When she was a little girl, Rose was cherished by her father. Things started going south as she developed into a young lady. She was pure. She was sweet. But the fear of all fathers of little girls is the end of their girl’s purity, and he began to see shadows and ghosts of whores on his daughter’s face early.
One night as she slept, the door slammed open and she was grabbed by the ankle. She was jerked off the top bunk to slam the floor. She started screaming when she hit the floor, and howling when the belt began to whip and snap. After about twelve slashes, he turned and stormed out the door, slamming it behind him.
She crawled to the top bunk, unaware of why it had happened, and sobbed herself asleep as her body screamed and the lash marks stung. See, he had been at work and a friend said he thought he had seen Rose on a street corner dressed like a sweet snack smoking a cigarette. The guy laughed, and Grandpa came home in a liquor-fueled rage.
She had not been on that corner. She had not been smoking that cigarette.
When my grandma went to work, they gave the house over to Rose to run. She was thirteen and she was told she had to clean the entire house daily and have dinner on the table when they got home. A meat, potatoes, vegetable and rolls. Every night at six. Then the dishes, then any other chores she had not gotten done, then homework.
It did not take long before school just fell away.
Somewhere in there, Aunt was maybe eleven and stole some of Uncle Wrath’s collectible coins. Wrath already hated Aunt, and when Rose found out, she knew he would kill her sister, so Rose took the blame. Wrath began humiliating Rose and beating her. When Wrath showed up with his crew, Rose was to wait on them hand and foot. Wrath would hand her an orange, tell her to peel it right in front of his friends, and laugh. Bramble would watch, unable to stop it. He would hear of the beatings and be unable to do anything about it. The crew had a code. Bramble was hobbled by it and could do nothing to help out the girl he loved. The punishment went on for a year before Rose, whimpering from a beating, told Wrath’s girlfriend at the time, The Queen of Cats, that she had not ever stolen the coins.
Wrath wept and tried to apologize, but the treatment had been too horrible to get over, and soon Wrath grew resentful of the self-loathing he felt when he saw Rose.
One day Rose met a boy at school. She went off with him when he came by the house the next afternoon. He took her to his house and they listened to records. She may have danced. He dropped her off that night, and her father whipped her. They began to call her a whore that day, and on her wedding day, as she and her father stood in the kitchen waiting to go out the back door to the ceremony in the yard, he asked her if she should be wearing white.
She told him yes. She begged him to believe her. But he just looked at her unbelieving and walked away.
She married Char to get out of the house. She dropped out of school and married him when she was still seventeen. She went straight to the house they would set up, and she cleaned and cooked for him.
Her wedding night, Char was unhappy with the sex he received and berated her about it. Told her she was unsatisfying, and gave her a book to read so she could figure out how to be a passable lover. The book had been written by a nymphomaniac and described acts of sex so filthy and dark that her pure mind was nothing but disgusted and terrified that things of this nature would be asked of her. She told me once that the book even depicted the woman who wrote it partaking in an act of bestiality.
I wrote Char a letter when I was a teenager about the visit I had with him when I was 18. In it, I told him that his bragging during that trip of having taken Rose’s virginity before they were married was a lie, because I remembered him bad mouthing her when I was a kid because she had been a virgin and had been an atrocious lover.
I asked her to read that letter to the entire family, and they all gathered to hear it read. They all signed it, and Grandpa walked her to the front porch, hugged her and told her he loved her. He had finally learned of his daughter’s purity and could stop treating her like trash.
She wept when she thanked me for clearing her name.
So when Char went away for his tour in Germany, and Rose moved back into her parents’ home, she was given back her old chores and had to have the house clean and dinner made when they got home. She had a young daughter to care for, and Less was restless. Rose was tired all the time, she said, and that was the story I grew up on.
But it is false. In the last few days and the months before it, I have rebuilt the narrative she has given me over the years, constructing the real story by linking together and snapping on the shards of stories she always separated, and finding the truth.
She did move in with my grandparents, and she did have chores and dinner to make. But I remember her telling me that Bramble helped her with chores. He never would have done that when visiting the house with Uncle Wrath. He did that while my grandparents were at work. While Less slept. While everyone was gone.
Then they spent their time together. That was when I was conceived.
My hope is that they were tender with each other and she got the love she deserved. My hope is he gave her everything she needed, and I know I was conceived in love. As far as her children go, I am sure that I am the only one. Her neglect of Grasp and her hatred of Less shows me that their fathers were the objects of her rage. She punished them when she could not punish their fathers.
When she found out she was pregnant with me, she still lived in Milwaukee. Char was still in Germany. Most likely they had decided that because it was only a one-year tour, she would stay in the States. But now, she had to get to him as soon as possible.
She stared out that plane window that day as she flew back to his dark arms and she could not sleep. She could not rest. Her love was gone. She could never be with him again. And she was headed to the one she hated most.
When she got there, she found a man who could not drive his car. Remembering the one who wove through traffic like a needle through a stitch on his motorcycle. While that sports car screamed and begged for any mercy, she remembered the way her arms felt around Bramble’s body as they swayed with the bike and the wind played wonderful games with her hair.
She dropped on her knees in front of the massive crucifix and sobbed as she was reminded that marriage was forever and she could never leave Char. When she climbed into bed that night, depression dropped on her hard, and she wept quietly in her sleep as she fought to remember the smell of Bramble’s body and the way his muscled form felt against hers.
Her family is prone to depression, and when she thought of the life she was about to go into, she found she could not get out of bed. She laid in bed, quietly crying and praying for forgiveness for taking the only thing she ever really wanted. She saw her time with Bramble as the greatest sin she could have committed, and she longed to take it back as she felt the life he had given her growing inside her. After two weeks, she did get out of bed, and she did begin the long, hard work of building her old life with Char from the ground up.
How many times she wept while he sexed her, I cannot tell you. I fear he enjoyed it when he realized it was happening.
When Less turned one, they left Germany, and Rose went back to her parents’ house. Something in her was dead now. Char went to Georgia to set up a house for them, and Rose waited for the baby. She had a due date that verified Char as the father, but she knew it was wrong. She knew the due date was much earlier. She could tell no one. So when her mother and father left for their trip to West Virginia at the end of her pregnancy, she could not tell them she was nine months pregnant. She had to say she still had a month or more.
I’m pretty sure Bramble was at the hospital on the night when I was born. At the time, they didn’t let fathers or any man in to see the birth, but he probably paced the hospital waiting room, waiting for news.
The Queen of Cats told me the other day that the Red Cross was working with Rose to get news to Char of his son’s birth the moment it happened. I’m pretty sure they helped him get to Milwaukee the next day.
Rose told me a nun prayed over her that night as she fought for her life after giving birth to me, but I am pretty sure it was Bramble who said those prayers. He held her hand and asked God not to take her. He was there when the baby was set in her arms, but he could not stay. Char and Rose’s mother were on the way, and he had to tear himself away before he wanted to.
When Char walked into that room and shouted, “Show me my boy!” Rose held back tears, I fear. When she handed Bramble’s son to Char, she knew the kind of horror she was laying upon me. She had seen how rough he had been when playing with her little brother. How he had purposefully hurt Ball until Grandpa put a stop to it. I think she prayed he would be more gentle on his own blood.
As the years passed, and she saw the true horror he was inflicting, and the alter Pain came forward, she knew she had to get me away from this monster of a man who was plotting his methods of breaking me so that I would never rise up against him.
When she sat with me and Grandma, feeding me snack cakes and hearing me tell of Char’s infidelity, she likely felt her heart jump and skip. As terrible as it was to hear that her husband had strayed from her bed, the potential to finally escape him was even greater. She saw days with Bramble in her future, and she became adamant that day that she was leaving this horrible, abusive deviant who was trying to break Bramble’s son.
She hated herself when she spoke the words that there were only three reasons God had given for a divorce. She most likely flinched when she said the word infidelity, remembering her time years before with Bramble.
But she could have him now. She was with Bramble almost immediately, and she got to see him with his son. She was happy for the only time in her life. She had about four months with him. I hope I got that wrong and it was actually five, but then the big elephant in the room began to snort and trumpet, and they couldn’t avoid it anymore.
Did I tell him? Did I tell him about Alice Cooper and the foot locker? Or maybe I told her. Maybe Bramble saw a bruise, or maybe I flinched when he moved his hand wrong, and Bramble knew I was being beaten.
He could not have handled that. And the argument that night was different then I was told it was. I am convinced he would have walked away from the constant night life for her. For me. But he could not live with the idea of putting me in that car for visitation. He could not watch as his son wilted from the abuse of Char.
Finally I’m sure he gave her an ultimatum that she needed to tell me he was my father. She needed to tell her parents and her brothers. She needed to tell the world that I was his son so he could be my father.
But her father was still staring at her like she was a whore. She still had his watchful, distrustful eye glaring at her. Still the dismissive look. Still the slight jabs. And she could not live with the treatment her father would have given her if he found out she had cheated on her husband. Even though he loved Bramble like a son. Even though he hated Char and wanted him dead. He never could have forgiven her for that.
Bramble walked out that night not because he wanted to party, but because he wanted to wrap his arms around his son and call him son. Wanted to lift up his boy and call him his boy. He wanted the life that he dreamed of.
But everything tilts for this couple. And the weight of her father’s disapproval was way too heavy for him to stop from coming to a slow and gentle fall.
It is a tragedy. Rose’s life is a horror. But it is at this moment that I jump off. This is the moment where my pity ends.
She sent me out of the house with that pool cue after telling me it was a sword so that it would break and she would not have to look at it. She told me to go break the only gift my father ever gave me. His only cherished item to give to his only cherished boy. She told me to go break it so she did not have to look at it for the rest of her life. That was her first evil act. But it would not be her last.
She fed me to Char every weekend. She knew all she had to do was admit to her infidelity, and she could divorce Mumble and take me away from Char. She could marry her soulmate and be happy again, like those few months when Char was in Germany.
I jump off of my pity for my mother when I told her, “Daddy beat me with a snow shovel today.” And instead of calling Bramble, instead of getting me out of Char’s van and out of his life, she sent me back to him.
When she was combing my hair after a bath and found flakes of some sort and asked me about them, I told her they were scabs from when “Daddy had carved his name on the back of my head.”
She should have immediately called Bramble. Immediately she should have gotten me out of that van, out of that house, out of that man’s basement.
I have for my mother this one question, and I want you to think about it, too.
Why should your fake reputation be more important than Bramble’s access to his son?
Her father died before Aunt committed suicide. When I stood at The Two Jokers staring at the clock on the wall, watching as I turned over from twenty to twenty-one, Rose’s father was gone.
But by this time, she was a Christian. Her holiness and her apparent purity was far too important to ever besmirch for Bramble. She had to keep up appearances that she was a perfect Christian woman so she could hold her brothers at bay by making them feel like sinners and pretending her own moral superiority.
When her mother died, she heard Bramble was on his death bed. Now the last of the great judges of her character were gone. She could have walked up to me tearfully and told me to go to my father’s bedside. To hold his hand and let him call me son.
But she didn’t. That white dress she wore to her mother’s funeral was far too perfect to smear with the past.
When I came to her house in 2018, she could have told me. But when she heard of the horrors Char had forced upon me and a few of the ways he had tortured me, she knew this was a secret she had to die with.
But her mother knew. Her brothers knew. Her sister and her father knew. They all knew how to count backwards from nine. And every one of them knew where she was when I had been conceived.
She never had to create a lie about Bramble’s character, telling me he would rather party than love us. But she has been building that defense all of my life. She has been hitting that drum for forty-one years. Since he walked out of her house.
When a woman tells you to go, you gotta ride.
He did not walk out on her. She threw him out. She threw him out because she could not face her father. Her ex-husband. She could not face her son.
Bramble died in October of 2020. Bekah heard me tell the story of Gondik and Barric in February. We missed each other by four months.
She stole a loving father from me and fed me to a violent pedophile. She knew all that stood in the way of me and Bramble was her admission of guilt. And she thought she got away with it. She knew that no one who had a guess as to who my real father was would tell me after he had died. She was clear. She was finally out from under the great lie. The last of the truths had been covered up.
Today Bekah took two postcards to the post office. One was addressed to Rose and said, Jesse son of Bramble. It is a postcard, so she can’t write return to sender on it. It is four words that my wife wrote in flowing, bright red script. It draws the eye. She can’t avoid it. The second postcard went to Char. It said these words:
Jesse son of Bramble. Rose is stealing from you.
I have no pity for the woman who stole my father from me. For Rose, I have only rage.