Mom turned 29-years-old near the end of 1978 with very little fanfare and without having ever lived a life of her own. Two young children counted on her for everything while their father, recently released from prison, kept popping by to snort coke with her psychopathic husband. Spending ten, eleven hours a day running an extremely successful dental practice added to the strain of an overloaded life. Mom had plenty of reasons to check out, instead, fate provided a push in the opposite direction.
The moment was fast approaching where she would confront and conquer the hell life had become under the doctor’s tender care, the first step back in a lifelong journey to find and define her authentic self. A journey we both continue to this day.
The pathological cleanliness of Doctor Demented’s domain was magically consistent without much effort on our part. What went on behind the scenes was my mom scrubbed the place from top to bottom and ran endless loads of laundry while my sister and I played with our friends or went weekend skiing at Alyeska. She had standards of her own to meet with violent penalties for lackadaisical performance. It didn’t guarantee the kids wouldn’t get smacked around for perceived faults, but mom took most of the beatings for keeping house as a dutiful wife.
Eventually, she had taken enough to pack our stuff, loading it and us into her Smurf blue Toyota pickup. She left the boxes with her Aunt Doris while we flew with clothes and not much else to live with my grandmother in Denver. This was an especially tough time for mom as the slow weaning from prescription drugs she planned turned abruptly cold turkey when grandma flushed every last pill down the toilet the day we arrived. I suspect the next few weeks were extremely unpleasant for her, but my sister and I were busy settling into another school. Mom got a job at a downtown law office once her withdrawal ordeal was complete, and we appeared to be settling in for the long haul.
That wasn’t the way things worked out.
Anyone passingly familiar with psychopaths (or sociopaths for that matter) knows they are notoriously hard to shake. Ours was no different. It wasn’t long before Doctor Demented got his hands on my grandma’s phone number (by way of the same Aunt Doris who said she’d help us get free from his grasp) and embarked upon the long-distance seduction of my newly sober mother back into his slimy embrace. Whatever lies he weaved must have done the trick, because after a few short months, we packed up and headed back to Anchorage to give the nightmare another go around. That unreasonable return was cut mercifully short a few months later by events I didn’t discover until years later.
My eight-year-old sister went to my mother with her Holly Hobby nightgown in hand one night when our stepfather was out of the house. She wanted to know what the yellow stain was because she thought the doctor peed on her at night when she was supposed to be asleep. Mom says her face went hot and white, an icy rage taking control at this latest betrayal. She told Abby she would handle it and confronted him with the evidence.
Mom said he laughed it off and explained, “Daddies do that to teach their daughters about boys.”
The next morning after he left for the office, we packed for a second time and loaded everything into our small blue pickup. It was fittingly beautiful in a way that only an Alaskan spring can deliver. New gold-green leaves on the aspen trees in our front yard danced in the light breeze, celebrating our escape with the joyful abandon of coins tossed into a fountain in pursuit of a heartfelt wish. It wouldn’t be the last time I saw the house or played in the neighborhood, but we would never live there again.
Our first stop was to drop our worldly belongings off with my mom’s best friend who lived in a trailer not far from Diamond Mall, but our final destination wasn’t anywhere Doctor Demented would be able to find us. I don’t know how mom discovered the safe house or the organization that made it possible, but we landed at a place for battered women and children occupying a small apartment building on a seedy side of somewhere in Anchorage I had never been. We were buzzed through a secure front door that opened onto a small tiled landing with stairs leading up and down into shadows and gloom. Closed doors stood opposite each other at every turn, families like ours hiding inside from horrors and monsters of their own. I can still smell of fear in the back of my throat and assume we trailed the same sour stench in our wake. I also remember frightened toddlers peering out from behind their moms legs and making faces at them until I coaxed out a tentative smile. We stayed for as long as it took for Doctor Demented’s rage to subside. Long days of playing games and holding our breath and thinking about tomorrow and the day after that.
I don’t remember leaving, but at some point we moved into a two bedroom apartment in the heart of Anchorage. The curvy road we lived on became I Street as it headed downtown, defining the edge of the marshy inlet where I once sailed an inflatable raft I won answering trivia questions on a radio show. It couldn’t have been more different from our previous neighborhood in the suburbs, but Doctor Demented drunkenly pounding the front door while we huddled together on the other side made sure our recent troubles were never far from mind until suddenly he went away as if he had never existed.
Mom told me the real story when I wrote this chapter.
The leader of local bad-ass biker gang, we’ll call him Brandon, approached Doctor Demented when he got his dental license and DEA-approved permission to purchase liquid cocaine, Seconal, Valium and Quaaludes in huge quantities. He sold said drugs to his old chum’s crew for years, but they were family guys and had taken a shine to my mom and us. We had even gone to a couple of their family picnics. Mom was coming apart at the seams due to the doctor’s harassment and got the idea one night to call Brandon for help. The man wanted to talk to my sister directly, and mom put her on the phone. In a sweet little girl voice, she told Brandon the story.
Mom said he got back on and said in a cold voice, “If you or the kids get so much as a hangnail for the rest of your lives, we will take him to the mountains, strip him naked, rub honey all over him and let the bears, insects and bugs devour his sorry ass.”
The message must have gotten through, because we never heard from Doctor Demented again but for a couple of awkward cameos when I lived with my dad in the years before the crazy dentist went to prison for distribution of pharmaceutical drugs and rape.