I was born and raised in the mid-west. My family were Southern Baptists, and we went to church at least twice during the week, plus twice morning and evening on Sunday. I was born in 1932 and raised by my Aunt Flora and Uncle Earle on a farm outside the town of Liberal, Kansas in the 1940’s. My uncle grew wheat and raised beef. My mom and dad had ten kids. When they divorced my mom wanted to play and didn’t want to be a mother anymore. My dad could not care for all of us by himself.
When my dad farmed us all out to other relatives, I only had my youngest sister, Phyllis, with me. I only saw the rest of my brothers and sisters on some holidays or during family reunions. We weren’t close and acted shy and awkward around each other when we did meet. Sometimes my sister and I got along, but because she was so young and cute, she was usually a spoiled little monster.
She would accuse me of pinching her when I wouldn’t give in to her demands, then scream at our aunt “she’s pinching me- she’s pinching me!” Her eyes would well at will with tears and I knew I was in for it. My aunt would come to the rescue and dig her nails into my arm. She’d pinch me, yelling “that’s what that feels like little missy!”
Even though she loved me, she could not see through Phyllis’ game, and so at an early age, I learned about a pinch and the back of a hand from someone who said they loved me.
My aunt and uncle were poor, and we often got our clothes from the church poor box. I absolutely hated it when I had to wear those clothes to school because the “rich” town girls whose parents had donated them would see us and were very cruel at times.
They’d say “That dress sure looked better on me than it does on you” or “I’m so glad someone like you could use my old dress.” Then in winter my aunt would put us in long underwear for the long walk to school, and the town kids would heckle us farm kids and call us bumpkins.
Being from such an upright, strict Baptist family, I was not unlike modern teens, who perhaps, feeling choked and stifled from being on so short a leash, found myself in my Junior year attracted to one of the sons of the town sheriff. But oh my he was a wild one! I thought he was beautiful, and scary, dangerous and taboo, and everything that makes a bad boy so magnetic to a young girl. He absolutely swept me away.
My heart pounded in my chest when he just looked at me. It would pound a little later on too, but for a much different reason. But now, oh now; what a way he had of speaking sensual words to me; words that aroused me and debased me at the same time. This farm girl was head over heels in love with the young, part Indian, whiskey drinking, car racing town boy.
We married right after I graduated. My aunt cried and said “I hope you know what you’ve got yourself in for.” She had tried to talk me out of the union. But I had all the optimism of the pure in heart, and I just knew my love would be all that he would need to bring him around. My uncle just said, “if yer gonna lie down with a dog, yer gonna get up with fleas.” Undeterred at the age of eighteen, I married him.
I managed to get a job in town as a waitress in one of the café’s and Allen got a job in the oil field down near the Oklahoma state line. He made it home about every other weekend and within six months I was pregnant. Nine months later I gave birth to my beautiful boy, Daryl. For two years I had this beautiful little child almost entirely to myself. Allen adored his son, but his trips home were getting fewer and farther apart. Sometimes he acted like he was in a hurry to leave again. He would often come home, eat a meal I had prepared just for him, and then he would take me to bed and have sex with me. He didn’t make love to me anymore- it was just sex. Then he would rush out to party with his friends before he left again. When I complained of his treatment of me, he punched me in the face and told me to never tell him what or what not to do. This was the first punch of many I would take in my life with him.
I now hated it when he came home, and I was pregnant again with my second baby-my little girl Linda. I would just get over one black eye in time to get another. Even my being pregnant didn’t stop his violence against me. My boss at the café’ said he couldn’t keep me working if I was beat up all the time. He told me “Winnie you’d better get away from him. He’s a bastard!”
But I was pregnant, hurting. and now about to lose my job. Allen demanded all my money when he came home. I heard that there was a woman at the bar who he spent all his money on. Then he would come staggering home and demand all of mine. I had to sew my rent and grocery money into the hems of the curtains where he couldn’t find it.
He finally got fired from his job in the oil fields. I was really wondering why they kept him as long as they did. I heard the final day came when he went to work, and as he was drinking on the job, he was thinking it would be quite fun to run away really fast from the rig--which he did! When the rest of the guys on the rig caught up with him, he was taking a piss and laughing like a lunatic. His boss, however, was not amused that he had run away from the rig. His prank had inspired the boss to run too, and that was not to be tolerated. The unwritten rule in the fields is that if you saw someone running, assume there is a reason for flight-for example, if the well was on fire and an explosion was imminent. Since the noise is deafening, you can’t always hear the warnings. For the boss to lose his dignity by running away was not to be tolerated, and Allen was charged with inciting panic. Soon he was a pariah in the oil fields, and no one would touch him. He couldn’t get a job anywhere in that arena again.
