“The worst thing in the world”

After her death, Beth’s long-time counselor suggested that this period of her life was more horrific than any other childhood horror story that she had heard.

Del Nita and Teri

Del Nita and Teri in Yakima

There was nothing to take young Del Nita and her sister Teri now, out of the path of their drunken and molesting grandfather, or their “angry, dominating, dissatisfied” grandmother.

Yakima is located in south central Washington State. The city’s official website gives this accounting of its history:

The first American expedition into the region occurred in 1805. Explorers Lewis and Clark made their way through the area and shared tales of abundant wildlife and rich soils. In 1847, a Catholic mission was established in what is now known as the Yakima Valley. In 1858, an American army garrison was sent by U.S. President James Buchanan to build Fort Simcoe and deal with ongoing battles between the native tribes of the area and white settlers. With Fort Simcoe in place and the so-called Yakima Indian Wars over, more white settlers came.

Yakima City was incorporated in 1883, but about a year later, a dispute between land owners and the Northern Pacific Railway Company led the railroad to establish a new town about 4 miles north of the original site. More than 100 buildings were moved by having horses pull them along atop rolling logs. The new town was called North Yakima and was officially incorporated in 1886. The Washington State Legislature officially renamed the city “Yakima” in 1918.

Washington became the 42nd state in 1889.

Beth’s “Great Grandma Perkins” settled there, having come to the town as a little girl in a covered wagon. Juanita Perkins was born there in 1912. Delmont Orr married Juanita in Yakima on December 23, 1937, and Vickie was born in 1940. Beth also had an “Uncle Frankie” Orr, who was probably older than her mom. I don’t recall Beth talking about other siblings.

Somehow, Vickie met the traveling singer George Airel and Beth herself was born, as she says, “out of wedlock”. I don’t know how and when they became married, and the family soon moved to Inyokern.

* * *

At the south of the town was the old town of Union Gap. There’s a mall there now, but in 1970, her father dropped Del Nita and Terri off at the home of Delmont and Juanita Orr, a trailer home that was at the end of a dirt road. My understanding is that the location has since been razed in favor of a shopping district.

After Vickie had fallen in the grocery store, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. For much of the rest of her life, to my knowledge, she was incapacitated, and severely so near the end of her life.

Del Nita loved school and hated summer vacations. Summer vacations meant full-time with “Papa” and “Grama”. I never did learn what it was that he did for a living.

While I knew about the rough outlines from this period of time, there is a lot that I never learned about it, and I was not able to find out much more through further investigation. Beth was not eager to talk about it, and I didn’t press. After her death, I talked with Beth’s long-time counselor, who suggested that this period of her life was more horrific than any other childhood horror story that she had heard.

Now that the girls lived with him, “Papa” had unfettered access to them, and he made regular visits to them. Their grandmother, too – now burdened with a crippled daughter and two granddaughters that she never bargained for – seemed to resent them as well. Rather than drawing together, and the sisters ended up in a rivalry with each other. It was much like the scene near the ending of George Orwell novel “1984

For a moment he was alone, then the door opened and O’Brien came in.

‘You asked me once,’ said O’Brien, ‘what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.’

The door opened again. A guard came in, carrying something made of wire, a box or basket of some kind. He set it down on the further table. Because of the position in which O’Brien was standing. Winston could not see what the thing was.

‘The worst thing in the world,’ said O’Brien, ‘varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive, or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.’

He had moved a little to one side, so that Winston had a better view of the thing on the table. It was an oblong wire cage with a handle on top for carrying it by. Fixed to the front of it was something that looked like a fencing mask, with the concave side outwards. Although it was three or four metres away from him, he could see that the cage was divided lengthways into two compartments, and that there was some kind of creature in each. They were rats.

‘In your case,’ said O’Brien, ‘the worst thing in the world happens to be rats.’

A sort of premonitory tremor, a fear of he was not certain what, had passed through Winston as soon as he caught his first glimpse of the cage. But at this moment the meaning of the mask-like attachment in front of it suddenly sank into him. His bowels seemed to turn to water.

‘You can’t do that!’ he cried out in a high cracked voice. ‘You couldn’t, you couldn’t! It’s impossible.’

‘Do you remember,’ said O’Brien, ‘the moment of panic that used to occur in your dreams? There was a wall of blackness in front of you, and a roaring sound in your ears. There was something terrible on the other side of the wall. You knew that you knew what it was, but you dared not drag it into the open. It was the rats that were on the other side of the wall.’

‘O’Brien!’ said Winston, making an effort to control his voice. ‘You know this is not necessary. What is it that you want me to do?’

O’Brien made no direct answer. When he spoke it was in the schoolmasterish manner that he sometimes affected. He looked thoughtfully into the distance, as though he were addressing an audience somewhere behind Winston’s back.

