Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Year of Sundays, ch 10 pt 3

Chapter 10 - Fourth of July

Part 3

The sound checks finally ended, just as Mel came along, tripped over the blanket, and let herself fall to land beside me. "Read anything good in mom's journal yet?"

"Like what?" I asked.

"Like what happened to me."

I could hardly hear her over the music. I glanced at Jeremy. He was half-turned away from us, watching the live band on the stage, and didn't look as if he were paying us the least bit of attention.

I shook my head. "I haven't spent all that much time reading them yet." What did she want me to say? Yes? No? I'm dying to find out how awful it was for you?

"The worst part wasn't that he raped me, you know."

I didn't know. How could there be anything worse for a ten year old kid?

She was staring at the ground.

I moved closer to her, so close we were almost touching, and even then it was heard to hear her over the music.

"I was real pretty. Maybe unusually pretty, I don't know, but I knew it – the way people came up to me, how complete strangers gave me presents. I tried to be fair with you and Liz, but secretly, I was proud to be the beautiful one. I thought mom should enter me in contests, pageants, you know, and I was furious that she refused. I was positive that I was beautiful enough to win tiaras and trophies, but she thought child pageantry was ugly and prideful.

"Sometimes I felt guilty that I got so much attention – but not often."

I was going to ask her something, but her face was flat and blank and I didn't think she'd hear me. Her eyes were staring at something I couldn't see. Maybe just staring into the past.

 "So when he took me – ah, man, it's hard to describe how terrified I was. He dumped me into the trunk of a car and slammed the lid down, and I was so frigging scared I wet my pants."

I tried to imagine it. Couldn't. Part of me wanted to beg her to stop, don't tell me, let me stay innocent of this.

A part of me wanted Jeremy to sit up, scoot closer to us, and engage with us, because that would probably end this conversation. But no, Jeremy was laying flat out in the grass now, his chest rising and falling with an even, steady rate that looked like sleep.

Mel was my sister. If she needed to share the burden of this, I would gladly help her carry it.

"When he got to where we ended up, he yanked me out of the trunk and saw that I was soaked. And he said, 'You are a gross, disgusting little girl, so now I have to punish you.'

"I cowered, because he was big and strange, and his voice was mean, and because I had no idea what he meant. Would I have to stand in a corner? Wash all the dishes all by myself for five days? What punishment was big enough for peeing my pants? I knew ten-year-olds weren't supposed to do that.

"I was so ashamed and embarrassed that it seemed to make perfect sense that he would lead me into a shed and tell me to take my clothes off. I stopped being the beautiful girl because now I was dirty. He told me that, said it over and over, and said I was so dirty, the only way to get clean was from the inside out."

I must have made some sound then, maybe even a sob, because Mel seemed to come back to the present.

"Don't cry for me, Jess," she said. "There's been enough of that."

"I have to," I said. "I'm your sister."

She laughed, but it wasn't a humorous sound. "Eh, it was a long time ago. Anyway. What I'm trying to tell you is that mom burned those journals. She said if I could move on, then she must force herself to move on, as well. You won't find those secrets, Jessie. Only I can give those to you."

I nodded, and suddenly knew that I didn't want them. Let them be ash like burned journal pages.

"I can't tell you everything even if I want to, because a lot of that time I was so shocked that I just went away inside my head. I came back to you, to our room, and crawled into bed beside you, and pretended my little sister could protect me."

I was almost too much, and now I couldn't stop the tears. "And I was curled up in my bed pretending the same thing."

"For awhile I thought getting taken was punishment for my pride. But as I got older I knew, logically, that the world doesn't really work that way."

But religiously, it might. I let the thought be in my brain for a second, but didn't say it out loud. Elizabeth was the religious sister, not Mel.

"Not all of me came back, you know."

I nodded. Melanie the found girl wasn't the same as the girl who'd never been lost.

She said, "At first I thought if I left my voice behind, that I could keep all the rest of me. If I never spoke again, I wouldn’t ever have to say what happened to me. It made sense to my ten-year-old self. It didn't work. Not speaking was too obviously damaged, so I took that back and decided to stop being beautiful."

I shook my head. "You didn't. You couldn't. You're still beautiful." She was. She had thick, black wavy hair, skin like satin, and the eyelashes of a mascara model.

"Yeah, but I don't have to think that I am. I mean, it sounds kind of clich̩, right? That confidence makes a person beautiful, and low self-esteem makes one unattractive. But it's more than that. It's a self-perception that's arrogant, that's egotistical, and I don't have to embrace that. I'm nobody special, nobody significant РI'm just a person like any other."

We'd been talking in low, intense voices. The band ended their set, and a different group of musicians started setting up.

Jeremy still appeared to be sleeping in the sun.

Bu suddenly Silas was standing above him, spitting loud words. "You little prick. You had no right. Who do you think you are?"

Jeremy blinked sleepy eyes open, looking completely unconcerned.
"What are you talking about?"

"This," Silas said, and pointed to the left side of his face where there was a red blotch.

Jeremy sat up. "Someone hit you? But why?"

"My aunt hit me," Silas said, glaring. "Right after she called me a dancing boy."

"A dancing boy?" Jeremy said, the question loud in his tone. "What is that supposed to mean?" The corners of his lips twitched as he got to his feet to face Silas.

Silas seemed to catch on that Jeremy was genuinely mystified, and it had a calming effect.

Jeremy brushed his fingertips gently across Silas's cheek. "Do you need some ice?"

Silas shook him off. "No, I don't need ice. I wanted to kick your ass for outing me, but I can see you have no idea what I'm talking about."

Jeremy might be puzzled, but I wasn't. "Wait, Silas. Aunt Margie slapped you?"

"And called him a dancing boy," Jeremy said, nodding with false seriousness.

"Um," I said, raising my hand like a second grader in class. "Jeremy didn't out you. I introduced him as your boyfriend."

Silas slapped his hands to his forehead. "Why, Jess? I wasn't planning to tell the whole world. It's none of their business."

"Because she forgot about Josie. And I wanted to punish her. I'm sorry."

"How on earth does telling her about me punish her?" he asked.

"I don't know." I groaned, feeling like a stupid jerk. "It's not like I took the time to think it through. But it worked." I could feel a tiny grin sneaking onto my face.

"Yeah," Silas said. "Upset enough to wallop me the same as she did when I was a kid."

My grin slunk away. "What? Wait a minute," I said. "Aunt Margie hit you when we were little? Did mom know about this?"

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