On a sunny autumn morning, I left my house for school, excited about
seeing my friend Lexie and Mack, the cute guy I met over the weekend. I
never dreamed my short-lived relationship with the two would end in
murder a few days later.
I ran downstairs with my backpack slung over my shoulder. I wanted to be
at school a little early, so I hurried into the kitchen for a quick
breakfast of whatever I could grab. I brushed past my aunt Joanne, who
was making breakfast for Mom, and only Mom. She cooked two eggs over
easy and three strips of bacon—Mom's daily breakfast menu. The
delicious scents wafting from the stove made my stomach growl. I grabbed
a banana and a glass of water to start my day and shot her a dirty look
as she fixed her attention on the frying meat.
No, I'm fine, Aunt Joanne. I don't want any eggs this morning. Do I want
any bacon? Never. Bacon lasts a moment on the lips and a lifetime on the
hips. Don't you know that? What? Oh no, I can starve, no problem. Keep
taking care of Mom. Yeah, love you too.
I bumped into my beloved aunt on my way to the living room, to force
some kind of response out of her. Even if she yelled at me for being so
clumsy, I would have appreciated her verbiage. Instead, she sidestepped
to the left without saying a word.
Hey. An excuse me, or an excuse you, would be nice, Auntie.
Aunt Joanne never said a word, not to me anyway. That was the problem:
She didn't talk to me. She never acknowledged my presence in the house.
She acted like she was upset with me and expressed her gross displeasure
by pretending I didn't exist. Why in our great universe did she not want
to speak to me? I craved to hear her say something, such as, "Hello," or
"Hey, Sandra. Have a lousy day at school today," or maybe, "Hope you die
on the way home." Something. Anything.
I should've been grateful to have Aunt Joanne living with us, though she
ignored me. She came to stay with Mom and me almost a year ago, not long
after my father made his unexpected exit out of our lives. Aunt Joanne
started doing everything I used to do. Things like cleaning house and
cooking for and taking care of Mom. She made sure Mom took her
medications—all fourteen of them—and she also made sure Mom
remembered to go to the bathroom several times a day. Being relieved of
my duties gave me freedom that I hadn't had in a long time.
Before Dad's sudden departure, Mom’s total breakdown, and Aunt
Joanne's subsequent arrival, I kept the house and everyone in it. Mom
possessed a little more sanity back in those days, but Dad still kept
her terrified of doing much of anything. Everything Mom did infuriated
him. She lived in fear of getting berated or screamed at if she didn't
do something the right way, meaning, something to his satisfaction. So
poor Mom decided to opt out of her domestic duties and saddle me with
Every day after school, I’d rush home to clean the house and throw
dinner together by five o'clock sharp. Not a second later. Dad expected
to have dinner waiting for him the instant he came home from work.
Neither Mom nor I wanted to face the disastrous consequences of not
having dinner ready when Dad expected it.
Striving to maintain a spotless house and fix dinner on time every night
consumed a large part of my teenage life.
Gee thanks, Mom. Thank you so much for thrusting me into a crash course
in Dysfunctional Home Economics 101. I appreciate the wonderful learning
Before heading out the door, I stopped to study Aunt Joanne and Mom for
a moment, observing the cold interaction between them. Mom sat in her
beige high wingback chair. Aunt Joanne set Mom's breakfast and morning
medications on a TV tray. Mom swallowed her pills and ate slowly,
calculating every movement from her hand to her mouth.
After a few agonizing moments of watching Mom dawdle, Aunt Joanne tried
to encourage her to finish eating her bacon, but Mom refused. Instead,
Mom went into one of her panic episodes, where she opened her eyes to
the size of dinner plates and sat upright in her chair, stretching her
neck as high as it would go. Her knuckles turned white as she clamped
her death grip on the ends of the armrests. She looked like she was
bracing for a head on collision with an oncoming freight train. Aunt
Joanne called out to her several times, "Barbara? Barbara?" But she
refused to respond.
What terrifies you much, Mom? What has you so afraid?
Aunt Joanne said to Mom with an exaggerated sigh, "Fine then, Barbara.
Sit there and starve. I don't care."
