Corn Fields for Days by Pamela A. Karanova
Trigger Warning // Childhood Sexual Abuse
It was Friday at 5PM, it was time to head to Dunkerton, where Thomas and Laura lived, along with Mark, Max, and Mike. It was an hour each way from Patricia’s house in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. They lived in a house in the country, literally smack dab in the middle of cornfields that surrounded our small cul-de-sac with a few other houses.
Thomas worked at John Deere’s, and my interactions with him were pleasant most of the time. He was a hard worker and was dedicated to taking care of his family and doing what he had to do to put food on the table. At times, his commute to and from work was an hour each way, and even in the cold, brutal Iowa winters, he did what he had to do to provide for his family.
He took pride in taking us on summer vacations and loading us up in the big blue van with the pop-up camper. We went to Disney Land, The Grand Canyon, The Petrified Forest, Wisconsin Dells, and The Queen Mary. In addition, we frequented many campgrounds around the USA. My favorite was always Jelly Stone Park.
Before she met Thomas, Laura worked part-time at a local gas station and had the three boys with different dads. Once they married, Thomas raised my three stepbrothers as his own. Laura worked off and on over the years. We never talked about God or prayed before meals, but on Sundays, Laura and Thomas would sometimes drop us off at the local catholic church but would never stay themselves.
Laura had an aura about herself where I never felt a “motherly” love from her; instead, I felt like she was cold as ice towards me. There was nothing warm and fuzzy about her, not as far as I was concerned anyway. We were never close or connected, and she was always around, which stood in the way of me ever having any one-on-one time with Thomas. I don’t ever remember us having 5 minutes of father/daughter time together in all my life. And to be completely honest, I don’t know much about Thomas because he wasn’t a talker.
Melanie and I didn’t have chores at Thomas’s house because our visits were only a weekend in length, creating what felt like a free pass. The visits with them were much different than our home life with Patricia. Thomas and Laura’s house was usually kept clean, dinner was always ready around 5 PM, and I didn’t have to sneak outside and play. There was a structure here, which I knew nothing about at Patricia’s. Most of the time, chaos was at a bare minimum, but I wasn’t around much either. I heard some stories about Thomas being tough on the boys and calling them sissies for wanting to play sports. This never made me feel good that they were treated this way, actually the opposite.
The boys each had their own rooms in the unfinished basement, and Melanie and I shared a room for a long time. Believe it or not, Melanie and I rarely fought at Thomas and Laura’s like we did at Patricia’s. The ring leader and middle man spinning the drama were nonexistent, so things were pleasant.
At one point, as a way to separate Melanie and me as we got older, they created a small “room” for me, which was a closet that fit my twin bed and dresser in it. They hung up sheets from the ceiling to block off the area to create privacy. It was tiny; however, it was the first time in my life I had a space I could call my own. Because of this, I didn’t think twice about it being in a closet.
At Thomas’s house, I could ask to go outside, and most of the time, they said the most prized words that I longed to hear at Patricia’s house, “Have fun!” or “BYE!” I would take off flying out the door and enjoy the freedom every child should have without the sneak effect hanging over my head.
Mike was a year older than me, he enjoyed wrestling in school, and he loved the Dungeons and Dragons game. He was a fun kid and always enjoyed our company when we visited from Cedar Rapids for the weekend. We have some great childhood memories together.
Max was always the favorite of Thomas and Laura. He was three years older than me. He loved Motley Crew, Ozzy Osborne, and Guns N Roses. He was popular in school and seemed to receive favor everywhere he went. However, he was a rebel and seemed to get in trouble more than any of us. He was arrested first and wrecked a car first, but he was still everyone’s favorite.
Mark was five years older than me, so when I was 5, he was 10. There were always some peculiar things about him, like the fantasies he created in his mind about creating another world and his own government named after him. He had a strange personality, and I always felt it from him. He was also in and out of psychiatric hospitals his entire juvenile and early adult life. It ended up being that he came out of the closet as gay, and I am sure that was a difficult journey for him to navigate.
All three of my stepbrothers detasseled corn in the summertime, and that was a tough job. They would remove the immature pollen-producing tassels from the top of the corn, laying them on the ground on by one. They would get up at the crack of dawn and go to the pick-up site to head out to the cornfields for the day. When they returned home, they were bright red from the sun beating on them each day. One thing was for sure, detasseling corn wasn’t for sissies!
I will never forget Mike screaming frantically one evening while running through the woods shouting, “A wild bore is chasing me! Hurry! Run fast!” The reality was that it was dinner time, and he was trying to round us up to get inside! We would play hide and seek in the cornfields or the woods. In Wintertime, we would create igloos and play king of the mountain with the heavy snowfall we received in Iowa.
