Probably, we all have lots of things we want to say, should say, only no one ever says those kind of things. Instead, we say everything else that never really matters.
Sat on a wall…
“Hey, Brianna, are you going to Jake’s party tonight?” Melissa asked as she wiped off another table. Kids seemed to put more of their MacDonalds’ happy meals on the tables than in their mouths.
“Yeah, our shift’s done in 20 minutes and I’m going home to straighten my hair. Do you think I should wear a dress or pants?” Brianna ran her fingers through her wavy auburn hair as she finished restocking a napkin dispenser. She was the average height for a 17 year old girl, pretty but not gorgeous. She was what people would call an “All American Girl”, but since I hate that term we won’t call her that. In school Brianna was an A and B student, she held a varsity position on the swim team, and had a pretty good-sized group of friends.
“Depends on what kind of night you want, you know skirts are easier to flip up.” That was Melissa, always mischievous, but Brianna knew she was only joking.
Brianna rolled her eyes and said “Melissa, please. I’m serious, I like Jake but I’m not going to sleep with him.”
“I know, I know, sorry. Um, I think you should go for something cute and sexy. How about your jeans skirt with the red tank top.” Melissa and Brianna had been friends for so long that they knew each other’s wardrobe by heart.
“I might try that, what are you thinking about wearing?”
“I’m going to wear jeans with that black belt with the silver studs and my light blue tunic. You know the one I just got with the slits on the sides.” Melissa never had trouble deciding what to wear. She was hot and that was that, anything looked good on her. She had long black wavy hair, an olive complexion, a nice curvy figure, and a friendly, free-spirited personality.
The girls finished their shifts and got ready to head home. Usually, Melissa gave Brianna a ride home but today she had to pick up her little brother from soccer practice.
“Hey Bri, if you want you can ride with me to Brad’s soccer practice and I can take you home after.” Melissa yelled from the window of her lime green bug.
“Ah, no thanks. I’ll walk, I could use the exercise, I skipped swim practice yesterday. I’ll call you before the party though.”
“OK, call around six, I should be home by then.”
Brianna could hear the screech of Melissa’s tires as she pulled out of the parking lot, Melissa always moved fast. Brianna admired that in Melissa, she herself was pretty outgoing but she never had the fire that Melissa did.
It was eight blocks from the MacDonalds to Brianna’s home in the suburban town of Antioch, California. Each house was almost a perfect replica of the next painted in a different shade of either light brown, light green, or peach. It was not a place to live if you wanted excitement. Brianna had lived here all her life, she could walk home with her eyes closed and not get lost. In fact she had had tried it once and the worst thing that had happened was that she tripped over a discarded cardboard box, you know the kind people take their groceries home in.
To avoid boredom, she decided to take the long way home, through the park. It was a pretty nice park, it had the regular set of jungle gyms and swings, walkways for skating, and a nice lawn with picnic tables strewn across it. Here and there cherry blossom trees were planted, their pink blossoms blowing about the dark green grass painted a perfect scene for Brianna as she walked home. Cherry blossoms always reminded her of when she was a child and her parents used to take her to the Cherry Blossom parade in San Francisco. It was one of her favorite memories, there was music, dancing, games, and free Chinese food. She didn’t really know why they didn’t go anymore, she guessed it just kind of got old, like so many things.
As she turned down the back of the path that led to her house Brianna suddenly heard the footsteps of someone walking heavily behind her. She turned, her hand moving quickly to secure her purse and find her cell phone, she saw a man dressed in jeans and a black tee-shirt walking behind her. He was not too young, about forty-five, average build, and as Brianna glanced back again she could see him start to walk faster. Quickly, she dialed first her home phone and then since no one was there she speed dialed her mother’s cell. When her mother answered she started a lively banter about nothing in particular, she didn’t think anything would happen while she was on the phone. She felt something wasn’t right but as nothing seemed to be happening she didn’t tell her mom about the man, she just kept talking regularly, as if everything was great. She felt safer already, she always did when she heard her mother’s voice.
The man seemed like he wasn’t paying much attention to Brianna but as they walked down the part of the path between the baseball field and a brick wall he suddenly sped up again and snatched her phone, throwing it into the bushes. Brianna screamed at the top of her lungs and started to run. She was fast and in shape from swim practice but it didn’t seem to matter, the man kept up with her easily and swung her to the ground with one arm. She fell awkwardly, scraping her face and arms.
Again, she screamed but was stifled as the guy put his hand into her mouth and shoved a handkerchief inside. Gagging, Brianna fought him, she tried to punch him but he was too strong and pushed her arms against the pavement, scratching them more. She tried to kick him, knee him in the crotch but from her position under him she couldn’t get a good aim. As she struggled she knew it was too late, she could feel him pulling at her pants zipper his own jeans already pulled down. Maybe if she had had Melissa’s energy, maybe if she had thought faster, or maybe if she had gone with Melissa to her brother’s practice this wouldn’t have happened, but it did.
Once a long time ago, Brianna had heard that in a situation like this it was best to play dead, if you wanted to stay alive, so she did. She saved her life, but she couldn’t save herself. As she lay still, concentrating on playing dead, she could feel the man on top of her, inside of her. She could feel the dry pain in her mouth from the kerchief and between her legs, the pain all over, she could feel the rough pavement under her digging into her skin, she could even feel a small a bug crawling slowly up her arm, itching. After forever, the man left, just like that. He probably thought she was dead.
Brianna wasn’t sure if she could still hear his footsteps or not, but she was too afraid to move or make a sound. All she could see in her mind was the man’s bright blue eyes as she lay there, hot tears slipping down her cheek, feeling the searing pain through her body, waiting until she thought it was safe. When it seemed like she was alone again, Brianna pulled herself up, she pulled up her pants, picked up her purse and went home. All she could think of was going home, she didn’t even remember her cell phone in the bushes with her mother still frantically yelling, “Brianna, Brianna! What’s going on?”
When Brianna’s mother got home she found her sitting in the bathtub, her clothes floating around her. She wasn’t even crying anymore, just sitting there, fingering the edge of the cold tub. Her mother could see the scratches down her arms and the long dark bruises on her legs and sides, the blood tinged water in the bath, and she knew what had happened. She knelt down next to the tub and put her arms around her daughter and whispered “You’re going to be all right, baby.” Funny how people always say that when they know things won’t be all right.
Later after Brianna and her mother came home from the hospital and the police station where they filed a report, where Brianna had to describe each moment second by second, they broke the news to her father. At first he was angry and wanted to kill the man himself, wanted to go that very moment and kill him, but then he was very quiet and just pulled Brianna onto his lap. And so they sat there, all three of them together, holding each other and crying.
* * * * *
Had a great fall…
It was four months later and Brianna hadn’t told anyone, not even Melissa. Brianna quit her job at MacDonalds and she never went anywhere. She had to go to school though, and even though she would have preferred to go alone her parents drove her there and picked her up. At school she tried to be like she used to be but something inside her seemed to have gone out, school, the swim team, even her friends didn’t hold the same joy that they used too. And now just when she had started to feel a little better she began to feel physically sick.
She threw up a lot now, and she had missed her period for the last four months, and deep down she began to fear that she was pregnant. The doctors said that conception from a rape was extremely rare, plus since she had come to them so soon she needn’t have any fear of a pregnancy, but somehow she knew that they were wrong. Everyday Brianna was more and more sure that she was going to have a baby, she knew she should tell her parents but somehow she couldn’t. It was her burden and hers alone, and she wanted it that way.
Finally, when she thought she couldn’t hide it any longer, she told them. Again her mother took her to the hospital, this time angrily. Her mother yelled, she screamed how could they let this happen, they had said that almost no one ever got pregnant from a rape, well what now? What now? The only advice the doctors had was to get an abortion or have the child and give it up for adoption. Brianna sat in the doctor’s office listening to her mother’s yelling, it seemed to her like it was coming from behind some hidden door. Well, it didn’t matter yelling couldn’t fix anything, ever.
* * * * *
All the king’s horses
And all the kings’ men…
At home Brianna and her mother, and her father sat together to discuss what should be done. Abort it, that was what her parents wanted her to do.
“Look, if you had gotten pregnant by sleeping around, it would be your responsibility to raise the child or at least bring it into this world, but you did nothing. You have no responsibility, why would you want this kid?” Her father was pleading with her.
“As a mother, I know what you mean about it being your child, but this isn’t the same, it’s not your child, it’s his. How can you love the baby of a man who raped you? This baby probably won’t even want to be born if it ever finds out, think about the baby if you want to see it that way. Would you want to be the child of a rapist?” Her mother added, clicking her finger nails against the counter.
“It won’t be the child of a rapist, it will be my child! I can’t just throw it away, doesn’t it deserve a chance too?”
“No it doesn’t. You don’t owe it anything.” Brianna’s father was getting angry now, he couldn’t see why she would want this baby.
With a look at her husband, Brianna’s mother suggested “OK, look maybe you could have the baby, but at least give it up for adoption. Don’t keep this burden.”
“I can’t OK, I just can’t. I want my baby. I just don’t think I could live with myself if I killed it or gave it up. I mean I’ll think “I have a kid out there, I wonder what happened to it. “ I just can’t, I’m going to keep my baby, it’s my choice, my decision.” Brianna was crying now.
“And do you expect me to put up my money to raise the child of the man who raped you, do you even hear yourself? How could you want this baby, how are you going to take care of it, because I won’t spend my money on that baby.” So that was how her father was going to be, he wouldn’t change his mind.
“I don’t know how I’ll raise it, but I will! With or without your help. I have to do this, I just have too. Two wrongs don’t make a right, yes, I was raped but it’s not going to help anything if I turn around and kill a baby. I’m keeping this child. It’s my life and nobody can tell me what do with it!” Brianna got up and walked up the stairs to her room, she didn’t even look back at her mother who was crying now her head on her husband’s shoulder, her arms around his neck.
At night, Brianna could hear her parents talking about her in hushed voices. She new they wouldn’t agree to let her keep the baby but she didn’t care, she just felt like she had to. She spent the rest of the night counting up her savings, three thousand dollars. If she had to, she’d move away.
Over breakfast Brianna and her parents discussed the matter again.
“We’ve decided to let you have the baby and then give it up for adoption, it’s the only way things will work out.” Her father declared in an authoritative voice.
“Please be reasonable, we’re thinking of you. Do you know how hard it will be to raise a child on your own?” Her mother pleaded.
Quietly Brianna answered “Yeah, I know it’s hard, but I’ve heard that it’s even harder to never see your own child. I also heard how painful it is to be raped, but I got through that, didn’t I? I heard a lot’a things, and I don’t care, I want to keep it. I understand how you feel but if I have to I’ll move out.”
“You’re giving us and ultimatum! Well, fine go. You’ll see how hard it is on your own, so go and don’t come back until you’re ready to give that baby up!” Brianna’s father slammed his coffee mug on the table and left.
“Why can’t you see what we’re doing for you. You should go make up with your dad, maybe later we could figure out a way where you can give up the baby but still see it sometimes.”
“Mom, no. I’ll just move, it’ll be easier on everyone.”
Her mother left, deep down knowing that Brianna would never leave.
Upstairs Brianna pulled out two big suitcases from under her bed, she let her eyes roam around her room, saying goodbye to her old life. Slowly, she decided what she needed and what could stay. Clothes, of course were going with her, and most of her small personal belongings, but the rest was staying, decorations, books, that sort of thing. Even the pictures on her walls were staying, except for the one on her dresser. It was a picture of her and her family taken last Christmas, they were all smiling happily into the camera, funny how everything looked so perfect when just before the photo they had been fighting. She didn’t even remember what the had been fighting over now, they had gotten over it, but she new the fight they had had today would never be gotten over.
Brianna just couldn’t understand why she needed to keep this baby, yes, she’d always been against abortion, but she’d been fine with adoption. Deep down she knew that it would probably be better to give up the child, but at the same time she knew she couldn’t. Maybe she was just selfish, probably she just didn’t want anyone else to have her baby, probably that was it. When she thought about the baby she didn’t feel any sort of strong love or anything. Yet she felt possesive, who knows why, but she wanted her kid and that was that.
It was two days later, and Brianna still couldn’t walk away and leave, she and her father had been arguing in circles the whole time, and each time they concluded that she should just leave. Probably, her father didn’t mean it. Probably, he would have asked her to stay if he had really believed she was going to leave. Brianna waited until her dad was at work and then she dragged her bags downs stairs and waited in the living room for Melissa who was going to drive her to the bus station.
Brianna’s mother saw the bags and she came over to plead with her again.
“Just wait a little while longer, you’ll see that we were right.”
“Mom, please, we’ve been through this already, just let me go.” Brianna, frustrated, snapped at her mother.
“Fine then, if this is so important to you then go. But let me just say that you are ruining your life.” In a huff her mother turned quickly on her heel and left the room, her footsteps could be heard tapping down the hall.
* * * * *
Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty
Twenty minutes later Melissa’s car could be heard pulling into the driveway. Brianna pulled her bags outside then turned back quickly, as if she had forgotten something. She fished around in her purse awhile and then found her set of house keys, she left them on the hallway table, locked the door from the inside and shut it behind her.
“Thanks so much for doing this for me.” Brianna said as she shut the front door to Melissa’s bug.
“No, problem. Hey, where you going to on the bus?” Melissa asked as she backed quickly out of the driveway, bouncing down from the curb onto the road.
“Um, Washington State, to, ah, visit my aunt.”
“That’s cool, for how long.” She could tell that Brianna was lying but she didn’t push for more details, at least not yet.
“Oh a couple of weeks probably, until I get bored you know.”
“Hey, are you sure you’re OK, you’ve changed a lot, you know. How come you’re leaving during the school year?” Melissa looked suspiciously at Brianna who was wearing a long sleeved sweatshirt even though it was warm outside. Brianna had been dressing very differently lately, she always used to wear cute fitting clothes and now all of her clothes seemed at least three sizes too big.
“No, I’m fine. I’m just getting kinda bored in school, Senioritis I guess, but it’s all right. I’ve talked to all my teachers and they said I could make up the work when I get back.”
During the rest of the ride the girls were pretty quiet, each wrapped up in her own world. Brianna sat quietly, fingering the dashboard, thinking about all the things she would have to do to make it on her own. Meanwhile, Melissa stared intently at the road, as she thought over the problems her friend could be going through.”
“You know Bri, you could stay with me if you ever needed a place to stay, I mean sometimes parents can be a pain in the butt, and if you just want to get away…”
“No, things are great. That’s all right, thanks.” Quickly, Brianna interrupted her friend. She’d already though about that, she knew Melissa’s parents would let her stay with them and she knew it would be easier to start out on her own if didn’t move so far away. She’d though about all these things, but she didn’t think she could handle the shame when everyone in the town saw her with a baby. Yes, she could tell the rape story, but then everyone would know she’d been raped. And yeah, she could just not say anything, lots of teens got pregnant, it wasn’t a big deal, but then people would think she was a whore. No, the only option seemed to be to just move away, already her parents wouldn’t back her up, she couldn’t handle being publicly humiliated too.
At the bus stop, Brianna moved quickly as she jumped out of the car and took her bags out of the back seat. Moving slowly, for once, Melissa got out of the car and watched Brianna struggle with the suitcases. When the bags were out of the way Brianna hugged Melissa and said “You’re the best friend ever, I’ll see you later, I guess.” As she started to pull away Melissa grabbed her arm and asked, “You’re not coming back, are you?” Brianna didn’t answer, she turned and walked into the bus station.
In the station she bought a ticket for Olympia, Washington. She didn’t really know why she wanted to go there, she kinda just thought, why not?
The bus ride was long, two whole days and a night. When the bus finally got to Olympia the driver called out the stop and then got out to give her her luggage. Once her bags were sitting on the ground, Brianna stood there and watched the bus drive away and suddenly she realized she had no place to go. The first thing she did was buy a copy of all the available newspapers, she’d have to find an apartment, then she checked herself into a nearby motel.
The next day she rented the cheapest apartment she could fine, it turned out it was also the shabbiest. After the landlady handed her the keys and left, Brianna stood in the middle of the empty room and looked at what was now home. She let her eyes roam over to the kitchen with the dented stove and fridge, the leaky faucet, the dingy old linoleum. She watched as a trail of ants make their way across the stained living room carpet, and as she touched the wall she saw her finger trace a line on it grimy surface. Impulsively, she drew her name in the dirt on the wall-Brianna Maria Abbot.
* * * * *
Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie
Kissed the girls and made them cry
The day after she rented her apartment she went to the local Wal-Mart and bought food, toilet paper, some lawn chairs for furniture, and a sleeping bag. When she was done shopping she realized that she was down to only five hundred dollars, she’d thought three thousand would’ve lasted for much longer. Brianna figured that she’d better get a job so she applied at Wal-Mart and the next door Safeway for a night shift. She applied for the night shift because in the day she would be attending Capital High, she’d finish high school and prove to her parents and herself that she could do this.
At first, things weren’t so hard. School was pretty much the same and her job at Safeway wasn’t too bad. She worked so late that they hardly ever got customers anyway. After a while though, life started to take a toll on her. First of all she was pregnant, hugely pregnant, her back hurt, her feet hurt, she had morning sickness, and she could just barely fit into the desks at school. Second of all, she was getting hardly any sleep, between the graveyard shift at the grocery, studying, and getting up early to throw up she was running herself down. Thirdly, Brianna was just making enough money to live on, everyday she was surprised that she had food to eat.
You know, they say that humans can adjust to anything, and I guess it’s true since Brianna survived. No, life didn’t get easier for her, she just got used to life. For some reason she never called her parents, or even tried to write them, and, she guessed, they never tried to contact her, since she never heard from them again. Brianna never talked to Melissa again either, at first Melissa kept sending her emails but Brianna never wrote back, in fact she switched email accounts. She was never quite sure why she didn’t talk to Melissa, but for some reason she just wanted to shut everyone out. It was as if because one person had got in without her permission she would make up for it by keeping everyone else out.
Of course, she made friends at school, but that’s different, I’m sure everyone knows that it’s possible to make friends without ever really letting anyone know who you are. You can talk and laugh and see someone everyday and still look them in the eye and lie, if you try hard enough. There was one boy though, and he seemed to break all the rules. Brianna would try to keep him out, but somehow he just seemed to get closer. Really, she was lonely and almost glad that this boy, James Benson, wouldn’t leave her alone. She liked how he always cheered her up, she liked his curly red hair and twinkling green eyes, she liked that he didn’t even mind that she was so obviously pregnant, she even liked how he didn’t seem to try and pry for any personal information.
After awhile Brianna came to almost sorta love James, she certainly loved when he was around and she always missed him when he wasn’t there. And she definitely loved the way he kissed her, softly at first on her forehead and eyes and then while brushing back the hair that fell over her face, he would kiss her lips gently and then harder as she wrapped her arms around his neck, forgetting, for a while, her life and her baby. But one day things went wrong and that was when she decided never to let anyone in again.
James and Brianna were sitting outside in the park one Sunday afternoon, they had just gone to see the movie Finding Neverland and now they were relaxing on a picnic bench. James was holding her hand and her head was resting on his shoulder, she was just about to kiss him on the neck when he asked her about the baby.
“Bri, what happened, you know, with the baby?”
“Nothing, a stork brought it, just like he does with all babies, he sent me an email and ta-da I was pregnant.” As always, Brianna avoided direct questions about her pregnancy.
“No, com’on I’m serious, what happened?”
“I…” Brianna stared into his green eyes and finally decided she could trust him enough to tell him. “I… I was raped OK. I went to the hospital and they cleaned me up and said everything was fine. Then later I found out I was pregnant and all they could say was ‘Oh, that’s surprising’ like a bunch of jackasses. My parents didn’t want me to keep the baby but I just felt like I had to, you know. Well, my dad wouldn’t hear of it, you know, so I just left and came out here. I’m due in two months. It’ll make things harder but I want to raise my own child.”
“You’re so brave.” He whispered, James leaned over and kissed her possessively, like he owned her and would never let her go, pushing her head against the back of the bench. She didn’t mind, for once surrender didn’t hurt, she bit his lip a little, and gave in.
“I don’t know.” She whispered and smiled through the tears that had begun to well up as he kissed her.
“So you’re out here on your own? Nobody’s helping you, no child support even, or welfare?” James asked as he sat up.
“Ah, no, I’m just doing it on my own. Things will get better though, when I finish college.”
“Do you have money for college?”
“No, I’m working.”
“Oh.” James seemed bothered by something.
“What, is there something wrong?”
“No, of course not. I think you’re one of the strongest people I’ve ever met.” Gently he pressed her head back down on his shoulder. That day she was sure she loved him.
* * * * *
When the boys came out to play,
Georgie Porgie ran away.
During the next few weeks though, James seemed to be avoiding her. At first she thought he was just busy but then he made it clear that things were over.
“Hey, Brianna, can I talk to you for a minute?” Brianna could tell from his voice that they were done.
“Look, I like you I really do, but I just don’t think I can handle…This…” He tried not too, he really did, but she could see his eyes float down to her stomach.
“No, I understand, its fine.” She kissed him on his cheek and before he could say anything else she walked away. Looking at her nobody could ever tell how much she hated kissing him like that, how she would have rather leaned forward and bit his ear off, but she had pride too. And she wasn’t about to let him think she cared.
When she was sure that James couldn’t see her anymore she ducked into the bathroom, ran into the biggest stall and sat down on the hard floor. Letting her head rest against the cold hard metal of the stall doors she cried hot tears more out of anger than hurt, but a lot out of hurt. How could he? How could he make her love him, trust him? How could he let her tell him all her secrets and then stab her in the back like this? Brianna slammed her head against the stall wall and kicked the small wastebasket over, enjoying the noise it made as clanged to the ground. She gripped the bottom of the stall so hard that a nail broke her skin, yet she enjoyed the pain too. She had known she couldn’t trust anyone why had she let him fool her. She hate, hate, hated him.
“He was a liar, “’couldn’t handle this’ my ass,’” Brianna thought. He had been fine with her pregnancy before, she knew that was what was really bothering him. He didn’t want to have to help her with the baby, he hadn’t realized she was doing this on her own and he didn’t really want to be a part of it. He had thought that she would have parents helping her or the baby’s father and that they could just have a normal relationship, but he didn’t want to be called on to deal with a teenage mother and her baby. Well, that was fine Brianna didn’t need him, she took a few deep breaths and got out of the stall to wash her face. Already, she could feel that power that comes from knowing or at least thinking that you’re completely self-sufficient, and she liked it. She didn’t need that bastard, she didn’t need anyone.
After that, Brianna was impossible, she had completely shut the world out. She had locked her heart, walled it up, and encircled it with a white picket fence and no one
could get in. People tried though, every once in a while some nice person would come along and try to befriend her and she would snub them mercilessly. The last person who ever really tried to reach her was Jenna Baker, but even she only managed to hop over the picket fence before she was sent on her way.
Jenna was a small, mousy kind of girl. And like a mouse there was something about her that really annoyed Brianna. Maybe it was Jenna’s grey blue eyes, or her weak but sympathetic smile, or maybe it was her stringy brown hair, or maybe yet, it was that she wouldn’t leave her alone. Yes, now that I think of it, that probably was it. What Brianna wanted most in the world was to be left alone, and that was what Jenna wouldn’t do.
Jenna seemed to think that it was her job to minister to the world. She went around wearing crosses and stupid shirts with dumb slogans about Jesus like “body piercing saved my life”, and trying to save the world. She was self-righteous and preachy. Constantly she would come up to Brianna and ask her if she needed prayer or money, and then tell her that her church had a shelter for “girls like her.” As if Brianna would ever take charity, or ask someone like Jenna for prayer.
Sometimes though, on bad days, days like only Washington has, when you think the whole world is dark and gloomy and the sun will never shine again, on days like that Brianna was lonely. At times like those, the weather matched Brianna's spirit and she had to face the fact that she was alone and scared. Sometimes on these days she would, could, endure Jenna’s mindless chatter, sometimes Brianna might even answer back, a little, sometimes she might even laugh. It felt good to laugh and talk, even if she hated the person she was talking to. It kind of made her feel again, like a real person not just what she had become.
Really, Brianna wasn’t sure what she had become, but she knew she was not who she used to be. She didn’t have fun, or play around, or get involved at school, and she couldn’t remember the last time she had worn something else besides a tee-shirt and sweats. Most of the time Brianna felt like she didn’t even feel anymore, at first she had cried almost every night, wishing to go back before it happened, but now she didn’t feel sad or happy or anything, she just was.
After awhile Jenna seemed a little less abrasive, Brianna learned to take her, like everything else in life, with a grain of salt or two and maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. I don’t know why some people have more than their fair share of pain in life, but they do. And I don’t know why some people hurt more than others, but they do. And I don’t know why Brianna was chosen to be one of those people, but she was, I wish she wasn’t, but you know that’s just the way it went.
Just when Brianna was starting to think that Jenna was coming around it all blew up in her face. I think it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Jenna was sitting in the school cafeteria trying to get Brianna to come to church with her and Brianna was laughing and refusing, it was almost a game that Jenna refused to quit now. They both knew that Brianna wouldn’t budge, yet they still played. Then it happened.
Jenna was spooning up some of the school’s questionable chocolate pudding when she decided to try a new angle with Brianna.
“You know, Bri…” Jenna ventured.
“Don’t call me Bri.”
“Yeah, well, anyway I think you should let me pray with you about your sins, ask God to cleanse them you know, you’d feel better.”
“I don’t have any sins.” Bri laughed, she knew more than anyone about her own sins.
“Come on, be honest.” Jenna knew she was pushing.
“About what?” Bri asked guardedly.
“Well, you didn’t get pregnant by magic.” There it was, a tense silence paraded between them.
“You don’t know anything.”
“Well, I know how babies are made.”
“You don’t know a damn thing.” Brianna was growling now.
“I don’t think you should keep living in sin…”
Brianna jumped up and she glared straight into Jennas’ eyes with hatred and anger and shame like she’d never felt before. Then she raised her hand and like lightening she slapped Jenna across her face so hard and without blinking once she whispered “Damn you, you self-righteous bitch.”
Jenna was shocked and she still had a hand print on her cheek, but she gave Brianna a look that proved that Brianna’s last statement was true. As Brianna walked away she knew what she had done, what she had said, was wrong. She wasn’t raised like that, she had been a Christian. She had believed in God and Jesus and the Bible and everything, it was just now she couldn’t feel it. And she didn’t feel like she could ever believe that God was taking care of her still, not after everything. She had to face the facts and God was not a fact. As for Jenna, Brianna wasn’t about to explain anything to her, Jenna only proved the reason why Brianna didn't want to go to church. She didn’t need a bunch of people watching her, thinking they knew her story, pretending to care.
Oh well, the school was big, Brianna didn’t ever need to see Jenna again, and Jenna didn’t seem to be looking for Brianna either. And that was just fine. There was only two more months of school anyway and then Brianna would enroll in a city college. She was not going to be just another struggling teenage mom, she was going to be a success and prove to people that she could do it all on her own. When the time came she could and she would do it all alone.
* * * * *
Star light, star bright
First star I see tonight
For months now, Brianna had been crossing the days off her calendar, and now it was here, the baby was due in two days, on Wednesday. Already, Brianna had made some preparations, she had bought some baby clothes, and toys, and even a crib, and she had set them up in her bed so the baby would always be closed to her. Of course, the things she bought were almost as old and decrepit as the apartment, but it was the best she could do right now, and it was something.
She had also picked out baby names, after going through some name books she had settled on two names, one if it was a boy and another if it was a girl. The boy was to be Michael Bernard Abbot, the girl Angelina Soledad Abbot. Those names just seemed to strike her fancy, and they had nothing to do with her past, she had thought about naming the baby after her parents or Melissa, but she didn’t want to have to think about them anymore. Except for Soledad, she had heard the name somewhere, she didn’t really know, all she did remember was that she liked the hauntingly romantic sound of it and that it meant loneliness. Maybe it was a bad omen to name a baby loneliness, but she had paired it with Angelina, the name seemed to her to say “lonely angel”, and how bad off could an angel be, lonely or not?
On Monday Brianna started to feel the birthing pains, she called a taxi and went to the closest hospital. When she was checked in she realized that she was further gone than she had thought, the pain was getting worse by the second. But it seemed that nothing she did could hurry the child along, it would be born when it was good and ready. By midnight the baby was ready.
It was pain like Brianna had never imagined, she wished that she had her mother or anybody to help her, but all she had were some friendly but professional nurses. She clutched the ends of her bed gritted her teeth and pushed on command, then she felt it. She screamed bloody murder as the baby ripped it’s way out of her on Tuesday the 12th of June, 2005 at 2:30 in the morning.
Brianna had thought she would die, but she was wrong, the birth had been completely normal for both her and the baby. As she lay in a daze, the nurses held the baby out to her smiling, they said, “Looks like it’ll have blue eyes.” As Brianna held the child she wished to God that it would not have blue eyes, all the while knowing that it would.
The baby was so small and perfect, a little person, so helpless. There were tears in Brianna’s eyes as she looked at the baby, not because she felt especially happy or emotional, but because she was glad not to be pregnant anymore. Something was wrong, Brianna knew it and it was her secret, she wanted this child and she would let no one take it from her but she didn’t really love it, she wasn’t sure if she could.
The next day, Brianna signed the birth certificate, she wrote in the baby’s name-Angelina Solidad Abbot, and her name as the mother-Brianna Maria (after her mother) Abbot, she drew a line through the father’s name’s spot. The doctor wanted to keep her for one more day, to make sure everything was OK, but Brianna new they wanted to see if she was fit to be a mother and why no one had come to help her.
She felt the doctors must wonder why she didn’t cuddle Angelina, or spend hours talking nonsense to her like the other mothers did. But they could see nothing wrong, she was gentle, and fed her, and didn’t look depressed or try to hurt the baby. After three days they had to let her go. Brianna called another taxi and left.
After just one week Brianna new what her parents meant when they said it wouldn’t be easy. There was so much crying, diapers, and midnight feeding, and so little sleep, or peace, or time to just take a breath. Angelina needed this, and Angelina needed that and the more she needed the less Brianna could get for herself.
At least Brianna was done with high school, she had missed her own graduation, that she had worked so hard for, when she was in the hospital. But it didn’t matter, her grades were good enough to get her some scholarships to Evergreen College. And in the fall when she started class she qualified for free childcare so Angelina would be looked after.
During the summer, work consumed almost all of Brianna’s time. Her goals where to buy a car and get a better apartment, but it was hard to save now that she had Angelina. So much of her money was already going into daycare, doctor’s bills, and the hundred other little things that children need. Brianna had never guessed that she cost her parents this much. She felt almost bad that they had invested so much in her and lost her in the end.
Working all the time didn’t bother her as much as it should have, but she was kind of glad that she had an excuse not to spend time with Angelina. And when school started she used studying as an excuse for why she wasn’t excited to see her daughter grow, transitioning from a baby to a toddler to a child. Of course, there were nights when there was no work, or school, or studying, but on those night Brianna might have a guy over. Then she could put Angelina to sleep early, and live for herself, taking out all the pain and frustration of life into a night with a stranger. Not making love, no, she couldn’t remember what love was, much less make it, it was just sex. So empty and savage that her tears mingled with her sweat until she couldn’t remember she had been crying.
Afterwards, Brianna would tell the guy he should leave, in case he woke Angelina. But really she needed him gone because she was ashamed and yet ashamed at not being ashamed, like she deserved one night for herself after all that had been taken from her. At those times she felt bestial and then a sudden overwhelming depression, in fits of nostalgia she would take out the picture of her parents that she kept hidden in her closet and cry in long tormented spells until the sun came out. A great author once said that three O’clock in the morning was the wisest and most terrible hour, the white hour. But no matter how she searched the night held no wisdom for her, just more pain.
Years later when Brianna finally was done with school and got a job as a top real estate agent she could say that she had to make sacrifices for Angelina by working long hours and she just couldn’t be there like other mothers could. At other times she would say that she had to go out with friends all night long to “loosen up”, otherwise she might take out her frustrations on Angelina, and if she came home drunk and had a hangover in the morning she’d say it was “only just this once”. And when her daughter, now a teenager, would look at her with accusing eyes that said “you never cared”, she could push away the guilt by thinking at least I chose to keep you.
* * * * *
I wish I may, I wish I might
And now you know, from the beginning I was alone.
Me and my blue eyes. Mother always hated my blue eyes. “Cold blue eyes” she used to say. Eyes that seemed to stare through me. I’m always afraid that I’ll be able to see my soul if I look into a mirror long enough, a soul that I don’t want to see, filled with too much anger and hate and loneliness. I came in the bathroom to get a band-aide but now I’ve been here way to long staring at my stupid eyes, wondering what does She see in them?
Who is She? She is my mother who works to much because she doesn’t like me, who doesn’t listen, who lives off coffee, and drinks all night, and is never seen without her make up. Who bought me a cat even though I wanted an Ipod or cash, so I could buy an Ipod. But Mother doesn’t listen. I only call her Mother because she hates it, she would rather I called her mom, as if I cared. She always asks me “Why can’t you be a nice, loving daughter?” “Why can’t you be a nice, loving Mother?” I always ask back. We have agreed to disagree.
“I can’t be here.” She says. “I have to work, but this will keep you company.” She hands me a cat. But who the Hell wanted a cat? Nobody, that’s who. It was a whim of my mother’s, because she was feeling guilty, just like the black and white photo of an abstract statue that’s under my bed from when she was trying to get me into art. And the tap dancing lessons that I didn’t go to. And the co-workers’ sons she sets me up with so I’ll be happy. Boys who have nothing in common with me, but who she wish she’d dated. Mother, Mother who wanted tap dancing lessons, and cats, and boys like that when she was young. What she didn’t want was me, the daughter of the man who raped her. Oh well, I’ve come to terms with it, why can’t she?
It was a long time ago, 16 years. She was walking home from work, she was 17, it wasn’t even dark outside. I used to hear her crying at night, nights when she remembered. Back then I used to try to climb in bed with her, but she always turned her back to me so one day I stopped. The hospital told her she’d have to have an abortion. But she was scared and didn’t believe in abortion. I know she wishes she had. Because of the shame of being pregnant she moved away from her home, and now she never talks to her family. She blames me for that, and everything, I don’t give a damn if she does, it’s not like I asked to be born. I see it in her eyes when she looks at me, a sort of fear that I’ll see her dislike of me and the knowledge that I do.
Most of the time we both pretend it isn’t there. We never really talk, or watch movies, laughing together, or share meals. I do my thing and she does hers, whatever it is. I’d wanted to tell her about my first kiss with Billy at the school dance, but she was never home. When I finally got the chance to tell her, she told me don’t get pregnant, told me not to make the mistake that she hadn’t even had the chance to make. When I wouldn’t promise anything she walked away, like I would get pregnant and add another member to this “family”. She didn’t even ask who Billy was, even though it was important to me.
That kiss with Billy was momentous, the realization of first love that now looking back I can see that even though it was so bright and strong was just an ember compared to real love. But still I wanted to share my secret joy, hear her giggle with me at how Billy was so nervous afterward that he couldn’t look me in the eye. But no, as always she had to ruin it, she had to dirty even that beautiful experience with the memory of my father, just because she had never learned to push it away like I had.
I always thought she had to sorta love me since she kept me, knowing who my father was. She never liked me though, I knew that. We never talked about my father after the first time. I had wanted to die when I found out, sometimes I still do. When I found out I was born in a sick crime, violence and hate, I would have killed myself. But I couldn’t cut my skin, couldn’t jump once the rope was around my neck, couldn’t swallow all those pills.
Later, I got over it, a little, or maybe I’m just so busy now that I can pretend I’m over it. I live my life in school with my friends that are my family. But not really, because there are some things you can’t tell even a best friend. At home I sleep and shower, and try not to stare at the stranger, my mother. When I turned 12 she bought me this grey cat, the cat that was supposed to make up for everything. I hated the cat, at first, but now that I came around we are best friends, we understand what it’s like to not be wanted. My mother found Baby, the cat, at the pound, she has a knack for keeping things nobody wants.
* * * * *
Have the wish
I wish tonight.
One day, when I was 17, Mother came home looking tired. She held my hand and led me to the couch. She was blinking back tears when she told me she had cancer. For the first time we hugged, really, that’s when I realized that we did care about each other. I guess I’d always known that I loved her, it was just easier to pretend that I didn’t, but I’d stopped believing that she loved me. It didn’t matter, though, we might have loved each other, but we didn’t like each other.
In a way I think she was glad that life had provided her a way out. All day she lay with Baby in bed, needing me to care. But I did what she had done to me, I went on with life. I cared, I really did, I didn’t want her dead, yet I didn’t want to be with her. I just wanted her there, just like she wanted me. The days were over when I’d try, pointlessly, to sit in my mother’s lap and make her like me with pictures I had drawn, I was not that little girl anymore. Now, I brought her juice, if she asked, and patted her hair, and tried not let her see that I didn’t like her.
I think she knew then what she had done to me. How she had hurt me. She didn’t say anything, but only stroked the cat and looked into my blue eyes. I should have stayed home with her more often but she didn’t ask and I didn’t offer. Sometimes, when I was feeling especially kind and sorry for her, a strong woman finally brought down by so many blows, I would sit in bed with her and watch old movies. Surprisingly, we liked a lot of the same ones, our favorite was Some Like it Hot, we’d hold hands and laugh together like I always wanted to. It was the first time I ever got to see what she might have been like if things were different. I wish things had been different. Those times didn’t last long though, whenever I tried to talk to her she would start to answer then look at my eyes and somehow the moment was gone. It always came down to my eyes.
One day, as I was sitting in class an office aid came in and handed me a note. My mother was worse. Not that she was ever better, but now she was in the hospital. The last time I saw her she was pale, all her long red hair gone, and wearing a bandanna. Still her eyes never wavered, there was strength in her that still hadn’t been killed. If there’s anything I could say about my mother it was that she was strong, life had made her strong and cold as a rock. But strong as she was death was stronger just like the ocean that wears done the rocks around it. The doctors knew she would die that day, at least she didn’t have to do it alone, like she’d done everything else. She held my hand and said with tears in her eyes “I tried, Angelina, I’m sorry,” and I said “me too” also with tears in my eyes.
When I ordered her tombstone all I put was the necessary dates, her name, Brianna Maria Abbot, and Rest in Peace. It was the only thing that seemed to fit. Instead of putting just RIP I spelt out the words, I really did want her to rest in peace, her life was not easy. I hoped her death would be. I wish I could say that she went to heaven, but honestly, I will never be sure if she made her peace with God. I found out that she had once been a devout Christian so I still have hope…
* * * * *
Mistress Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
So there I was just like my mother, a teenager and alone, at least I didn’t have a child to raise.
I wasn’t alone for long. Somehow my mother’s parents found me, I don’t know how or why. They had never tried to contact my mother. They asked me to live with them and I said yes, it was more out of fear of living alone and curiosity that drove me to it than any real affection or need to meet them. Maybe I wasn’t quite as strong as my mother.
They flew up from California a week after my mother’s death. Grandmother Maria and Grandfather Joshua, they called an hour before they showed up at the house. I didn’t really know what to do so I, with Baby in my arms, sat in the living room watching the window for their rental car, waiting and anxious.
In exactly one hour, an inconspicuous black car pulled into my driveway, in a few minutes I would see my mother’s parents. The parents who also hadn’t wanted me. I watched through the window as they walked up the driveway until the house blocked my view. Before opening the door I waited for them to knock twice, I could tell the heavy sounding knock was my grandfather’s.
I opened the door, slowly so they wouldn’t think that I was too excited to see them, a result of the pride instilled in me from my mother. They looked nervous. My grandfather was tall with broad shoulders and graying hair, he looked nice but firm. Grandmother Maria looked like time had treated her worse, her hair was not graying but there were so many wrinkles on her face that seemed like they were etched by pain. They looked altogether all-American, like the kind of people who live in gated communities or go to country clubs, well dressed, polished, and just a little bigoted.
With Baby still in my arms I asked them in and if they would like a drink. I was polite but extremely uncomfortable. They declined the drinks, Maria made a gesture as if to hug me but stopped half way and just touched my arm instead. As I led them to the living room I could see them looking around, surprised that mother had been able to do so well for herself, my mother had skimped on nothing and our house, in one of the best areas in Seattle, was proof of her hard work and successful career. For once I was proud of her.
We sat awkwardly, me on my favorite armchair and them on the cream leather couch. Baby jumped out of my arms and began to walk along the back of the couch. My grandparents stiffened, the way people do when they think a cat might suddenly jump onto their heads.
“Well” Joshua started, “I guess you guys have been doing well.”
Maria interrupted me, “I’m sorry we didn’t come to the funeral.” She said hurriedly and glanced away.
Joshua cleared his throat and I, sympathetically, said it was ok. There was some more small talk and then my grandfather, who obviously liked to get down to business, brought up the issues of my moving back to California with them and selling my mother’s apartment and things. It seemed that we had one week to figure everything out before we would be moving back to my mother’s childhood home.
With a sideways look at Baby they told me to pick out the things I wanted to keep, everything else would be taken care of by a third party after we left, apparently everything was taken care of already. I, of course, chose to keep all my personal belongings and Baby, I wouldn’t be going anywhere without her. I didn’t really care about the other things in the house but my mother’s personal things were another story.
It was almost spooky to go through her things but I wanted to do it alone, nobody else had the right to decide what was important and what wasn’t. I decided to go through her closet first, to sort through her papers. I threw out old receipts and papers so old I couldn’t read them anymore. In the back of her closet, behind all the crap I found an old photo of my mother when she was my age with her parents. I had never seen this picture before, but it must have been important to her if she’d kept it all these years. In the picture she looked a lot like me, except she didn’t have blue eyes and she still looked happy and young, so it must have been before it happened. I kept that picture as a relic of what should have been, I guess. I also kept some of her favorite pieces of jewelry. Going through the jewelry was probably the most emotional. I hadn’t expected to find anything like what I did find, an old ceramic bead bracelet that I’d made her for her birthday when I was very young.
I still remember giving her that bracelet. I was so proud of it and so excited to give it to her. I remember running in the house from school singing the happy birthday song as loudly as I could. My mom was sitting on the couch watching tv when I flung myself on her and gave the bracelet. I thought that she would surely love it but she only glanced at it and said “Oh, that’s nice. Looks like you made it.” With a sinking heart I explained how it was a special present for her, I could see that she didn’t really care. She put the bracelet on the table and continued to watch her show, I walked away and I don’t think I ever gave her a present again.
I’m pretty sure that I didn’t even cry on that day, even though I remember feeling so hurt. But I cried when all these years later I found that she did keep the bracelet, that she had cared. Ironically, I also realized the bracelet was hideous, I had always remembered it as being so beautiful. It was enough to know that she had kept it, laughing, with tears still in my eyes I threw it away.
In the last few days before we left for California I called up all the friends who had once meant so much to me. They all grieved for me that I had to start my senior year in a strange school, they were friendly and we made lots of promises to keep in touch, but I realized that the ties we had were not as strong as we thought. I was ready to move on and ready to let go of the pain and anger that I had let define me for so long.
The ride to Portland International Airport, from where we would fly to California, was pretty silent but not really uncomfortable. I think that we were all busy thinking about how different our lives were going to be. They were going to have to deal with the grandchild they had once sworn they could never support, the child of the man who raped their daughter. And I was going to have to live with grandparents who seemed as strange to me as the old man who lived down the street and went everywhere in a bathrobe.
Shockingly, or not, it was sunny when we landed in California. The San Francisco airport was so big so full of people and noise and so many shops. We collected our luggage, Joshua carried mine, while I held on tightly to the special pet duffel bag that Baby was in. Outside, San Francisco smelt like city and mist but it was different from Washington where the air always seems to be a little cleaner, a little crisper, it was the Bay Area.
The airport was two hours away from my grandparents’ home. They asked me if I wanted to eat or just wait until we got home. I just wanted to get to the house, never mind home. It was getting dark as we drove home, and the city was gorgeous with all its big city lit up skyscrapers against the dark sky. They say New York is the city of cities, they make all those shirts with slogans like I heart NY, but if you’ve ever lived in San Francisco you know it can steal your heart too. Sinatra really meant it when he said he left his heart in San Francisco.
Of course, it was years until I began my love affair with San Francisco. On this particular drive, the first of many over the Bay Bridge, I just wanted to get to where I was supposed to be. It was dark when we reached the house 2913 Baker Street. It was dark but not Washington dark, there where still streetlights and car lights and lights which I can never tell where they come from. In Washington, it seems, even the city is darker at night but the stars are brighter and there always seems to be more than in California. I think it’s because even in the city you can tell that the land used to be all woods. It’s spotted all over with trees. It’s wild and woodsy, somehow, and I love it in a different way.
The street was ridiculously suburban, no difference anywhere, except for the make of the cars parked along the street. So this is was who my mother was, before she was Washington wild. We parked in the garage, it was clean, not like most people’s garages cluttered with junk. Our garage had always been clean too. I was tired and afraid to go in the house, afraid I would sense the ghost of my mother’s broken childhood spirit. Just like when Peter Pan loses his shadow.
Maria opened the door for me and I went in, with Baby in my arms. It was a nice house, a nice suburban house. You could probably go into any other suburban house on that street and not know the difference. Well, probably not but you get the picture. It was clean and neat, with hard wood floors and white carpets. There were big open windows with sliding blinds. The furniture was black leather and looked like it had never been used, except for the recliner near the tv. There was a fireplace, which probably hadn’t been lit since my mother left.
In a way, it was just like the home I’d shared with my Mother, there was an emptiness, a lack of energy. I set Baby down on the floor and saw my grandfather’s muscles tense, oh well, it was Baby’s house now too. Maria and Joshua went around the house doing things that people do when they haven’t been in their houses for awhile, like turning on lights and checking the mail. Then we all stood there, awkward, Baby almost scratched a chair but then thought better of it.
Maria cleared her throat, “Uhmm…I’ll show you the house. Follow me.”
She led me upstairs and showed me bathrooms decorated with shells and florals, a neat guestroom, a spare room slash study. Then she showed me my room.
“We thought you would like to stay in Bri…your mother’s old room, it’s pretty much the same way she left it. I vacuumed though, Baby can stay here too.”
I was surprised she remembered my cat’s name. I could see that my luggage was already in the room, I guess that’s where Joshua had disappeared to with it. Maria walked in the room and I stood near the doorway, blinking my eyes. I was afraid to go in and confront my mother. It didn’t feel like the her I knew, but it held all the memories of what should have been. It was awkward, the room and I weren’t comfortable with each other yet.
It was mostly yellow and purple. There were some athletic swimming posters and a high school banner on the wall. Over the pinewood, four poster, queen-sized bed was a framed picture of some cherry blossom trees in a dark green field, it was pretty. On the matching desk was a picture of my mother when she was a teenager, laughing with her arm around a girl with black hair, there was little black haired boy sticking his tongue out in the back. In the corner, there was a yellow beanbag chair next to a bookshelf with books like Anne of Green Gables in it.
Talk about All American. My mother hadn’t ever seemed like she could live in a room like this, neither did I for that matter. Baby on the other hand loved it, she was already curled in the beanbag chair.
“Well, do you like?”
“It’s pretty.” I wanted to cry suddenly, but I didn’t, my mother didn’t raise me like that.
“I know, your mother loved it, we just never could change it after… ” Now she looked like she wanted to cry. I had imagined my grandparents to be a little more cruel and stoic, but they were just people, sad people, like us.
Joshua came in the room, knocking lightly on the door frame before entering. “I haven’t been in here, for a long time.” He looked around his eyes lingering on the photo for awhile. “ I wanted to give you these, they were hers, she left them.” He handed me house keys on a varsity swim team keychain. In her room with her keys, it seemed that I was supposed to finish her life where she left off.
Joshua and Maria went down stairs to get some food but I stayed in the room, I wasn’t ready to do the whole family meal thing yet. However, Baby was, she followed them downstairs. I didn’t really know what to do. I looked into the draws of the desk, my mother’s paper were still there. For the second time I would have to decide which of her stuff was important enough to keep.
I threw away all her old school assignments, all of which were A papers, and I kept her pictures and awards and one essay titled Who I Want to be When I Grow Up. I also threw away her swimming posters, they may have been her but they weren’t me and she was gone long before she died. Next, I looked through her closet. Most of the clothes were so old and moth-eaten that I had to get rid of them but the rest I threw away just because I needed the closet space.
After I’d made room for all my things, I realized it was after 1am and even Baby was curled asleep on the pillows. I undressed and got into bed, Baby woke up and moodily made room for me. I still couldn’t sleep so I decided to read that essay I’d saved, it was only three pages long.
Now, don’t think this is going to be one of those stories where all the problems are solved just because the main character finds a letter from the past that solves everything, by now you should know that my life is no fairy tale. No, this essay didn’t clear anything up, it just reinforced everything I already knew. All of my mother’s dreams were ruined because of me. Well, actually it’s because of him that she got no happy college life with her best friend Melissa, no Olympic swim team medals, no wonderful marriage, no going to the senior prom with her high school crush. I put the essay in the throwaway pile.
* * * * *
With cockle shells
And silver bells
And pretty maids all in a row
In the morning Maria asked me if I wanted to go for a little tour of the neighborhood, it wasn’t like I had anything better to do, so I went. We got into her comfy Mercedes and backed out of the driveway. I saw that our house was peach and the ones next to it were light green, brown, blue, and grey. There were only these five colors on every street as far as I could see. At the end of our street was the park where it happened, I wanted to walk there alone later to test my own fate, of course, I didn’t tell Maria this. We drove in the opposite direction, down Lion Street, then Clickety Clack Street, then Jefferson, there seemed to be no common theme that tied these street names together and I liked that, it was the only thing that didn’t seem planned in this suburban paradise.
Out on the main street was a MacDonalds where my mother used to work, and a Safe Way where they shopped every Saturday, and the Assemblies of God Church where they went every Sunday, twice on Easter. A littler further away, and by that I mean twenty minutes from the house was the high school, Jefferson High, home of the Lions. I’d have to start my senior year there at the end of August.
“I want you to meet someone,” Maria said out of nowhere.
“Sure,” I said, again I had nothing better to do. We pulled over into the main shopping center and parked in front of M’s Beauty and Spa. I figured we were going to see the Melissa who was my mother’s friend. We walked in just as Melissa was coming out from a back room. She looked shocked to see me and I was afraid she was going to run to me crying about how much I resembled my mother, or something. But instead she just came over and said hello in a friendly but professional voice.
“Melissa, I wanted you to meet Angelina, Brianna’s daughter, she’s living with us now. Angelina, this is Melissa. She used to be your mom’s best friend.”
“Hi, call me Angy,” I stuck out my hand.
“Hello, Angy, nice to meet you,” she shook my hand while still trying to stifle the shock, I don’ t think that she and my grandmother were friends exactly. I could tell she wasn’t sure if she should mention my mother or not. To soothe things over Maria told her we’d like two French manicures. Melissa smiled and called over two girls to take care of us, she explained, laughing, that once she had opened her second shop she had promised herself that she would never do another set of nails or another hairdo again in her life. She seemed cool.
From my spot at the nail station I could get a good look at Melissa. She still had the same long shiny black hair and the same olive smooth complexion. She was a little rounder in the hips but it didn’t hurt her curvy figure or her energetic personality. I wondered if her life had turned out the way she wanted it, I wondered why she and mother hadn’t stayed in touch. Well, I guess I kind of knew the answer to the second question. I looked over at my grandmother she winked at me, I think she was hoping this was going to be some kind of a bonding experience, I guess at the risk of being cheesy, it sorta was.
My eyes traveled around the shop, it was classy and clean not just a corner half priced beauty shop but a real salon worthy of chain status. There were a lot of other customers, professional looking young women who looked like they paid well and came often, they were busy reading Cosmo or bridal magazines. Melissa came over to me and asked how I liked Antioch. It was ok, I said, a bit too suburban for me but still nice. She told me how she’d lived there her whole life and how her oldest kids were now in the same middle school she’d gone to with my mom. I asked her how the high school was. She smiled and blinked her eyes like she was remembering her whole high school career in a single second, it was great she said.
“That’s where I met my husband, we’ve been together since senior year,” she laughed.
“ Do you think it’s changed much?”
“Probably some, but I’m not that old,” she winked, but I could tell she was the kind of person who would never get old.
“It shouldn’t be too bad, I mean my old school was huge, very competitive, and I was doing fine.”
“I’m sure you’ll do well, but old smaller school have a completely different set of politics from bigger schools. Some of these kids are legacy, like mine, it can be hard to break into.”
“I’ll be fine,” I threw back confidently, I was tough like the woman who’d raised me.
“They’ll have to watch out for you, you’re as fiery as your red hair, just like your mom’s and her mom’s.” I looked over at Maria, I was legacy too. I liked the way Melissa referred to my mom, she said it like she was any other mom, without all the baggage I’d come to associate it with. I was going to have to come here often.
After saying goodbye to Melissa, we stopped at the Rose Garden restaurant for some Chinese food for dinner. Maria asked me what I wanted. I said sweet and sour pork for me and black bean shrimp for Baby, it was a sad attempt at a joke as well as an attempt to see how far I could go with my grandmother. Apparently, pretty far because she smiled and ordered them both along with beef chow mein and steamed rice. On our way home, she asked me what I thought, she didn’t specify about what. I said I thought things were going to go pretty well.
When we got into the house Joshua got up from his recliner in front of the tv.
“So you girls are finely back from your gallivanting?” He said laughing.
I laughed too, especially when I saw that Baby had been lying across the back of his chair, probably without his knowledge too. “We saw Melissa,” I blurted out.
“Oh…” He raised his eyebrows at my grandmother.
“Melissa is doing as good as ever, she gave Angy some tips for high school.”
“Angy?” He looked confused at the new development.
“Yes, Angy,” She answered. “We had a good time didn’t we?”
“We did,” I replied. “Look, and we got some dinner.”
“Smells good, Angy,” He said.
We all sat down to eat, even Baby was given a small bowl with some shrimp in it. It was my first family meal and it wasn’t so bad, I wished my mom could have enjoyed it too. When we were almost done eating my grandmother looked at me, clearing her throat awkwardly.
“Yeah,” I said pleasantly, slipping Baby another shrimp.
“Don’t start now,” My grandfather said.
“The sooner the better, we can’t just wait for things to clear up themselves, you know how that went before.” My grandfather was silenced.
“Well, we wanted to tell you about what happened with your mother and us, about how she left. We want to you to know the truth, without excuses,” she added looking at Joshua.
“Hey, it’s ok, I know stuff went badly, she told me.”
“Yeah, but we need to say it.” She went on.
“Ok, I guess.”
“ You see, we were all so torn up by what happened, she was our baby girl, always. We never thought she’d actually leave for good and then when she did we were so angry that she’d defy us and leave just like that. Somehow we always thought she’d come back, but she didn’t, and it was too hard to make that step.”
“No, it was too hard for me to make that step. I was a stubborn old bastard. I was ashamed that I hadn’t been able to protect her, that’s all I ever wanted, and I was angry that she wouldn’t do what I said. I wanted her to always be my baby girl and I wanted her to have the life she wanted and I knew she couldn’t have that with a baby. It was never about you, and it should have been, I called myself a Christian and then I pushed my only child out of my house because I wanted her to kill an innocent baby.” Joshua sighed with tears in his voice. They had bother suffered with this guilt.
“We just wanted her to have a happy life, we didn’t want her to have to pay for something that wasn’t her fault.”
“Well, she did pay for it everyday, and so did I. I never knew the Brianna you knew, she was so different from everything you remember. Never mind being happy, our lives were about surviving, surviving and pretending to forget.” I said stirring my rice and soy sauce. Baby yawned on the ground.
“ We can’t imagine what your lives were like, and we know that she was different that’s why it was so difficult, we couldn’t understand her. But we hope you can forgive us, we can’t make it up to you but we want to help now, if it’s not too late,” my grandfather said.
“I think I can forgive you, it’s her I have trouble with.”
“We’re so sorry, but it isn’t her fault. And we didn’t ask you here to make up for anything or to raise you, we know you’re grown, you’ve had to deal with more than we ever had to. But we do want to help you and to let you know that we were so wrong for so long,” my grandmother added.
“I know it wasn’t her fault, but, right now... Sometimes you need someone to blame…I’ve always wanted to know but… what happened to him?”
“We don’t know, we pressed charges but nothing ever turned up, nothing like that had ever happened here before or since.”
“Of course, lucky us.” I said sarcastically. They looked surprised, I don’t think they’d realized what kind of life I’d had and what it had made me until then. I think they thought I would be like she used to be but, of course, sadder. They didn’t know that I was more like she was before she died-strong, hard, repressed. I could joke about horrible things and not care, I don’t think they understood the kind of pain that hurts so badly it makes you numb. I didn’t like emotions, it was easier not to deal with them. I believed I’d gotten over all of these issues and I wished they would too.
After that conversation it was hard to go back to normal so we all cleaned up and I went upstairs. I sat on my bed with Baby in my arms watching the tv that Joshua had put in my room earlier today. Our difficulties weren’t over, we weren’t one big happy family yet, but somehow I wasn’t as happy as I should have been about finding out that they were nice people after all. Somehow, I’d wanted them to be horrible so that I could hate them; it was so much harder blaming my mom now that she was dead.
Anyway, it was still the summer before my senior year. It was time I started deciding what I was going to do with my life. For some reason, I was leaning toward interior design. I liked the idea of being able to control the mood of a room, a house. It was something new and clean, it was nobody’s legacy. My mother was a real estate agent, my father, what did he do? I signed up for the SAT and ACT and emailed some colleges requesting applications. I didn’t have to worry about scholarships, my grandparents said that they would pay for my education as far as I wanted to go to wherever I wanted to go. I wondered if they’d saved this money for me or my mother.
I was bored to death. I couldn’t just stay at home with my grandmother, while my grandfather went to work. He was the manager of the local bank, I found out. There was no hostility between us but it was still uncomfortable, we had almost nothing in common. I decided to get a job for the month that I had until school started. I applied at the bookstore in the shopping center, it was close enough that I could walk there.
A few days later, I was lying on the couch reading Vanity Fair and trying to get Baby off my stomach when the phone rang. I got the job at the bookstore, Stories and Stuff, and I had to start tomorrow at 9am. I’d never had to work before. That was one thing my mom never neglected, I always had everything I needed and I always had money.
“Baby, I’m a working girl now, whatdoya think?”
Baby blinked, she wasn’t that interested. Neither was I. I liked Becky Sharp she did what she had to do, she was ruthless. I kinda felt bad about her husband and kids though. Maybe I’d have a lot of time to read at my new job. Shows what I knew about working.
* * * * *
Three blind mice
See how they run
Zits. So many zits, my boss, he has so many zits. He’s definitely a dork and, unfortunately, he’s not the easily manipulated kind either. It’s the first hour and I already have more work than I can handle. I have to restock fiction shelves A-Z, dust the novelty figurines, fill out the order forms for the seasonal books, and help whoever happens to wonder in.
I don’t know how most people do it but I am not a customer pleaser. I can say hi, find your item, cash your purchase-then I’m done with you. But these people in the suburbs are killing me. They want to know where I’m from, how long I’m staying, do I like the neighborhood. Then they tell me their story. Well, I don’t really care, I don’t want to be your friend for the day. By the end of the shift I was tired. Tired of smiling, tired of stocking. My arms hurt, my head hurt, my feet hurt.
When I got home I just went straight to the couch and fell asleep. I didn’t even wake up when Baby fell asleep on my back. Maria didn’t even try to wake me up, thank goodness. Joshua came home at six-thirty and Maria started making dinner-meat loaf. I finally woke up when Baby started using her claws to pull threads out of my shirt. I looked up to see both of my grandparents smiling at me.
“Morning sleepy, you want some dinner?” Maria asked.
“Mmmm, Baby stop! Sure thanks.”
“So I guess work was harder than you thought it would be.” Joshua said.
“Kinda of. It’s mostly just stupid stuff, stocking shelves and things. But I hate how I’m supposed to chat with everyone who walks through the door.”
“Well customer service is always important.”
“Umm, I guess,” I said rolling my eyes, “I’m dreading going back.”
Maria put a plate in front of me and sat down, “I think you should,” she said.
“Abbots don’t quit.”
I looked at my grandfather, I was about to say something snarky about what “Abbots” did, but I just let it go. Suddenly, it didn’t seem worth it to always be sticking it to him.
“I guess, I’ll probably stay.” I know I didn’t really have to work, my grandparents would’ve given me everything I needed and my mom had left me a good amount also. I think it was just something I though I should do.
After dinner we all went back to the living room to watch some tv. It wasn’t anything special, just Monday night prime time comedies, but it was kinda nice to watch tv all together like that. I don’t think my mom and I ever did before she got sick. Maria didn’t even flinch when Baby walked the chair back behind her.
I went to work everyday that week and it didn’t get any better. By Friday I was just going through the motions, I didn’t even bother to greet customers as they came through the door anymore. I knew I was doing the bare minimum and I still considered myself a martyr for doing that much. I know my mom could sell anything to anyone, that’s why she was such a good real estate agent, but I’d never learned to separate myself into parts like her. I mean she was never really happy, she’d lost that a long time ago, but she could pretend, she could put away her other self and just do it. The people she worked with loved her, it was like she was two people.
One night I’d watched her charming this guy she’d brought home. I was twelve and I think she though I was asleep but I was behind the kitchen counter watching them. She was great, I didn’t even know her, everything she said, the way she moved…it was sexy, warm-I didn’t see how anyone could ever resist. Her eyes sparkled and she laughed like she meant it running her fingers through her hair like she was carefree. I was so jealous that hated that man and they way she’d perform for him. She’d hardly bother to smile to me. He’d carried her to her room after a few minutes. In the morning he was gone before I woke up, I never saw him again.
I asked her about him and she said he was nobody. I’d seen her a few other times, with customers and co-workers-she was always someone else. I’d asked her once and all she’d said is that you have to learn do what you need to get what you want. She charmed people because she wanted something from them, it was just an automatic behavior. The less she cared about them the more she’d work them. I wish I’d learned that.
Anyway, just as I was about to leave on Friday my zit-covered boss, Mark, decided to have a little talk with me.
“Brianna, customers have been complaining about your attitude. It had better change by next week, if you want to work here.”
“Are you threatening to fire me? I’ve done everything you told me and everything the stupid customer asked me to do.”
“Yeah, but you do it like you’d rather tell them to F-off. Everyone can tell, and nobody wants to be around someone like you. You look like you couldn’t care less.”
“Well maybe I have more to think about than Mrs. So –and so’s cat and how the weather is supposed to change. They’re here to shop not chat.”
“I don’t know where you come from or what’s on your mind and I don’t care. But my job depends on keeping the customers happy and your job depends on keeping me happy. So change your attitude and make people feel welcome.”
“My attitude is my business, I’ve got problems you couldn’t even imagine. If you had my life you wouldn’t be cheery all the time either. You wouldn’t feel like going around like Mary Poppins, I do good work and that should be good enough.”
“See there’s your problem, you seem to think that someone should care about your problems. Well, nobody does, I don’t care. I don’t want to know if you were an orphan abandoned at birth. You have this attitude like you’ve been wronged-well get over it. We’ve all been wronged and we don’t go around using it as an excuse to be a bitch every single minute of our lives. This is work, conduct yourself appropriately, if you don’t you’ll be out of a job by next Monday.”
“I’ll work on it,” I said before grabbing my things and leaving. I was so pissed off, nobody had ever talked to me like that. I couldn’t go home just yet so I decided to through the park. I was so angry I didn’t even think about which park it was or what it meant for me.
I’d always assumed I did have the right to have an attitude. My life sucked why shouldn’t I. Even my mother had never told me to adjust my attitude, it was my right. Just like it was hers to be the way she was. I’d never had to ask forgiveness for anything ever. Even my grandparents gave me that liberty. My friends at school were used to me being sarcastic, not caring about people was my thing. It was the thing I deserved to keep after not having the opportunity have other things. Why shouldn’t I act however the hell I wanted?
I was fuming and walking so fast I didn’t even notice I was on the same path my mother had told me about. Probably, I was right where it happened. Between the baseball field and the brick wall. I stopped and just stood there looking around. This is where my mother’s life, my grandparent’s life, my life was decided. It was just a path but it changed everything. I touched the rhododendrons growing on the side-pink and red and white-I wondered if I stayed here long enough, would I get raped too. I kneeled down and touched the ground, it was so rough and pebbly. This was where she got the scratch on the back of her right elbow. I ran both hands over the ground, pressing my palms into the gravel. What if she hadn’t walked this path that day? What if…
The sun was setting behind the baseball field. It was beautiful, orange and pink and sharp red here and there. I lay down on the ground and turned my head to watch it. I wondered if this was the very spot. Soon I heard someone coming and I wondered if it was my turn. I got up read for something…but it was just two teenage girls jogging. I turned around and headed home. It was just a path after all. It wasn’t some kind of portal that changed everyone’s life, nobody else cared about it.
They all run after the farmer’s wife
She cut off their tails with a carving knife.
Saturday was a do nothing day. I loved do-nothing days. My grandparents had some committee meeting thing, I wasn’t really interested. So Baby and I just stayed at home, watching TV. I can’t say that I really knew what I was watching, it was just the regular cable stuff. You know how they play the same, once popular, movie over and over, just in case somebody missed it. I pretty much just tune in for my favorite parts. Like in Sweet Home Alabama, close to the end where she runs back to what’s-his-name on the beach, in her wedding dress. It always makes me feel tingly inside the way nothing in real life has ever made me feel.
I mean I’ve been kissed before. You don’t look like me and never get kissed. My hair is not as red as my mother’s, it’s more brown. I’m not as athletically built either. I’ve got curves, not soft sensual curves like that beauty parlor woman, Melissa. Mine are not soft. I’ve kissed four boys. My first, Billy, two others I don’t really remember-we just kissed because we were supposed to, you know like at the end of the date where you either go for it or you don’t, I always did. The last boy I kissed was something a little more.
Peter Harris, he was a real cool kid, a good friend. I’d liked him for awhile and he’d liked me too. I don’t think you ever really really like someone without knowing that they like you too. I’m not talking about just a crush, I mean really like. I don’ t really think there is any such thing as a truly one-sided love affair. I think that deep down somebody just doesn’t want to admit they love that somebody else. Anyway, Peter and I dated for like a year. I wanted him so badly, not just sexually. I wanted to smell him, taste him, touch him, know what was going on in his head. I could look in his eyes sometimes and know he wanted the same from me.
But he also wanted to have sex with me. I just couldn’t, it’s not that I wanted to wait for anything, I was just afraid of losing myself. If I lost myself I don’t think anybody would be willing to go look for me. Every time I kissed Peter that was something missing. The chemistry that we felt everywhere else was always missing in our kiss, no matter how long, how deep it was. Yet, I always wanted to kiss him again.
I think it was just that we were always holding something back, me because I couldn’t let go and him because he wanted too. It was like it was always a battle of wills, mine against his, his against mine, against our own. Every time I’d try to feel that tingle, but I never got it. Not when his tongue was licking my lips, not when I was biting his, not ever. Some times I’d get it when I was thinking about him, I don’t think that counts.
Eventually, we broke up. I’ll probably always wonder exactly what went wrong. Maybe it was just that I wanted to control my own world too much. I don’t really know if it was about just sex, some times I think maybe it was that I could never really let him make me feel anything. That would mean he was in control.
Look at Baby, she always thinks she’s in control. She walks around where ever she wants, sleeps whenever she wants, I even feed her when ever she wants. I guess I let her think she’s in control, or maybe she is in control and lets me think I am. Whenever I look into her eyes, I always feel like she knows things that I don’t, even if those eyes are blue.
I hate work, I hate work, I hate work, I say with each step towards the store. By the time I reach the door I can already see that Mark is fielding a line of customers. I know that he thinks I should have gotten in early but I look him in the eyes as I sign in right exactly on time. I think about what I thinking yesterday about letting go for awhile. And I as I stack books I somehow find a way to let go of myself. You know that part of you that’s always self-monitoring, always writing your own story. I tried to forget the issues I didn’t know I loved to carry around with me. With myself finally silent I seem to be able to hear everyone else around me. There is a shift inside of me and suddenly I can see that Mark, stupid Mark, was right about one thing at least, Nobody cares. The old lady who seemed to be overly interested in my life is really just trying to be pleasant while she waits for me because I am taking too long to find her book. The young mother who is talking to me about her kids doesn’t think that I care, she just wants to hear the voice of someone who is older than eight.
And, no, this will not be one of those huge moments in my life were a shining revelation leads me to a new height of maturity. This isn’t like in the movies, but it did make me feel for awhile that I am not the only one who has a hard life, in fact, my life isn’t really that hard at all. Of course, being a teenager I forgot that new feeling a few minutes later but every now and then I could feel the memory of it until one day, when I was much older, I experienced it again; this time it stuck. So the one good thing that came from this job is that eventually I stopped being a self centered bitch...