Her block-heeled footsteps thundered across the living room floor and
onto the kitchen tiles, leading me to believe she had become as
frustrated with Mom as I had. I didn't blame her. Mom sat in her chair
from the time she woke up until the time she went to bed. For hours on
end, she stared off into space and didn't move a muscle. If I had to
deal with a sitting mannequin all day, I would go crazy.
I had to admit one thing: Aunt Joanne might have been as frigid as the
Arctic Circle, but she still did a halfway decent job at being Mom's
The two of them spoke to each other as little as possible. Their mutual
silence disturbed me. They carried on like they were the only ones in
the room, like I wasn't there. Truth be known, to Mom and Aunt Joanne, I
wasn't there. I'd disappeared from their view. I didn't exist.
My family vanished from my life. Each of my parents left in their own
way. Dad left by walking out the door. Mom left by going into some kind
of permanent trance. And Aunt Joanne proved to be as relationally
disconnected as Mom. Watching them play out their solemn daily ritual
was like watching a disturbing TV show I couldn't turn off.
Some of my classmates might have envied my home life. No parents, no
rules. "You're so lucky. Nobody tells you what to do. You have so much
freedom, you can live the way you want."
Not me. I loathed my home life.
As hard as I struggled to wrap my head around our living arrangement, it
never made logical sense to me how I could live in the same house with
two other people, yet feel so unloved. No one bothered to remind me to
do my homework or not to stay out after ten o'clock or not to wear my
jeans so tight. Neither adult bothered to ask me who my friends were or
where I went after school every day. Weren't parents, and even aunts,
supposed to care about those things?
I faced a harsh reality: Nobody cared about what I did. Nobody cared if
I lived or died. Not Dad. Not Mom. Not Aunt Joanne. Not anyone. Except
Lexie: Maybe she cared about me.
The broken china hutch in the kitchen caught my eye. It stood as another
reminder of how my inability to please Dad with my wonderful cooking
skills ended up pushing him right out of our lives. For the rest of my
life, I would pay for all of the stupid mistakes I made while trying to
run the Porter household.
Life at the Porter house was unbearable. Life outside of the Porter
house was almost perfect. I had a great friend and a potential boyfriend
waiting for me at Foxworth High. What more could a girl ask for?
I thanked the moon and the stars for one great thing in my life—my
friend, Lexie. She came into my life when I needed a friend the most. We
had sixth period American Government and Economics together. Our
teacher's name was Mr. Mugford. A couple of weeks after the school year
started, we struck up a friendship by commiserating about things like
the ridiculous amount of homework Mr. Mugford gave us, or how he spoke
with a forced Yankee accent. He talked like he was trying to sound like
more of a New Englander than he already was. Lexie said he sounded like
the old doctor on a popular murder mystery TV show we liked to watch.
We'd laugh until our bellies ached, mimicking Mr. Mugford.
It didn't take us long to become close. She made life more bearable. And
when I was around her, I wasn't a total failure.
At school, everything would be right with the world. There, I'd meet up
with Lexie, and the cute guy I met at the party Friday. It turned out
Lexie knew him. His name was Mack. He looked incredible that night, with
his long brown wavy hair, a cutoff flannel shirt, faded blue jeans and
black motorcycle boots. He looked like he should've been playing guitar
for an underground grunge band.
I didn't know who I wanted to see more when I got there—Lexie or Mack.
When I stepped out onto the porch, an image flashed in my mind. We were
all at a park where Mom and Dad used to take me for picnics when I was
little. Mom wrapped her arms around me, and while we sat together on the
lush grass, Dad snapped a picture of us. Then he smiled and said, "My
girls, captured in the vivid colors of summer forever." The loving words
he spoke to me burned in my mind; I would treasure them until I went to
the grave. Several years after Dad spoke those words, I learned that
they came from a popular old song from back in his day. Some girls my
age might have thought those words were silly, but to me they carried
the sweetest tune.
It was the only picture I had of Mom where she smiled. I cherished that
picture of Mom and me.
I dropped my backpack on the porch and ran upstairs, snatched the
picture from the dresser, and hurried back down to the living room. I
set the picture on the end table next to Mom, hoping she would notice it
and remember how things used to be. Maybe if she remembered, she'd
finally snap out of the trance she lived in and be my Mom once again.
Excerpted from "From Bad Girl To Worse" by L.R. Farren. Copyright © 2018 by L.R. Farren. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.