The army decided they could use him however, and he had a couple of months at home before he went away for training. He said he didn’t want to get a job anywhere since he was leaving soon, and that meant he was taking all the money from me that he thought I had. Since he needed my income, his drunken beatings were more calculated to target my back, butt and breasts where my uniform would cover the bruises. When I would cry, he called me a “cry baby” and said I wasn’t half the woman his mother was. His dad when he was a child had abused his mother, and he remembered that she had never cried. She was indeed a very stoic Indian lady and endured much in her life.
Allen drank from early morning until he passed out wherever he was while he was home on leave. In a blackout he would tear up the bar and assault other patrons. One time he pulled a knife on the deputy when he came to arrest him. The deputy was actually fearful of Allen when he was drunk on whiskey. He was insane on whiskey and had brute strength and cunning on top of his deadly Army training. My father in law had to go rescue his deputy once by knocking Allen out cold to drag him to jail. He kept him a couple of days that time instead of just overnight because he was talking crazy about murdering someone. He didn’t want to take a chance that it may have been more than just drunk talk. I think he may have actually been worried about me that time.
Finally, Allen left for Korea, and I entertained the thought of leaving him then. But it was so close to my time to deliver, and I was so dependent on my family for support that the idea was harder and harder to envision. Soon I was getting mail from Allen. Instead of sweet love letters and “I miss you,” they were venomous threats breathed at me from across the seas. He’d write-“You’d better be there when I get back! There is nowhere you can go I can’t find you. I’ll kill you if you take my babies anywhere!” I was terrified; I had never before felt fear that intense.
Sometime later when he wrote and said he was getting leave and was to be shipped home, I took the kids and went back to Aunt Flora’s. I now had two kids and he was coming back. As soon as he arrived he managed to meet up with my aunt. He turned on that little boy charm he used so well with the older ladies, and managed to convince her to send me home “where I belonged.” A few nights later, just as I dreaded he beat the hell out of me and snarled into my face “ If you ever leave me again, I will kill all of your family”-and I sincerely believed him!
Sometime after, I had a nervous breakdown and spent time in a psych ward. Allen went back to Korea and he gave the kids to my in-laws. Even though he was half way around the world, I just knew he could reach out and get me anytime he wanted. He had spies who I was sure were telling him lies about me. I was AFRAID--- AFRAID---AFRAID all the time-of everybody and everything.
I stayed at my in-laws when I got out of the hospital. It would be awhile before I could go to work again. Daryl and Linda were such good kids, even with all the hell they had been a witness to they didn’t seem to have any ill effects yet. Daryl would play so well with Linda, spending hours pulling her around the neighborhood in the old rusty Radio Flyer. He liked to sit her on the toilet and brush her hair and put pretend lipstick on her, just like he saw me do to my face. I know all children are precious; but-he was the sweetest, kindest little boy with huge brown eyes. He was like a little angel, and very soon I was to find out what a very short time I was to have with this little boy.
Another hell started when I noticed his appetite seemed to be lacking. In the middle of morning play, when his energy was usually at its peak he would suddenly go lay down in whatever room I happened to be in. I would ask him, “Do you feel ok sweetie?” I’m just tired mommy“ Finally, Gertrude that sweet wonderful mother in law of mine said, “It’s just not right that a four year old should be that tired all the time.” She went with me to take him to our family doctor, and when we left his office we were both two very old women. The doctor had taken some blood tests and sent them away to the lab. But he told us it certainly seemed as if the boy had Leukemia. The test results bore this out a few weeks later and little Daryl’s life expectancy shortened to three months. My father-in-law notified the Army and requested a leave for Allen so he could come and be with his son.
First I took him every week for a blood transfusion, and he stayed fairly stable for awhile, then I had to take him more and more often. Then quickly the disease took hold with a vengeance. Our town newspaper wrote articles about “Little Daryl’s Hard Fight.” When Thanksgiving arrived, a reporter asked him what he wanted most. He said he wanted to see his daddy in his uniform. Daryl’s veins were now turning like paper mache’. He had hardly ever cried over the needles in the beginning. He was trying to be mommy’s little man; but now, oh now; it was way too much for the tears not to roll. He would beg me please mommy lock the door so they can’t get in. I was such a weak woman that I couldn’t even hide my tears over the torture of needles puncturing my son- over and over again. But this torture was the only thing prolonging my son’s life.
The Army said they couldn’t find PFC Allen Coffey. They knew he was on the front, but they couldn’t get word. Little Daryl’s veins would collapse now as the needles would seek to give him life prolonging blood. Needles in-needles out-needles in-needles out. And again with Christmas approaching, the reporter would ask Daryl what he wanted for Christmas. He would answer again that he wanted to see his daddy in his uniform.
