Title: STORKBITES: A MEMOIR
Author: MARIE ETIENNE
“A compelling memoir...Etienne’s writing is fresh; her epiphany is clear, her ending powerful and satisfying.”
—The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
“This riveting memoir travels back and forth between Etienne’s painful childhood in the South to her troubled adulthood in Northern California.”
—Coronado Eagle & Journal
“While much of Etienne’s story is harrowing, her account is shot through with a fierce love, and leavened by a wild sense of humor.”
—Black Oak Books of Berkeley, California
Set in Louisiana, Storkbites is an unforgettable story of survival and hope, and of one woman’s courage and determination to stop the cycle of abuse with her sons. Author Marie Etienne paints a powerful picture of her wealthy family – a mother who bounces from sobriety to drunkenness, kindness to vicious cruelty, and an eccentric father who takes bizarre steps to protect his children from danger. Murder, suicide, insanity, and alcoholism overshadow Mardi Gras balls, Christmas celebrations, wacky funerals, and a daughter’s bittersweet coming-of-age. Seven sisters struggle to overcome a childhood that their two brothers cannot. With unflinching humor and honesty, Marie Etienne shows how her capricious upbringing shaped who she became and affected her choices in life.
The house was quiet. Every so often, a rumble of laughter from the television in my father’s study made its way to our bedroom. I brushed my doll’s hair and listened for Daddy’s footsteps. My sister Claire, older by two years, which made her six, hummed “This Old Man” as she looked at the pictures in her book.
Finally, the sound of heavy feet. My father cleared his throat. A door opened down the hall.
“Good night, Junebug. ’Night, Butterbean.” The door shut before my sisters finished saying, “I love you, Daddy.” He walked a little farther. Another door opened. “Good night. Don’t study too late.”
His pace quickened. I tossed my doll and her hairbrush into the wicker basket near my bed. Claire set the book on her nightstand. We jumped into bed, just as the door opened. Daddy stood there, a smile spread across his Clark Kent face. My sister and I lay flat like soldiers in our matching blue nightgowns, waiting. With three long strides he stood at my bedside, pulling the covers up to my chin and tightly tucking the edges under my arms and legs.
“Good night, Daddy,” I said, feeling as if I had been stuffed and sewn between the sheets like the feathers in my quilt. His smile broadened, and he bent down farther to touch his lips to my forehead. The smells of cologne, cigarettes, and whiskey tickled my nose.
“Good night, Sweetheartsabean.”
He turned to tuck in Claire. “’Night, Ugaboo,” he said, hemming her into her bed sheets.
I watched him head to the door. As he reached for the light switch, my sister and I said, just like always, together, “I love you, Daddy.”
“I love you too, darlings.” He paused for a moment to flash us another smile. His teeth were stained the color of old newspaper, but still I thought my father was the handsomest man in the world. “Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite.” He pushed the frames of his glasses up against his eyebrows. Just before his suit disappeared behind the closed door, he switched off the light. The paneled, windowless room turned black as licorice.
We called it The Darkroom. A room no one else wanted.
Momma had found out she was pregnant with me, number seven, just as they got the final drawings for our maze-like brick house on Canterbury Street in Lafayette. The architect squeezed in a seventh bedroom by pushing out the walls of a hall closet, stealing a few feet from an adjacent bedroom. As the two youngest at the time, Claire and I got The Darkroom. With the births of my little sister and baby brother, we numbered nine children, two boys and seven girls. We came along roughly every two years, except for a gap of six years between Yvette and Chess. After Chess followed Aimee, Penny, Nanette, Claire, me, Anne, and finally, Nickey.
Soon after Daddy left, I fell asleep. My body had just become heavy when the lights flicked on again. The bright yellow light burned my eyes. I squinted at Momma, swaying in the doorway, breathing hard, dressed in her pink nylon nightgown.
“Get out of bed now!” she slurred, closing the door and stumbling toward us.
I struggled against the tight bedspread. It wasn’t good to keep Momma waiting. I looked over at Claire, her face buried in her pillowcase, her mess of straight brown hair going off in a thousand directions. I wanted to scream, “Get up, Claire! Don’t make Momma madder!” But I didn’t make a sound.
Momma stormed over to me, ripped off the covers, and yanked me out of bed. Then she grabbed Claire and dragged her to her feet. She stumbled, still half asleep. We took our places, silent, side by side, in the middle of the room. Towering over us, in a low, hard voice, Momma muttered, “Pull your panties down.”
Quickly, gathering our gowns up to our chests with one hand, we slid our cotton underwear down to our ankles with the other. We watched to see who Momma would choose first. When she grabbed Claire’s arm, I looked straight ahead. On the wall I could see Momma’s shadow, her hand swinging across Claire’s skinny shadow. Blinking away the shadows that kept trying to make me cry, I shivered. In my mind I climbed up on the painted horse in the backyard and pushed on the rubber handles till I was swinging back and forth, back and forth. Every time I heard the stinging slap on Claire’s behind, my body grew stiffer and stiffer. What had we done to make Momma so angry?
When it was my turn, I squeezed my bunched-up gown tighter and secretly hoped that Momma was tired, worn out from hitting Claire. She never was. She always managed to save enough anger to give me my fair share. As she held me in place and struck my bottom, I stood as still as I could, the tears rolling down my face, trying not to jerk away.
Every time she cocked her arm, she nearly fell over, pulling me down with her. When she stumbled, I dug my toes deeper into the carpeting. I was scared that she’d fall down on top of me and I’d never get out from under.
I prayed Daddy would come. But he didn’t. He never did.
Momma finished and then gave me a hard push. Her words smelled like vodka. “Get back into bed and go to sleep. I don’t want to hear a word out of you.”
Buy Links (including Goodreads and BookBub):
Why is your featured book a must-read?
Storkbites reveals the dark side of Southern eccentricities. It’s a harrowing tale of cruelty and survival that reminds us what a dangerous place family can be. However, it is also a story of survival and one woman’s fierce determination to overcome and stop the cycle of abuse. It is a riveting story of the bond of siblings and how far they will go to protect each other.
Enter to win an e-book bundle of all 19 books featured in the Best Books of 2020 Bookish Event:
Runs December 28 – December 31, 2020.
Winner will be drawn on January 4, 2020.
Marie Etienne is the author of two memoirs: Storkbites: A Memoir and Confessions of a Bi-Polar Mardi Gras Queen. She has just published her debut novel, In the Middle of Otherwise, under the name Marie Estorge. Her newest memoir, Then There Was Larry, will be released in February 2021. Marie is a member of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. Her essays have appeared in numerous publications including the San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Times, and Diablo Magazine. She and her sons in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Social Media Links: