school: “You want me to beat you with a whip? That’s what Daddy used to do to us! You want me to do that to you?” My dad had an even worse childhood – manic father beating his wife, favoring his son over his daughters, even rumors of infidelity and molestation. His parenting styles might not have been as extreme as his father’s, but our dad inherited his father’s idealization of racism and misogyny.
Unbeknownst to my naïve 4-year-old mind, my brother and father were having a feud that would eventually lead Will* to move in with his biological mother. One school night, Will had snuck out to go to the movies with a girl he was dating. While the fact that he had snuck out of the house may have seem like the real reason for the fight, it was ultimately because the girl in question was Black. My father still opposes mixed race couples to this day, though he will refute this claim if asked. After all, why admit to your own faults when you can blame it on somebody else. This would become a theme through pretty much the rest of my childhood (and life, probably).
After Will moved out, the family decided to move back to Henry County, Virginia so we could be closer to the family. I was enrolled in the local primary school half-way through the year. I remember that my mother had written a letter to my best friend, Kelly, telling her that I was moving. All I can remember of my pre-school and kindergarten days in North Carolina is waiting at the bus stop, being yelled at for not wanting to raise my hand and instead wanting to come up to the desk to ask a question, and that one day I stepped in dog crap before I got on the bus and my teachers not finding out until one girl beside me said, “Ew, it smells like dog poop!” (Those sneakers had to be quarantined to the backyard and eventually the trashcan.)
I started kindergarten with Mrs. Wells, who was quite bitchy for a kindergarten teacher, if I’m honest. I even knew this as a spry five-year-old because I didn’t really want to talk to her at all. Such bouts of non-talkativeness meant I had a permanent desk set aside for me in the principal’s office. I remember being yelled at for not paying attention as I played dolls with the scissors and glue rather than use them for the assignment. Eventually, my non-talkativeness warranted corporal punishment, which is something I still don’t understand to this day. (This was public school, might I remind you.)
I couldn’t be spanked on the school campus so dad had to take me home and spank me. As a cognitive-thinking adult, I would think spanking to combat a child’s refusal to talk to their teachers as a good way to make sure they developed an anxiety disorder later in life. (Guess who’s on crazy pills!) Rather than asking me why I wouldn’t talk to the teacher or maybe seeing early signs of anxious behavior didn’t cross the principal’s mind. These days kids as young as five are given ADHD and anxiety meds, but back then it was just being a little spoiled brat that needed to be spanked.
If anything’s worse than spanking, it’s the rationalizing. “Why am I causing you physical pain on some of the most sensitive flesh on your fragile, child body? Because it’s God’s will.” No, my dad wasn’t quite that literal or brutally honest, but it’s still ludicrous to think children will fall in line without resentment from being hit. I do not believe it was child abuse because my dad very much did not want to cause me harm for his enjoyment. If anything, I resent the principal and teacher who couldn’t just sit me down and tell me what exactly I was doing wrong. I get in trouble for talking, but now I’m not talking enough? My five-year-old mind is not going to understand this with a spanking.
By this time, the family was living in a small apartment. By age 7, I was already conning my way out of going to school. I won’t lie, I was a brat. My mom would literally have to dress me and drag me to the car. This would be another theme for years to come. My mom was obsessed with getting me to take vitamins and I was still getting morning sippy-cups of some nutritional formulaic concoction. I never really had a problem taking pills because I had to do it since I was very young. My mom, the nurse, was convinced that pills could fix everything.
“Mom, I have a headache.”
“Aspirin in the cabinet.” she would tell me, annoyed that I had interrupted her all-important crossword puzzle.
“Mom, I have really bad cramps.”
“Ibuprofen in the cabinet.”
“Mom, I’m depressed and I want to kill myself because you paid for me to go to a Christian academy that condemns me to hell for being depressed and wanting to kill myself.”
“You’re still going to school tomorrow. Take some Excedrin.”
You get the gist. Maybe I exaggerated. Just a tad.
Back to the timeline, my mom believed in medicine except when it was medication for mental disorders. I was still a relatively happy kid even if I was a bit gullible and naïve. I made friends easily at the daycare center I went to every morning and afternoon. My mom would take me there in the mornings before she had to go to work and the bus would take the kids at the center to school.
In first grade, I had a wonderful teacher, Mrs. Coleman. I admit I was teacher’s pet, you know, that kid that prefers to eat with the teacher at lunch like the “loser” that she was. This would be yet another theme of my life because it always seemed like I got along with teachers and older kids and adults than I did peers my own age. I wouldn’t say I was mature for my age because my room always looked like a bomb exploded in it (still does, in fact, in time of writing this). I would meet several kids that I would remember later in public high school and they would all regard me as the “snobby” private school kid that was “too good for public middle school”. (Thanks, Mom!)
Second grade was the first grade where I would have two teachers. Mrs. Edmund was my home room teacher that taught math, science, and history. Mrs. Carter was the English teacher. Let’s just say I was not teacher’s pet in her class. More like teacher’s court jester. Something in my demeanor annoyed the hell out of her and she liked to smack me over the head with her answer book when I did something wrong. However abrasive she might have been, she was actually the first teacher that saw potential in my writing ability. I did like to write stories of princesses and more embarrassingly scenarios of early 2000s pop stars.
Yes, seven-year-old me was already writing fanfiction about Britney Spears and N*SYNC. There were even cassette tapes I recorded. Oh, God, my cringe is cringing. NO, I do not still have them, don’t even ask.
The first time I was really in trouble was when my teacher found out that my mom was doing my homework. I totally take the blame though because I just did not do homework. Even at seven-years-old, I was already anti-homework. I think my mom was just exasperated with my laziness (which I don’t blame her for) and did it herself. Well, Dad soon found about this and I don’t really remember him confronting her about it (though I might have blocked it from my mind as I did with most of their fights about me).
That was the atmosphere of the house as a young child, my parents arguing. They both fought over how they were disciplining me. Dad wanted Mom to stop spoiling me with junk food and McDonalds, Mom was angry because he was being over-controlling. I remember one night my Dad ripped the phone out of my hand in which I was talking to Mom. I think I was asking for a McDonalds Happy Meal and he was soon yelling at Mom through the phone that I had already had too much that day.
This would began my Dad’s harassment of my weight. At seven-years-old, I was already overweight and Dad constantly said that he was bullied for being fat when he was younger. He would talk about my cousin’s weight problem and say, “I would never let my daughter get that way.” How ironic was it that he was trying to save me from being bullied when he was turning into a bully himself. I remember car trips where I was subjected to his lectures and I was scream at him to stop talking about Mom that way. I can still remember the times where he would slam his hand onto my knee as hard as he could. He always said sorry afterwards and how he loved me but the memories are still sore patches even as I write this.
Probably the scariest thing he ever did was during one winter. I went outside onto the carport in several jackets to keep warm because I just wanted to breathe in the fresh air. This was when we had moved into the new house. During this time, the Jennifer Short kidnapping was still fresh in people’s minds and my dad was enraged to find me outside without any supervision in plain view of the road, which was how Jennifer was kidnapped. He dragged me into the house and threw me away from him, slamming the door, making me jump with the loud BANG. I cowered down and dragged myself backwards by my hands as Dad swung his arm back preparing to hit me. This was not a spanking, this was nearly plain abuse.
But then as I cried for him to stop and “please, please, don’t hit me!” — I saw the red fog clear his eyes and he even realized what exactly he was ready to do. I wouldn’t realize it until several years later, but in that moment, he must have realized that he nearly repeated his father’s sin.
By this time, I was in the third grade. I had a grandmotherly type teacher named Mrs. Goad that would read us Little House on the Prairie during story time. Three students of her class were chosen to take a more advanced English class with Mrs. Prillaman. Reading and spelling came naturally to me even if I didn’t exactly understand composition just yet. Even though I was good at reading, I still didn’t really enjoy it for a hobby. We did have this program at school where we would read a Scholastic-published book and take online tests for credit. If a student finished the set book list for the year, they would receive an award at the end of the year. I received one in grades one and two, but didn’t bother for grades three or four.
I actually attempted to read the fifth Harry Potter book but I thought at the time that it was boring. I was like, “Why is this such a popular book?” I didn’t realize at the time that it was apart of a whole series. (How stupid was I?) I also had a friend that lent me an “adult” fiction book (no, not like that, you perv). I believe it was either a Dean Koontz or Stephen King novel. I guess I just felt so cool that I was reading this “forbidden book” for my age group even though I didn’t know what exactly was going on.
I distantly remember the first book I ever actually finished. It was a book about a boy concerned that he was somehow turning into a girl because he licked his elbow. I enjoyed reading aloud and giving the characters voices. Even later when I would read the Harry Potter books, I would adapt my voices to mimic the actors that played them in the films (no, I will not give you my awful Hagrid impression – it sounded like a really fake Scottish accent and as if I had a sock in my throat).
Third grade breezed by and I was excited to be starting fourth grade. I somehow thought I would be cooler as a fourth grader, I don’t know. I definitely faked a lot of things to my friends to seem like I was cool. I had quite a few friends, even if some of them were only friends with me so they could score “cookie money” (the cafeteria had these monster chocolate chip cookies for 50c). I was definitely falling down the ranks of “cool” because I was chubby and, I don’t know, wafted this scent of “loser” to people, not sure. Mindy* had a sleep-over one summer for her birthday and I was invited along with three other of her friends. I say her friends specifically because most of them were only nice to me out of association.
I suppose I was just odd to them. We were all ready to transition into that final stage just before puberty. I had a friend in third grade tell me in confidence that she had just gotten her first period. She was taller than me and while not as chubby as I was, she was already a C-cup. I would find out later that mensuration depended heavily on weight rather than age, about 100 lbs. Surely, I should have been begun my period by that stipulation, but I guess I was just barely toppling 100 (surprisingly). While I had a bit of a stomach, I still hadn’t developed enough breast tissue to warrant use of even a training bra.
Anyway, during this sleepover, Mindy wanted us to all camp out in the yard in a tent. Problem was, it was late July and it was stifling outside. We all voted to sleep in the house rather which upset Mindy, but her mother agreed that was way too hot for four girls to sleep in a tent. Mindy soon got over it and then dared each of us to take off our clothes and run around the house. Her mother, somehow, didn’t see a problem with this. Even with little breasts, I was already developing hair in places I didn’t want to reveal to the world, so I stayed clothed while they streaked around the house.
I will admit that I felt uncomfortable with them being naked around because it was making me feel…strange. I was awfully too interested in the female body for a eight-year-old and I admit that I didn’t watch rap videos on MTV and BET just for the music. I wouldn’t even be that into boys until later, but like many girls my age, I was already…discovering things about my own body. I liked to watch a certain scene of a Charlie’s Angels movie way too much and stayed up to watch Spike TV and certain unedited BET music videos (you know the ones). I didn’t even know what the terms “lesbian” or “bisexual” even meant and in the early 2000s, it was still highly stigmatized in the South.
Fourth grade started and I had two teachers again, Mrs. Mitchell and Mrs. Pace. Somehow, the school had crammed 25 of the loudest kids into one class (yes, I was loud, at the time) but we all punished as a class for the same offenses. If Mrs. Carter was just a bit irritated from time to time, Mrs. Mitchell, by all accounts, was an absolute child-eating bitch. I actually began to just enjoy her ongoing rants because they were far more entertaining than Virginia History. She was scream for thirty minutes before even getting to the lesson of the day. Bipolar, much?
Mrs. Pace wasn’t much better. I admit that I wasn’t an attentive student by any means, but she knew how to embarrass the hell out of me when I was falling behind in lessons. There was a bully in front of me that would threaten to tell her if I was still doing my homework from the night before if I didn’t give him a dollar. I was already being shaken up by a Mafioso at nine-years-old, what a jackass! I would be confused by Mrs. Pace’s version of multiplication where the extra 0s were “goose eggs” that the previous line had hatched. Pretty sure just saying, “You have to start a new line with an extra zero every time” would have processed better instead of fucking eggs, but I digress.
I had English lessons with Mrs. Pace and it’s a point that I can’t remember how she taught composition of paragraphs because she probably had a retarded way of doing that as well. The one thing she ever taught that I remember was that you can’t write past the margins of notebook paper, nor can you hyphen a word at the end of a line to begin the next line with-
out paying attention to syllables (see what I did there?) We had to write our spelling words in cursive which I just didn’t get at all and it always looked like I was having a stroke when I tried. I practiced doing it while copying notes of the projector and got tattled on by Mafia Dickhead because I was getting behind. Now I’m getting yelled at for trying to practice cursive, fuck me then.
The P.E. coach obviously hated his job and took it out on us by making us play soccer. Just imagined an uncoordinated chicken running in circles with its head chopped off and you get the gist of that experience. I was really good at head-butting the ball though. With my face, not so much. Baseball was equally dreadful. I once received a fast ball right to the sternum that by all means could have nearly broken a rib, but the coach just told me to sit it out. Thanks, Coach. I’ll just sit here and massage this goose egg that’s quickly becoming a third breast over here.
Presidential fitness was the evil test concocted by Satan-worshippers on the school board that dictated making students run the mile. Yeah, okay, I get that children should get exercise, but it’s just a little bit more than completely embarrassing when you’re nearly dying and having to walk with the fellow chubby kids down that final lap of shame. I actually could run pretty fast, but my problem was stamina (and McNuggets).
I still went to the daycare after school and something had happened between me and my “friends”. I had unknowingly become unpopular by…breathing? Existing? Did I hum too much, what? Suddenly, my best friends were now my bullies. Mindy and Sandra*, who had been my best friend since first grade at the daycare, were now regarding me as a convenient target. I was being greeted on the bus by Sandra’s knobby elbows punching me hard in my thighs. What the hell had I done? Why was I suddenly being poked, pinched, and laughed at?
This whole vicious circle finally broke the arc when they invited me over to the basketball court one day at the daycare after school. They wanted to apologize for what they were doing, or at least that’s what they told me. No, evidently I was deserving of some punishment for…still don’t know. Or maybe they were just bored. But then they suddenly began a spanking line, where one would take turns hitting me as hard as they could on my ass and then switch off. After all four of them had had their turn, I was crying uncontrollably and I told the teacher on them. I couldn’t sit down at all for the rest of the day. I don’t think I ever told my parents (they probably would have said I’d deserved it – after all, you know, the buttocks were fair game for corporal punishment).
At home, tensions were higher than ever. Mom would always bitch about Dad, Dad would bitch to me about Mom. As a child, I didn’t know that this was wrong of them and even took sides, telling each parent what the other had said about them. They were fairly conservative and didn’t believe in divorce (though both were divorcees, however, their previous exes had cheated on them). Dad was still racist and forbid me from watching BET and listening to rap music. (So, of course, I did it anyway.) Even as a child, I saw through his racist bullshit even when he was pissed that most of my friends in third grade were Black. The excuses would start when I got onto him about it. I still tune out any sentence beginning with “I’m not racist, but…” because I refuse to fall in line with his bigotry over something as senseless as judging people for things they had no control over.
However, if it’s preached to a child enough, they will began to think like their parents. It is because of his racist epithets and opinions that I do still have racist idealizations and therefore, still get nervous when I’m around black people. As well as racism, he was quick to correct me about homosexuality, constantly bringing up Sodom and Gomorrah from the Bible. Even back then, I was questioning while a loving God would destroy a whole town for just one sin (don’t get me started on The Great Flood). I was already being damned for questioning the “Word of the Lord”.
My mom wanted to send me to a Christian academy because I was screaming at stuffed animals. I liked to role-play as a teacher in my room and I would put my stuffed animals on my bed like a forum of students. Mrs. Mitchell’s yelling was more influential than annoying because that’s what I thought teachers got to do. They got to yell at people and write bad grades on papers. So, that’s what I role-played as a teacher, screaming at the top of my lungs at these stuffed animals. My mom soon overheard me and then asked the question that be the ultimate catalyst for events to come, “Is this what your teacher does everyday?” She was horrified and decided that one bad teacher was enough to warrant putting me into a private school.
*changed my brother’s name out of respect for his own family; other names are to protect identities because they’re probably going to be pissed if they read this anyway