They finally had to stop with the transfusions- they just couldn’t be done anymore. My son died horribly just days before Christmas. Allen still couldn’t be found, and if it were not for my little girl needing me so badly, I would have curled up in a ball next to my little boy and gone with him wherever he was. My mother-in-law kept asking the doctor to hold onto Daryl’s body in hopes his dad would soon be home. After five days I vaguely, distantly heard the doctor say, “The body will have to be dealt with.” “Dealt with?” I ask. “Buried he said, “time limits-state law”- words I barely understood.
Now, I had to bury my son alone, but I would be alone even if Allen were here. “Please God, I can’t break down now, don’t let me cave in now.” The town came together to help the family. All I had to do was point at the casket I wanted. They should never, ever have such little tiny coffins. The reporters were there from all over the county and indeed the state. The news of “Little Daryl’s Hard Fight,” and his desire to see his daddy in uniform had touched the heart strings of the mid-west.
A few days after the funeral, Allen flew in demanding another Memorial-OH HORROR! So, we had another service and tore further open wounds that would never heal.
On the front lines of a war across the world from home he was informed that his son had a serious illness. It took cutting through red tape and logistical planning to get him away from the front lines and finally home. That doesn’t even mention the eons of time it took to get him out of one hell hole and home to another.
When his plane landed he called from the airport. Someone at his mom’s house, not recognizing his voice when he asked about Daryl, was told rather bluntly that “the little Coffey boy was dead and was due to be buried. Whatever sanity Allen had, snapped that day.
He began drinking and beating on me immediately. This continued on and on. He blamed me for Daryl’s death. If I wasn’t such a rotten whore, a rotten mother, he would still be alive. He screamed at me “WHAT DID YOU DO TO KILL MY SON!!!”
This went on a couple more years in which I managed to get pregnant two more times. I had two more little girl babies and Allen hated me more and more because I didn’t have another Daryl in me. I had a daughter Virginia, and then in short order my little Janet was born. Janet was born way too soon and she fit in a cigar box when she was born. Thank God for my family and my mother-in-law who always took the kids at difficult times, and at least they always had food and a warm place with her. We were always getting evicted for not paying rent or for the scenes he would make when he was drunk, screaming at people and tearing things up. Allen had gone beyond reason and there was no dealing with him by anyone.
He eventually hooked up with some woman at the bar. He always had other women, but this time he really didn’t care who knew, especially me. He even brought her home from the bar late one night and woke me up to cook breakfast for them. She looked me up and down drunkenly and stared openly at my bruises and black eyes, and informed me that he never, ever laid a finger on her “in anger’ she insinuated.
My cousin, Anita, came to see me and put it right to me without pulling any punches. She said “You must leave and take your kids. Not just out of town, but out of the state. Go to your sister, Phyllis, in Phoenix. You can’t stay here! We can’t be with you all the time. Look at yourself-he is escalating-he is going to kill you. He’s really crazy Winnie.” She shoved a one hundred dollar bill into my hands, a fortune back then and a ticket to Phoenix. Call us when he passes out and we will get you and the kids to the bus station.
“I can’t”, I said. “I’m too weak and tired, too afraid.” Finally she shook me by the shoulders and said the words in such a way that they penetrated my apathy and burned into my brain. “He will kill you and the kids if they are in the way!! You are stronger than you think you are! Anyone who has lived through what you have cannot possibly call yourself weak!
That very night, with my heart pounding like a drum, my legs supported by water, my stomach in knots so tight I thought I was going to puke, I waited and I waited until he passed out. Then as though I feared that even in his stupor he would awake and catch me in the act, I grabbed only coats, my purse, and my babies and ran to the waiting pick-up where my cousin took me to the bus station fifteen miles away. I didn’t have clothes, any belongings at all because I was afraid he would find the packed bags.
I wish I could say I never looked back, but the truth is I never stopped looking over my shoulder until my Aunt called and told me that he was dead.
As soon as he could after I divorced him, he had married the other woman, and I was told it was a very short time until she was wearing black eyes and bruises. I heard later she left him and moved in with a woman friend. He came early in the morning to the house she shared with her and broke in. He was drunk and accused her of cheating on him just as he had accused me of doing for years. After holding them hostage with a shot gun for hours, he shot her in the head and then turned the gun on himself.
Please ladies-leave your situation-now! Do it with your knees knocking and your heart pounding. It was that courage in the midst of fear that saved my life. Courage is not doing hard things free from fear; it is doing what has to be done in spite of the fear.