Vanishing Arrows

Clinical Miniseries
ESTIMATE 9-MINUTE READ

EPISODE 1 – FAMILY

A family founded in wartime trauma struggles to identify normal life.

⚠️ Use Discretion: Mature adaptation of unsolved mystery.

Prospects

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Jamie was a bright girl in school. Her ambitions of becoming a nurse or even a doctor were derailed by the cataclysmic events from 1939 to 1945. She was 12 years old when the Second World War began. Her schooling was interrupted by her producing parts for munitions. When the war ended, Gerald, her grade-school beau, returned from the war to Fayetteville, West Virginia.

Within 6 months, Jamie married Gerald Shoemaker. Nine months later, Malcolm was born. He was followed by Mattie two years later; Leland three years after that; Joann in the following year, and five others averaging two years apart. Altogether, there were ten children.

Instability

By external appearances, Gerald’s transition to civilian life seemed smooth. The government helped to finance a home. His radio operations experience landed him jobs, first in telephone installation. Eventually, he became an electrician.

Beneath the surface, he suffered from a condition called “combat fatigue” or “war neurosis” in the 1940s. Today, health professionals recognize it as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Without diagnosis or treatment, many veterans would turn to alcohol abuse, not realizing that this compounds the problem. Gerald exhibited fits of rage to the point were Jamie would try everything not to upset him. She cared for all the children and prepared meals for Gerald every day. She even homeschooled the children to conceal their bruises.

In the military, there was an organized chain of command. Within a household of so many kids, Gerald saw chaos. The cries reminded him of wounded soldiers. His verbal abuse migrated to physical abuse of the children, against which, Jamie felt powerless.

She took the children to church every Sunday and taught them all to pray for one another and their father. During these excursions, while alone with their mother, there were brief moments of laughter in the early days.

The scripture they could not forget is at Psalm chapter 127, verses 4 and 5. “As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.” They often wondered when the happiness would come at home.

Turbulence

When Mattie reached puberty, the family abuse took on another dimension. First occurring alone in the field, the father began visiting the girls’ room at night. After a couple of years, there was fear that it would migrate down to Joann. So Mattie confided in her older brother, Malcolm, when she was seventeen. This amplified his bitterness stemming from physical abuse.

Malcolm stopped attending church and became consumed with protecting his younger sisters. He would read bedtime stories to Mattie and Joann every night so he could watch them go to sleep safely. But this did not prevent visits after Malcolm later went to the bedroom he shared with younger brothers.

While their father was at work during the day, the five oldest siblings would discuss plans for ending the violence. Initially, it was a signal of tapping on the bed post with a spoon.

Malcolm would awaken but felt powerless, as he was unable to get beyond the girl’s door. The tapping further intensified the disgust and hatred for his father that became impossible to conceal.

Dialogue of Malcolm and oldest siblings…

Malcolm tells them, “We the handful of arrows in Psalm 127. But I’m no longer in school. More families is moving from rural areas like this into big cities. They call it urbanization.”

A puzzled Mattie asks, “How does that help us?”

“If I can get a job in the city and meet some people, we won’t be so isolated. I can save up to move us away from the abuse or at least call somebody fer help,” Malcolm reasons.

“But while yer away, we’ll have no protector,” Bettye says.

Through tears, Malcolm confesses, “I don’t feel much like a protector. I’m powerless against father, an army veteran.”

Mattie reassures him, “We forever grateful fer yer support. Talkin’ to somebody who understands has been comfortin’.”

“I agree wit’ Mattie,” Joann says.

Wiping away his tears, Malcolm reacts, “It hurts me so much to leave y’all behind, but it’s the only way to break the cycle. What will stop abuse of the younger five chil’ren ’less we try somethin’?”

Mattie replies to him, “We’s strong. We can endure till ya come back fer us. When ya plannin’ to leave?”

“Early tomorrow mornin’. The sooner, the betta. I’m willin’ to pitch hay, slop hogs, or sweep floors to save up coins. Coal mining is another option,” Malcolm says.

They all embrace long and hard before Malcolm goes to his room to pack a knapsack fer his departure right after their father leaves for work. He writes a note to place on his bed that simply reads, “I’m old enough to feed myself. Return again when I can.”

Reaction to Malcolm’s departure…

Gerald returns from work and discovers his oldest son has run away. The thought of Malcolm not respecting his authority and potentially exposing family secrets sets off his PTSD.

After spanking all kids five years and older, Gerald goes into the yard to split wood with an axe. This suppresses his rage.

The nighttime tapping becomes more frequent, as other family members bury heads beneath their pillows to muffle the sound and their own cries. Four months after Malcolm leaves, Joann tells Mattie that she is pregnant. The two burst into tears while hugging.

Still powerless, but as a show of solidarity, when Mattie begins tapping, Joann taps back. By the end of the week, all four of the eldest children are tapping to let their father know that his actions are not secret. Conspicuously absent from the tapping is their mother, Jamie.

Gerald stops eating dinner at the family table on a regular basis. He takes his plate on the front porch. During the day, Jamie, nor the younger children mention what goes on under the cover of darkness.

The four oldest siblings come together one morning outdoors to discuss their plight. By now Joann’s pregnancy is obvious. She asks, “Is it wrong… to love our father while he… does what he be doin’?

Mattie begins her response to Joann by by saying, “Perhaps, but it don’t make it right.

“It could take years fer Malcolm to save up enough money to come back fer us. I love Malcom dearly, and his heart’s in the right place, but we need another plan. If I get pregnant too, we gonna be stuck here raisin’ another generation.”

Leland, who will soon be 15 years old, has been mentally scarred by the events in the Shoemaker household. “I feel ashamed to be called a Shoemaker. But what can we do?”

Joann replies, “It should be somethin’ bigger than tappin’ spoons!”

“I agree,” confirms Bettye, the youngest of the four, who shares a bedroom with Mattie and Joann.

Leland strikes a long wooden match from the fireplace mantle and smiles at the flame. “Yeah, it must be somethin’ drastic and final.”

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