If you lived on Long Island in the late 60’s, the words “lay-off” were all too familiar. It was a major location for the “defense industry”. After Vietnam and the Cold War, there were major cutbacks to the budget and many people lost their employment.

So we lived in fear of when the axe would fall. In my case it was not such a big thing, given that I was a lowly part timer. But it was a blow, as paying my way was a matter of self-respect and I was trying to get through college.

Scanning the want ads in Newsday, I saw a posting from a company that was attached, vaguely to Republic Aviation. I got an interview.

A big, jovial man called Red asked me a few questions and seemed to think I could handle the work, but he was concerned that I was not a US Citizen, given the connection with the defense industry. He decided if necessary he would just place a screen around me, to prevent me seeing anything “sensitive”, but the situation never arose.

At times I wondered about the things I was putting together, and tried not to imagine what they might be part of. It looked harmless and my contribution was pretty insignificant. In retrospect, perhaps I should have had a crisis of conscience but I was too busy thinking of other sorts of crises, closer to home.

Life was a daily drama. My uncle made a habit of bringing me a cup of tea first thing in the morning and I always dreaded hearing the door open. I wasn’t a child anymore and I wanted my privacy, but sharing a small home with a man who was paranoid about closed doors, it was not to be.

In all the time I lived with my aunt and uncle, he never did actually touch me physically, except the time he came to find me at work once, and struck me in the face. It was at the end of the night and the terminal was quiet, but I was rather hurt that no-one came to my defense.

Still, I was not injured, just madder than hell. I thought, after all, perhaps he was getting his own back, for the time I kicked him up the ass! He was berating my aunt noisily and I came out of my room behind him, deciding enough was enough. Kay and I had a good laugh about it afterwards.

Those were the only times anything physical happened. It was constant psychological torment. Ray was laid-off not long after I came to live with them and the work he found was mostly part-time, so he was always home when I was there. Kay still worked full time and took any overtime she could, so she was gone for hours, to my despair.

It is probably not surprising that I can no longer bring to mind a single conversation I had with this man who bent my mind. It was all so pathetic. He claimed to love me, could not understand why I did not reciprocate. It was bizarre and unbelievable.

My obvious first “excuse” was that he was my uncle! –Ah, but we were not blood related. But he was married to my aunt. –That had nothing to do with it. Seriously. How do you reason with someone like that?

If I made a fuss, my aunt would find out, and be heart-broken. She might not even believe me, and then where would I be?

So the alternative was to keep coming up with reasons why this “relationship” was never going to happen.

  • Tell him I don’t like him.
  • Tell him he’s too old.
  • Tell him he’s repulsive to me.
  • Tell him to get lost. (except it was his house)

Those were all things I wanted to say but couldn’t, because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Ridiculous, right?

There is something I never told a therapist. Until now I don’t think I even realized it, – I have an awful irrational fear of hurting anyone, of even causing them to be hurt. Because it would make me a really bad person that doesn’t deserve to live. Once, I made my mother cry, and when I saw the tears I thought the world was going to end. Even now the thought makes me feel as if my insides are caving in.

Well that attitude wasn’t much help! I also had a terrible fear of confrontation. I was a prize candidate for this man to dominate. (It really was not his fault he was this way.)

What were some of the other excuses I could throw out?

  • Tell him I don’t like men.
  • Tell him I’m frigid.

I can’t believe I was so stupid. Ray didn’t believe I could be a lesbian, so I offered some “proof”, I told him I had kissed a guy at work and that I had not liked it. STUPID! He went mad, crazy. Who was the guy? Where could he find him? He was going to go find him and get him fired “for moral turpitude”, and on and on.

He was crazy enough to try things like that. He used to call my office and make a nuisance of himself to the point where security banned him from the building. One of the guys I worked with nicknamed him “Uncle Adolf”. But no-one ever asked me if I was alright. I wondered what they said behind my back.

As for telling my uncle I was frigid, that was just dismissed with a wave of the hand. He went on asking me to come sit in his lap and when I didn’t, he would do the big sulk, the horrible faces, the walking past me in a big huff, the big SILENCE.

You would suppose that being ignored by someone who is otherwise intent on abusing you, would be a welcome thing. Perhaps it should have been, but I was not emotionally strong enough. I didn’t want to live in a house where there was such a horrible atmosphere, but there was nothing I could do about it. So I lived on edge.

I had been alone in boarding school for 5 years, had dealt with some very hard situations. No one ever asked if I was alright then, either. When I tried to speak of it, I was silenced. My feelings were never considered. Now, I had been sent to live in America and the rest of the family thought, once again, that Carolyn was such a very lucky, spoiled girl. It HURT.

Dealing with Ray was tiresome. And so was dealing with his mother. In 1966 my aunt and uncle decided it was time they went back to England for Kay to see her very aged mother. I was left in charge of Wendy and Jill, the rowdy cocker-spaniels, and Granny.

Wasn’t that fun….

4 thoughts on “Lay-Offs

  1. How was it that your aunt didn’t know at least some of the awful way that he was treating you? How could she live in the same house with this man and not know about it? How terrible that you were trapped in this insanity, with no way out!

    1. I did wonder, just as I wondered about my mother being in the next room not knowing what my dad was up to. Maybe they suspected but didn’t want to know. My uncle’s mother I am sure had a good idea what all the fights were about. She programmed the man. There are few people I have ever met who could give me the creeps the way she did!

      1. My family is from Sicily. We have a word for old women like her. Strega. Gets lost in translation – witch, but not the Halloween or occult kind of witch. A woman with evil intentions and darkness who harbors ill will. Takes pleasure in the pain of others.
        Just remembered there’s a liquor called Strega. Haven’t tasted it in forty years!

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