During the last great depression, the WPA sent writers and photographers to the heartland to document the hardships of the common man. Living with these impoverished families, the writer’s grew as close to the families as family members. LIFE magazine published the stories, and they changed the course of society. This essay was researched in East Hampton in the same manner. The story is true, only the names have been changed.
SEE NO EVIL
by J.Z. Holden
Lakota is a blond-haired, blue-eyed, self-cutting, eleven year-old girl. She has spent the last eight years living with her mother’s sister, a tough talking, manipulative, brunette and the loud-mouthed, four-hundred pound husband she dotes on, as well as their entitled and misbehaving three sons. All older and tougher than she, it is impossible for Lakota to go unnoticed in their raucous slip of a house, the back of which faces the affordable housing apartments in East Hampton across from the dump. The sounds of the dump, machine gears grinding loudly, drown out bird song. And on warm summer nights, their neighbors’ volleyball games go on until midnight, the players yelling in Spanish and Portuguese. Those fellows have enough people living in one house to populate two separate ball teams. And when they get going, those crazy guys and their endless Coronas, they do wild things like put in an illegal volleyball court and high beam lights. Their drunken shrieks compete with all other sounds; the cicadas, the sighing of the wind through the trees, even the screeching of the raccoons fighting over the half eaten corn cobs flung into the woods by the four-hundred pounder and his family.
When you first meet the sister Jenny, in whose legal care Lakota lives, she is quick to mention her alleged connection to the Mayflower as well as the first families to settle in East Hampton; superiority is what she craves. She would never admit that she is the reason for her madly dysfunctional family. Second on the agenda is her aggressive and grating insistence that she is a better mother to Lakota than her sister ever was. Watching Jenny and Lakota together, there is something cloying and skin-crawlingly perverse about the way she wraps her arms around the girl’s shoulder. Sooner or later, Lakota squirms free, but somewhere deep inside she likes the woman’s attentions because they make her feel special.
Lakota’s birth parents are young. And yet, they have been ill for years. Endless partying became AIDS, Hep C, spinal stenosis, liver failure, kidney failure and the occasional total organ collapse. And despite the fact that Lakota’s father Tony, and mother Jan, are hard core addicts, there is an untouched part of them that remains essentially naive and child-like. They remain patiently and passively victims, hoping that without having to do anything, someday their daughter will be returned to them. Saturdays and Wednesdays are the court designated days their beloved daughter is to be dropped off at their apartment. Her delivery on either day, prompt or otherwise, rarely materializes.
On Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, Tony and Jan can be found at the kitchen table, their mac and cheese cooling on the formica table top, complaining about how Jan’s sister keeps figuring out ways to keep their daughter from seeing them. They seethe with frustration and eventually, having worked themselves into a frenzy, they are unable to eat, so they feed the mac and cheese to the dogs. They raise their voices again and threaten to do something, but don’t. They have a legal aid attorney who is utterly useless; no matter how badly Jenny behaves, the attorney never goes to the trouble of making anything favorable happen. And because Tony and Jan are filled with self-loathing, on some level they believe they deserve this kind of treatment. It never occurs to them that the Mayflower sister’s punishing behavior is a cover-up. The real reason Jenny keeps Lakota from seeing her parents is because they are hiding a terrible secret. Jenny’s middle son, who has been sexually abusing Lakota since the age of five, has started having intercourse with her. And Miss Mayflower would rather die than have her son or any member of ‘her’ immediate family listed in the papers as a sex offender, or God forbid go to jail. If only Lakota hadn’t started cutting herself where people could see it.