‘By itself,’ he said, ‘pain is not always enough. There are occasions when a human being will stand out against pain, even to the point of death. But for everyone there is something unendurable — something that cannot be contemplated. Courage and cowardice are not involved. If you are falling from a height it is not cowardly to clutch at a rope. If you have come up from deep water it is not cowardly to fill your lungs with air. It is merely an instinct which cannot be destroyed. It is the same with the rats. For you, they are unendurable. They are a form of pressure that you cannot withstand, even if you wished to. You will do what is required of you.

‘But what is it, what is it? How can I do it if I don’t know what it is?’

O’Brien picked up the cage and brought it across to the nearer table. He set it down carefully on the baize cloth. Winston could hear the blood singing in his ears. He had the feeling of sitting in utter loneliness. He was in the middle of a great empty plain, a flat desert drenched with sunlight, across which all sounds came to him out of immense distances. Yet the cage with the rats was not two metres away from him. They were enormous rats. They were at the age when a rat’s muzzle grows blunt and fierce and his fur brown instead of grey.

‘The rat,’ said O’Brien, still addressing his invisible audience, ‘although a rodent, is carnivorous. You are aware of that. You will have heard of the things that happen in the poor quarters of this town. In some streets a woman dare not leave her baby alone in the house, even for five minutes. The rats are certain to attack it. Within quite a small time they will strip it to the bones. They also attack sick or dying people. They show astonishing intelligence in knowing when a human being is helpless.’

There was an outburst of squeals from the cage. It seemed to reach Winston from far away. The rats were fighting; they were trying to get at each other through the partition. He heard also a deep groan of despair. That, too, seemed to come from outside himself.

O’Brien picked up the cage, and, as he did so, pressed something in it. There was a sharp click. Winston made a frantic effort to tear himself loose from the chair. It was hopeless; every part of him, even his head, was held immovably. O’Brien moved the cage nearer. It was less than a metre from Winston’s face.

‘I have pressed the first lever,’ said O’Brien. ‘You understand the construction of this cage. The mask will fit over your head, leaving no exit. When I press this other lever, the door of the cage will slide up. These starving brutes will shoot out of it like bullets. Have you ever seen a rat leap through the air? They will leap on to your face and bore straight into it. Sometimes they attack the eyes first. Sometimes they burrow through the cheeks and devour the tongue.’

The cage was nearer; it was closing in. Winston heard a succession of shrill cries which appeared to be occurring in the air above his head. But he fought furiously against his panic. To think, to think, even with a split second left — to think was the only hope. Suddenly the foul musty odour of the brutes struck his nostrils. There was a violent convulsion of nausea inside him, and he almost lost consciousness. Everything had gone black. For an instant he was insane, a screaming animal. Yet he came out of the blackness clutching an idea. There was one and only one way to save himself. He must interpose another human being, the body of another human being, between himself and the rats.

The circle of the mask was large enough now to shut out the vision of anything else. The wire door was a couple of hand-spans from his face. The rats knew what was coming now. One of them was leaping up and down, the other, an old scaly grandfather of the sewers, stood up, with his pink hands against the bars, and fiercely sniffed the air. Winston could see the whiskers and the yellow teeth. Again the black panic took hold of him. He was blind, helpless, mindless.

‘It was a common punishment in Imperial China,’ said O’Brien as didactically as ever.

The mask was closing on his face. The wire brushed his cheek. And then — no, it was not relief, only hope, a tiny fragment of hope. Too late, perhaps too late. But he had suddenly understood that in the whole world there was just one person to whom he could transfer his punishment — one body that he could thrust between himself and the rats. And he was shouting frantically, over and over.

‘Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don’t care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones. Not me! Julia! Not me!’

For the girls, “the worst thing in the world” was the visits from the grandfather. And while these two should have been the most natural of allies, the situation forced them to turn against each other for self-preservation – “No, do it to her!” became the cry of desperation of the sisters.

And Del Nita, being the older of the two, quickly learned the kind of survival skill of re-directing the negative attention onto her sister. Her sister ended up getting the worst of it. And Teri hated her for it.

Beth purposely did things to get her sister in trouble. Years later, Beth told the story of having to care for her mother by emptying her catheter. The urine had to be drained from the catheter, and it was disposed of outside in the field. Her Grama made Beth and her sister take turns carrying it out. Beth hated doing this. One day she took her grandmother’s dentures and put them in the can with the pee. It was her sister’s turn to dump them out in the field. Naturally her grandmother discovered her dentures missing. Beth told her where they were, and that her sister did it so she would get the beating.

Now this all may sound callous and selfish but self-preservation is a basic human instinct. She was trying to survive.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *