It was Stonefist Stew, a recipe I created for a book called Legends of the Exiles.
Get a can of five different kinds of beans: black beans, navy beans, pinto beans, red kidney beans, and pork and beans. I like to throw an extra can of pinto in for good measure. Chop and stir in a white onion and a bit of smoked sausage. Get the biggest ham steak you can find, dice it into cubes. You’re gonna need to toss that in, too. Add water, and let it simmer for two and a half hours. Stir every thirty minutes. I cook mine in a cast iron cauldron.
When you serve it, the best thing to do is crumble a corn muffin in there. Just plop the damn thing down and chop it up with your spoon.
I set it in front of my boys in 2018, when Rayph was 12 and Tobin, 9, and while everyone is blowing on a spoonful, I begin.
“Rose sent me a message on Facebook the other day.”
All eyes shift to me.
“It was a music video by a country singer named Carrie Underwood. The song was called, ‘Love Wins.’” I fought real hard and I am pretty sure I didn’t roll my eyes. “I sent her a message back that said, ‘Love can’t win this when you don’t even have the strength to be my mother. You were told that I was abused and you said you didn’t want to hear about it. You said that you had your land, your love, and your God, and you wanted peace. I remember you saying, “Take these troubles away from me Lord.” If you can’t sit with me and talk about the horror I have been through, then we have no starting place to begin.’”
I turned to my boys. “Well, she came back with, ‘How do you want to do this?’ I told her that I needed her to hear what I had been through and talk to me about it. She asked when. So,” I took a mouthful of my stew. It was too hot, but I got it down. “We set up a meeting in two weeks. I am going to meet with my mother in two weeks.
“If things go well, and you are interested, you might get to meet her. If you are interested in doing that.”
“I want to meet her,” Tobin spit out right away. He had excitement in his eyes and in that gaze, I found hope.
At Steak and Shake.
“I saw her last night and I am just buzzing.” I looked across the table at Hymnal and she smiled.
“We didn’t talk about Grasp. I don’t know how we will navigate that one, but for the first time I feel like I know my mother. She told me about her relationship with her family. How after her divorce with Char, her family had no respect for her because she couldn’t keep a man. When Less started acting up, they ridiculed her for not being able to control her child. They made fun of her for marrying Mumble, who they knew was weak.
“Rose told me last night that she can’t remember a time when she was happy.” I ate my pancakes but they were sitting on an upset stomach. I had talked to Rose the night before and been up all night after. I had been drinking coffee for almost twelve hours, and I was jittery and blasted.
“That is so wonderful, Jesse, really,” Hymnal said. “I hope everything goes well for you.”
I reached beside me, took Bekah’s hand, and squeezed it. “We have a lot of ground to cover, and one day we will have to tackle the Grasp thing, but for now I think I have my mom back.” More pancakes. I like lots of syrup.
I don’t remember the meal I had with the boys two days later. We were all sitting at the table and I could not taste my dinner. My rage was so great that I could hardly bear it. I looked at the boys and sighed. I think that sigh came out a growl.
“We have to talk about Rose.”
Both boys looked up.
“Well, I had a great talk with her a few nights ago and I thought everything was going to go well.” I didn’t cry. I had wept for hours, and now that sadness was gone. Now all I had in my heart was anger. I needed to keep it away from here, though. Anger does not belong at the dinner table of the Teller house.
“Well, the next morning she texted me screaming. She said that I was evil and I had done what I set out to do, I had hurt her. She said that I was cold and dark, and she was ashamed to have given birth to such a monster.”
“Why did she say that, Dad?” Rayph asked.
“Well, when I told her about my abuse, she cried, and she expected me to comfort her. She wanted me to make it all better for her and I wouldn’t do that. So when I left, she decided I was being cruel by telling her at all, and I was just trying to hurt her.”
“This is called ‘Victim Blaming’ boys,” Bekah said. “When the victim of abuse is yelled at about having gone through the abuse, and it is made their fault, it is called Victim Blaming. When someone comes to you with a story about their pain, it is not about you.”
“Ever,” I added.
“It is always about the victim. Don’t ever think about how the information is upsetting you. It is not about you at all.”
“What she should have done was ask me how I was after admitting all the painful things I said to her. She should have gotten ahold of me the next day and consoled me. I was the one who was abused. But she made it all about her,” I said. “So I admitted to her that I had a great night. I thought we had made a lot of good progress on mending our troubles. But I couldn’t leave it there.” I looked at the boys.
Rayph was already done eating. The kid is fast, but he didn’t even ask to be excused. He knew that was not what tonight was about.
“You guys can see I can’t leave it like that, right?” I said.
“Yes,” Tobin said.
“I don’t know.” The kid couldn’t put it all in words, but he knew something had to be done about her outburst.
“Well, I don’t let people call me horrible names and I don’t let people who are abusive to me into my life. So I was forced to talk to her about it. I said, ‘Listen, mom, I am sorry that last night hurt you, but that was not my intent. There is something we need to get through if this relationship is going to flourish like I want it to. You can’t talk to me this way. I don’t let anyone talk to me the way you just did. Now I know you are upset, so I am going to let it go. But you can never say those kind of things about me again. I don’t let people talk to me that way.’”
I looked at the boys and shook my head. “She came back yelling again. She started telling me that I don’t get to tell her what to do. She said she was The Mom and she made the rules and she was not going to listen to me. I told her again that I can’t have this kind of abusive language in my life. I can’t have it. I begged her please to get herself calm and think.
“Well, she demanded to talk to me on the phone. She said she got off at four in the afternoon and she would call me. Well, she waited until nine, and I had to sit by my phone the whole time. She knew she was doing it and it was a form of manipulation. She wanted me upset when she called.”
“She doesn’t sound like a good person, Dad,” Rayph said.
“Look at me, boys.” They both looked at me and I swung my gaze back and forth to their eyes as I said it. “This woman is dangerous.
“When she finally did call, the phone call lasted about three minutes. She came on with a very sweet voice and said, ‘Hi baby,’ like she had not been screaming at me.
“I told her, ‘Listen, I want to be in your life but I have to warn you I don’t let anyone abusive in my life at all. If you are going to be in my life, you can’t talk to me like that. Ever again.’
‘You are not my father or my God. You don’t get to warn me about anything. I’m The Mom.’
“I begged her again not to scream at me, and she hung up. Then we texted back and forth for a while. She yelled at me, and she kept yelling, ‘The Bible says honor thy mother and father. HONOR ME!’
“Ignored it as long as I could, but then I explained that Bible verse to her very carefully. I want you to hear it, hear my explanation so you understand what the Bible is saying about honoring your parents, so no one can ever use this against you.
“What God is saying when he says, ‘Honor Thy Mother and Father’ is, he is telling us all that we are to live a life in such a way that people look at us and think that our parents must be great people because of the kind of man or woman we turned out to be. If that is fact, then I have the entire world fooled into believing that my parents are truly great. Even though they are not.
“We said a few more things that you guys don’t need to know about before I told her I was going to give her twenty-four hours to text her son anything she wanted to say to him before I blocked her and she could never speak to me again. Well, that time is up now.
“Tobin, I am sorry. You are not going to get to meet Rose. She is not healthy. She is abusive and I would never put you, either of you, in a room with an abusive person.”
He nodded. He was obviously disappointed but he knows I am right. They both know that poisonous people are not allowed in. Toxic people do not get to hurt Tellers. And we don’t tolerate them to hurt anyone in our presence.