At some point around the age of five, Mark started to groom me to do sexual favors for him. He was a kid at ten years old; however, I have memories of these interactions up to me being 10-11 years old, where he would have been 15 to 16 years old and old enough to know better! So while things with Laura and Thomas seemed to be better than with Patricia, I lived with this childhood sexual abuse keeping it to myself until I ended up in therapy again at 18 years old, and this was the first time it all came out.
Until then, my lips were sealed because Mark told me not to share it with anyone or else! By the time I reached 12 years old, I had stopped wanting to visit Thomas and Laura because of these activities. When they asked why I didn’t want to come anymore, I didn’t give a definite reason. I kept that secret from all, just like Mark instructed me to do.
At times, someone in the house did something wrong, and Thomas and Laura would punish us all. For example, we were told to get down on our hands and knees on the basement floor, and while we all five lined up, they beat our asses with a belt one by one. This was terrifying and painful.
We returned home, and Patricia saw that we had marks on our bodies from the belt. She let Thomas and Laura know that we would never return until they agreed to never use a belt on us again. They finally agreed, and after a pause in visits, our visits to Dunkerton would resume.
Thomas and Laura never spoke negatively about Patricia in front of us girls. On the contrary, I always appreciated this because that was the opposite of what Patricia did. It was almost as if she wanted to sow seeds of discord. She did an excellent job at it; however, I would ultimately lose respect for her because she continuously attempted to put a wedge between Thomas and us girls. I put him on a pedestal because he always showed up to pick us up and he took us on vacations and to fun places.
I would run off to frolic in the cornfields, which seemed never-ending. We also had the woods not far where I would have the freedom to run wild until dinner time. No one knew that my escape into nature would be a healing place for me. I was free from Mark and Patricia’s toxicity, and I could pretend the forest was my home. My imagination would run wild by being able to run amongst the forest and the trees. I never wanted to leave.
Freedom always reigned for me outside amongst the trees. We had one substantial gigantic tree outside our house across the street. I climbed to the top and would reach up and touch the sky, and in my mind, I was touching the only close thing I had to my birth mother. I knew she was under the same sky I was, and I longed to be closer to her. So I would hang out at the top, dreaming of her. It was like the sky was my baby blanket growing up, and it made me feel closer to my birth mother, when the reality was I had no idea who she was or where she was. Was she looking for me? Was she thinking of me? I knew it was a matter of time before she returned for me.
I never spoke to Thomas or Laura about knowing I was adopted; however, I know my three stepbrothers knew. I know this because they would get upset with Melanie or me for something; they would shout, “You aren’t our REAL family” or “Blood is thicker than water!.” They would also make fun of us because our city smelled nasty, so they would hurl insults at us from time to time. “They were kids!” shouts the world. Yes, this is true, but it was mean-spirited, and it stuck, especially being adopted.
I loved being able to escape into nature and consider that piece of my childhood an essential aspect of why I am the person I am today. Mother Nature was always there even when my earthly mothers didn’t hold up to the expectations I deserved! As early as I can remember, I felt more connected to the trees and the woods than I did any of the people in my life, especially running around barefoot with no shoes on. That was my jam. I loved to get dirty and wet and play in the mud and rain. I had little fear!
I never cared for Laura much and didn’t feel close to her. She was deceptive multiple times and lied to Thomas and us about being a smoker. Even though she let us see her smoke, she wanted us to lie for her to Thomas. She also stepped outside the marriage with Thomas. As a result, I lost respect for her and had little love for her, and felt the coldness in her aura towards me. She also favored Max, and because of this, all the rest of us felt like red-headed stepchildren. And in my case, the adopted red-headed stepchild. Favoring kids destroys kids.
It was Sunday in the blink of an eye, and it was time to go back to Patricia’s house. We wouldn’t see or hear from Thomas or Laura for two weeks. We never kept in touch between the visits or spoke on the phone. They never knew how school was going or what we were up to sports-wise, or activities we completed like dance recitals or plays. I never remember conversations on life lessons at all. They just showed up for the court-ordered visits, every other holiday, and a vacation in the summer.
Thomas was always far away, and because of this, sadly, I don’t feel like I ever had a close relationship with him or a relationship at all. He wasn’t around when Patricia was amid her meltdowns, and world war three was happening inside Patricia’s home. I was dying to know details about the divorce from his perspective. How do you marry someone, adopt two daughters, get divorced a year later and move to another city, and re-marry a year later? Did he know how emotionally unstable Patricia was? If he did, why did he leave us with her?
It would be years before I would get up enough nerve to ask Thomas to get to the bottom of this. But eventually, I would learn the truth from his perspective, and it was a hard pill to swallow. After reality set in, sadly, the pedestal I put him on my whole life changed to a different reality. One that I wasn’t expecting to learn. But ultimately, even when it hurts, it’s the truth that sets us free.
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