I remember Grandmother when she was happy! Really, I do! That was before she met the Jackass. We were teenagers at the time. Grandmother was a new widow. She’d gone off to the to do some crazy humanitarian stuff. She came back a different person and never talked about it much. If you asked, she’d only burst into tears and hide in her room, so I stopped asking. Anyway, our laws are weird here in the good ole US of A. Grandmother now had a college degree, and they were making her go back to high school. She was bummed out, but tried to make the best of it.
Her Mother fell off the wagon and went back into her addiction full throttle. I hated to see Grandmother feeling guilty about it. She always had to be the one that picked up the pieces of her mother’s rampant idiocy. Many times, I came by to help do what I could, but it was always hard and her mother hated me and accused me of stealing her daughter away. I was only trying to be a friend. So, Grandmother went to school everyday, and worked every night except Saturday.
On Saturday nights, she never lacked for a date, and fancy dates at that… nothing that I could have ever afforded to give her. I saw her leaving the house several times in a formal gown complete with the family tiara and another uniformed man on her arm. She smiled to them, but I could always see the hurt in her eyes. Her eyes were brown, a rich, deep brown that turned black when she was pissed and seemed to lose life completely after her husband died. I hated seeing the pain there, but what was I do. Ah, but I digress.It was one of those young civil air patrol boys that she hooked up with. She still went to the base every weekend dressed to nines, but Friday nights were reserved for him. I didn’t like him from the get-go, I tell ya, something about him rankled me inside. Dad said it was just jealousy, so I let it slide. Now, I know, that my instincts were right.
One night, he brought her home late. Yeah, I know, because I was watching out my window for her to come home. Don’t know why, just felt protective for some reason. Anyway, she got out of the car in tears and ran into the house. I smiled and thought maybe they’d broken up. After that, he started picking her up at school everyday, and I would see him sitting in the alley behind the house watching her. I went over to ask him what he was doing and he sped off.
The next Friday night, I watched her get in the car with him again. It angered me to see how she looked so fearful, like she was more afraid of not going with him than she was of death. I watched, when I should have gone out and pulled her away. But, I didn’t, and I will never forgive myself for that.
She came back late. The Jackass could never bring her home on time, so her mother was always punishing her. The poor girl couldn’t get a break. I watched as she got out of the car in the rain, her white satin turning transparent as she ran for the house. He got out too, shouting and screaming like a raving lunatic before he fell on the muddy ground and beat at it and screamed until her mom came out to see what he was doing. She babied the jackass, hugging him and inviting him inside. It was evident that Grandmother had broken up with the Jackass. Her mother should have left it well enough alone. She didn’t, and Grandmother paid the price, and paid it dearly.
The next night, and then every afternoon and night for six weeks, they went out. I slowly watched as the life drained from Grandmother. I tried to talk to her at school, but she would push me away verbally, even physically. Her eyes, her beautiful eyes, lost their glimmer. Her lips lost their smile, replaced by a sullen frown. No one seemed to notice or care, but I did. I noticed the difference in her poetry, too. We were in young authors together, so we met and shared our work every week at noon break. Her words became dark, filled with pain. I wanted to help, but she kept pushing me away.
Now, it was two weeks before prom and she was crying outside the gym. I asked why, and between blubbers she told me she’d broken up again with him and this time no one was going to convince her otherwise. I asked why, and she told me that he wanted her to do things with him that only a wife and husband ought to do. She didn’t want to do it, and he did, and so she called it quits. I respected Grandmother for that. She’d had a moral standard, and on this she was firm.
I took advantage of the situation and asked her to the prom myself. She agreed. She didn’t want to miss her Junior prom. She’d already been to two, but this one was hers! It was a once in a lifetime thing! So, she agreed and I went home to race around renting a tux, ordering a corsage and all that stuff. My mom was thrilled. I’d finally agreed to do something “normal” as she called it. I’d never dated anyone, really had never even thought about it. The girl of my dreams was Grandmother, and no one else could compare.
Prom night rolled around and I drove my transam across the street to pick her up. I wanted to do it all nice and proper. I wanted her to see what a gentleman that I could be, and selfishly, I wanted her to like me as more than just a friend. When she came out the door, I nearly fainted! Really, I did! She was dressed in a hot red dress that clung to her petite little curves in a way that gave me hard on instantly. Damn, she’s beautiful, I thought as I fumbled to open the box with the white rose corsage that I’d ordered just for her. Her hair, oh, I nearly died to reach out and touch it! I’d never seen it down and loose before. She always wore it braided or up in a tight bun. I’d never seen hair so richly black and soft. She smiled, and I thought maybe I saw a hint of joy there. She was probably just laughing at my obvious discomfort.
We went through the picture ritual and the mom’s crying and cooing and all that, then got in my car to go! Have fun, they told us, see you in the morning! The morning, indeed, I thought as we drove around the corner. Damn, I muttered as I looked up in the mirror and saw him there. The Jackass was following us…his damned old rust bucket of a pickup was right on our tail. Don’t look now, I said, as I pointed to the mirror, but he’s behind us. You want me to lose him? She agreed, shaking and gritting her teeth.
I turned down the old ridge road that we all called the devil’s backbone and nearly lost the car as I sped around that first, really sharp-ass curve. Grandmother had a look on her face that was terror, mixed with terror! You know the look, that one you get just before your car careens into something really hard. Well, that was the look she had! I digress…
As we sped across the country side, he almost kept up with us. At one point, he was just beyond where he could see us when I pulled a righty in between the old oak trees down by the old cemetery. It was a narrow, paved road that literally led to nowhere save an old gravel field access lane that led back out onto the old pike road. We bumped along the ruts in the gravel as I tried to go as fast as my low-slung car would go.
Then, we were spraying gravel out onto the road as I jumped gears and sped down the pike and down into the old gorge road. Down at the bottom was an old covered bridge. I knew how to drive around and underneath it, too. Being night, I knew that my black trans would be hidden by the casual driver, so I sped as fast as I dared.
At the edge of the bridge, I pulled another tight righty and then spun in the mud until we were safely under the overhang of the bridge. I flipped off the lights, put the car in neutral, and cut the engine. Then, I turned to Grandmother and saw the tears instantly flood down her cheeks.
I did my best to console her, but she shied away from me in a way she’d never done before. She curled in a fetal like position against the passenger and folded her arms around her shaking knees. I didn’t know quite what to do, so I just sat there with her. I asked her if she wanted to talk, and she shook her head.
We sat there in silence for a long time. Finally, I watched her uncurl and try to flatten out the hopelessly wrinkled gown. She thanked me, then, as she looked up to meet my eyes. The look of respect and something akin to love threw me off my pedestal and straight into hell as the fires of passion burned through me. I reached out, and I — it’s embarassing now to admit, but I kissed her. She didn’t pull back either… she leaned closer to me. I didn’t know what to do, so I kissed and kissed until I just couldn’t stand the confinement of the car. If I didn’t get away from her, and soon, I was going to do something that was way not cool!
So, I suggested a swim.
“In this?” She sniffled as she looked up to me as if I’d flipped my beanie.
“Nah, You can borrow my gym clothes if you can handle the smell.” I smiled at her and reached into the back for my gymbag.
“The water will kill the smell, I think.” She laughed then… a laugh like I hadn’t heard her laugh for months! It was a good sound!
Oh, I was so pissed off! I was ready to kill him. The only thing that held me back was the look of pain and shame in her eyes. Grandmother had removed the formal gown, and was changing into my gym shorts. There wasn’t any reason to hide. We’d grown up together and had seen each other’s naked bodies for years. Only now, my eyes widened and I felt the fire of anger in my blood.
Her back, her chest, her beautifully smooth stomach were all black and blue with bruises. Some of them were so dark that I thought for sure ribs must be broken underneath them. All I could do was stand in the middle of the river and watch with abject horror and realization of what he had been doing to her.
“Don’t say a word.” She insisted as she reached under my t’shirt and unfastened her bra. Then she dove in beside me and surfaced not a foot in front of me. “He didn’t really mean it. He was just angry, ya’ know. He said I was just a squaw and it was time I learned that.”
“You are no one’s squaw, Grandmother!” I insisted, reaching out for her shoulders to hug her, but she cringed away. “Look, see what he’s done to you! You’re afraid of me– ME. I’ve never raised a hand to you, never even in play. I love you.”
Grandmother looked up into my eyes, and I’ll be honest, it felt like a white hot flame coursing through my body, it did. I wanted her so many ways beyond Sunday thinking that it wasn’t even pitiful! She was so beautiful, especially here, in the river under the moonlight. The cold water had tightened the skin on both our bodies, and had rendered our shirts nearly invisible to boot. I turned and dove, swimming upstream, hoping to calm my own emotions.
Finally, I rejoined her, and we splashed an played like children for most of the night. As the sky above began to lighten, a precursor to the dawn, it was time to head back home. I drove her in silence, and dropped her around back where she could slip into the house without any of the neighbors seeing her unkempt hair and wrinkled gown. The last thing we needed was the old biddy across the street to start spreading rumors!
“Grandmother, I — I just want you to know, that if you need anything– anything at all, I’m here! I mean that! Just say the word and I’ll sleep outside your door if you need me to.” I told her before I let her slip out the door.
“Thank you.” She’d said in a cold monotone before running across the backyard and into the back door.
I sat there for a few minutes until I saw her peeking out the edge of the curtain just to see if I was there. Then, I faked a smile, waved, and drove on down the alley to circle back to my house.
I didn’t see the jackass again for a whole week. I’d heard that his truck was out of commission. Gee, I wonder why it would suddenly be sporting four non-functional sparkplugs, a half-dead battery that wouldn’t hold a charge and a loose alternator belt. Hmmmm….