We came into town and went straight to Mumble and Horrid’s house. I sent Bekah in to check on the girls, and I went to Uncle Ball’s house next door. I knocked. I let myself in. Walked around the house for a while, calling out his name. This was not usually a time of day when he slept, but he did have a graveyard-shift job. I assumed he was asleep or pretending to be.
This was happening more and more often. I came to this neighborhood almost every weekend, but I had seen him very rarely during my trips. It seemed to me as if he was having trouble looking at me, as if, in my eyes, he could see the hate Guardian held for him.
When I got over to Mumble’s house, I found Bekah in the backyard, the girls swinging on the swing, Whippy stumbling around with a fistful of caterpillars. Little Man was in his own backyard pounding on something with his baseball bat over and over again. And Dewdrop stood next to Bekah talking.
A moment before I got there, Bekah had pulled out her camera. Had been snapping pictures. She’d turned to Dewdrop.
“Can I take your picture?” Bekah said with a smile.
Dewdrop looked at her and sadly said, “Do I have to smile?”
“No, honey. You don’t have to smile if you don’t want to.”
Dewdrop nodded. She looked at the ground for a minute before she sat down and looked up at Bekah. Bekah snapped a picture.
“Now one with a smile,” Dewdrop said.
Bekah took the picture, but I don’t think anyone except me and Bekah ever saw it. I pulled it out the other day. Looked at the two pictures. And I don’t know which one hurt me more, the picture of a little girl too damaged and heavy with life to force herself to smile, or the other, where she made herself smile. The downtrodden girl captured on that film breaks my heart, but the forced smile pulled across a face laced with pain might be harder to look at.
I overslept and missed the funeral. Tony’s dad had passed and I had come from Springfield to be with him. I had made the visitation but the funeral was the next morning and I had gone to Rose’s house.
There was a palpable energy there now. A kind of restless surge that moved around the house. No one could be still there. It had taken me hours to fall into a restless sleep. No one could feel peace. It was a hostile environment and I was slowly pulling away from it.
I refused to eat there anymore. There was a power that my mother had over me when she cooked for me. Seeing her in the kitchen gave me an overwhelming feeling of being a child under her thumb. I recalled her spurts of anger and her violence. I would feel like I was in trouble and that I needed to apologize every time I ate her food.
But I didn’t need to apologize. She did. Most of you can see that. There are those of you that stand offended and shocked to your core that I called the cops on my brother, but for most of you, it was the only move to make. You can see that this sort of thing needs to stop. Children should not be victimized. No child deserves that. You, the reader, know this. I do too, but when I was with my mother the sheer waves of manipulation would crash on me and I would start to feel guilty. Servant would want to please her.
And every time, it came back to Grasp. Every visit. Every time I saw her. Every brush I had with the woman always came back to Grasp and his innocence or guilt. The more evidence they collected on him, the more she would insist that he was innocent.
One day she said I was a terrible person because I just went with it. I didn’t try to talk to him or even doubt the words the girls were saying about him. She said that I believed all these horrible things about him instantly, and she was not wrong, but there was more to it.
When a child has been abused or is suspected of having been abused, it is very common for the wrong person to ask leading questions that tamper with the statement of the child. Children will often try to give an adult the answer that they are looking for. It is so important that a trained professional do the interview with the potential victim.
I tried to explain this to my mother, but she would not have it. She needed a villain and she wanted me to be it. She needed a source to point her rage at, and I was that person. She would scream and say that I should have known better from the start. Then, she pulled out the real card. The one great swipe that she used every time.
“You are biased. Your opinion can’t be trusted. You never even should have been told. You were molested. How are you supposed to look at it objectively? You see child abuse everywhere you look,” she would snarl.
We have time before things get rowdy, so let’s take a look at what she is saying here.
I came to her a year prior. I was in therapy at the time. I was talking with Roslyn and Branch and we were beginning to find out that there was more back there. I did not know about Shush. I did not know about the abuse. I did not know what had happened to me at the time. What I knew was that Less had been abused. I knew nothing about my own molestation. So, when I started to see that there was more to this than we had first realized, I went to the only person I could trust at the time. I went to my mother.
She had just left Mumble. She had just married Honed, and she was living at his house in the country. She had me over and we went to her front porch swing and looked out over the spacious green grass and the distant pond.
“I need to talk to you,” I said to her.
She grabbed my hand and squeezed. “What about, honey?” She looked at me and I shook my head.
“I am in therapy now.”
This was a sore subject. My mother had never approved of therapy. She had insisted that all a therapist did was tell you that your parents were to blame for all your problems. When she found out that I was in therapy she had rolled her eyes and sighed. “What did I do now?” she said. Honed had laughed.
I had not.
“I know full well you’re in therapy, and now you have come to me to attack me for some unknown reason,” she said. “Well, let’s have it. What did I do?”
“You didn’t do anything.”
“I have just started to get memories back. Things that I had suppressed and couldn’t remember. Things that were done to me. These memories are coming, and I think I need to talk to you about them.”
“Like what? What was so bad?”
“Do you remember the time that I came home from Char’s house and told you that he had beaten me with a snow shovel?” Shadow said. “I think there is sexual abuse, too.”
She flinched and pulled back. She snarled just a bit before drawing in a deep breath and blowing it out.
“I want you to be quiet for a moment. And just listen,” she said.
I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of the cicadas whirling and the crickets chirping. There were birds in the distance and no sign of any cars or any other sort of noise pollution. It was a perfect idyllic setting and she breathed deep and smiled.
“This is my life now,” she said. “This peace and quiet and Honed’s love and a happy marriage. It is paradise and I will not let you take that away from me. Listen, I don’t want to hear it. Don’t tell me. Tell Bekah, or whoever else you can talk to. Build a loyal group of friends that will listen to your troubles. You need that. But I won’t be that for you. I don’t want to hear any more horrible things. I’m done with that. All I want now, is to have my husband. My land. My peace. And my Lord.” She held up her hands and sighed. “Take these troubles away from me, oh Lord. Let me live out my days in love.” She placed her hand on my lap. “I will pray for you but that is all I can do. I can’t help you. I won’t.”
This is how she knew that I had been molested. This is how she knew that I was not whole. And this was what she was using against me.
So, I had missed Tony’s dad’s funeral and I got out of the house as my mother was gearing up for more vicious talk and I made it to my car. I went to sit outside his parents’ house and wait. When he got there, I apologized. I begged for forgiveness.
He blew it off, but I never forgave myself. We drove around the back roads of the area and listened to Dennis Miller on tape.
On my way out of town I picked up Bekah. We got as far as the on ramp for the highway heading home, and I turned around. We had not seen the girls since we made it down there and I wanted to at least look at them and let them know I loved them. I wanted to hug them and maybe take them out for ice cream.
When I got there, Gem met me at the door. Horrid and Mumble were watching a horror movie and Gem wrapped her arms around me and squeezed.
“Wanna watch the movie with me, Jesse?” she asked.
“I’m sorry, honey, I can’t. I am just going to say hi. You look busy so I won’t bother you.” I was not happy about my eleven-year-old sister watching a slasher film, but I had seen worse as a child so I didn’t say anything. “Where is Star? Where is Whippy?”
“Star went to bed,” Gem said. “Whippy is in the kitchen.”
“Bekah, go find Whippy. Check to see if she is okay.” I went upstairs to check on Star. When I got to the top of the stairs and before I was even in the room, I heard this chirping sound like chalk scraping a board. I stopped and listened and heard it again.
I went into the room and saw that Star was asleep but her face was churning. She was horribly upset and while I watched she ground her teeth. It was loud, it was terrible and I dropped down to my knees beside the bed and closed my eyes.
I had lost God long ago, so I could not pray but I took her hand gently in mine and sat on the floor beside the bed. I shook her slightly and she woke up with a start. She looked around and in the light of the lamp by the bedside table she saw me kneeling beside her.
She threw herself into my arms, sobbing.
I didn’t ask. I didn’t ask her what she had been dreaming about. I just held her as she wept. I held her for a long time, whispering that I loved her and calming her down before she slumped back into bed and curled up in front of me like I was a warming campfire.
She was so exhausted. Even though it was only eight, she passed out almost instantly. I took her tiny hand in mine and held it softly as she began to fall asleep again. Within a few seconds she was out. Within a minute her teeth were grinding again.
I couldn’t reach her. I couldn’t save her. I could wake her up again, but I knew that as soon as she fell back to sleep, she would growl and grit again. All I could do was hold her hand and watch her suffer.
In the end, all I could do for any of these kids was hold their hand and watch them suffer. They all hurt, and I could do nothing about it. I watched my brother’s victims burn and all I could do was tell them that I loved them and stand outside of the flame and weep.
So many things go wrong from here. So many terrible things play out. So many defenders for these children become attackers. So many times, they are betrayed. And this one moment, here as I sat the floor, holding this little girl’s hand while she burned, this is the best metaphor for the life they would lead.
Sometimes I can still see her face contort as she grinds her teeth in her sleep, and I wish I could scare the horrors she will see from her. But I never could.