Behind The White Gate is my NaNoWriMo 2015 novel. I wrote it in one month. I changed and edited it million times during the next eleven over more coffee than I care to admit to. And more may be to come. This version I am sharing, it gives a piece of me to you. I am open and love any feedback you might have. If you wish to share it personally you can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org .
I am that kind of writer who can tell you what I write..or what I am writing is about. But I will say that this one came to me by passing a white gate on a daily walk to a job I hated and letting my imagination go wild, combined with the coming of womanhood and the women in and out of my life through out the years who had shaped, molded, and influenced me, for the good or for the bad. There are also intertwined lessons in life we often learn the hard way and their shaping of oneself and there is the old “Nothing goes according to plan.” It is being lost and becoming grown up and recognizing yourself in others around you…especially those you tried to be the least like. It is often the lack of denying any longer all that has made you…all of it.
Behind The White Gate is secret’s that aren’t secret, controversy we face today and are just now beginning to speak of but in many homes still in hushed tones. It is shame that you carry and hide from only everybody else who also has their own. It is memories of childhood perceived as an adult. It is letting go. It is changing. It is forgiving, but also not forgetting.
It is raw emotion and no giving excuses.
It comes from a place deep of them that I hope resonate on the page for the reader.
It is fiction drawn on very real emotion.
Past that, maybe you can help me explain it better.
I will release over time, the Prologue, and then chapter by chapter. I had previously released some bits and pieces. This new full chapter by chapter release will be named WIP (work in progress) Behind The White Gate. A Novel. Chapter 1 (and so on). You can easily search in the search bar for all pieces and keep in order as released.
Currently I hope this will go to publish sooner than later. I am in the search of, and have been researching for, a Literary Agent. Feel free to contact me at my email above.
Thank you for reading.
Peggy J. Davenport
Going to her own bedroom she fell into the first best sleep she had had in weeks. Likely out of pure emotional drain. For the first time in weeks her sleep held no dreams. The last thought she had before drifting off was “I had never even wanted children. He and I had even decided never to have them by trying and took precautions not to have them. We always said if an accident happened that was one thing then, so be it. But we had actually thought of our lives without children.” She had held her journal notebook trying to write out her thoughts but no words ever went on paper.
The next morning she woke more refreshed than she could remember in a long time. Starting the day with a cup of coffee on the porch and her notebook…thankfully she had not forever lost it after leaving it at the smoky Old Quarter Cafe the other night. Back in the loft in Las Angeles she had a huge book shelf with hundreds of these books now. Sixteen years worth and here at home her shelves held some as well from the nineteen years before that, they still lined her shelves seemingly untouched. Pages filled with her thoughts, idea’s, works, bits and pieces and notes of stories and other writing’s. Some that went onto be something, other’s that lay as memories of a moment. This day she wrote a stream of idea’s and thoughts and feelings…journal like items that helped her come to conclusions of an idea or finding in a direction after having gone round and round writing something from different angles which was something she had developed over years as a writer by trade and not just by hobby, or as once she had been, a child. A child with her head filled with so many idea’s and crowded thoughts and feelings that she had found, with writing, some solution to release them.
As she thought about the life growing inside of her formed from the life that she had taken, and the decisions she had to make she had already mostly formed the idea of what to do…what her decision about what to do with the pregnancy would be. But sitting and writing now with a blanket over her lap and coffee in one hand, pen in another and a night of dreamless sleep behind her, finally, she wrote her feelings of having children…of having this child. And notions of what it would be like with one, especially as a single mom. And more especially as a single mom with the history and news and gossip and emotions and one day of her child knowing all of this that were involved that went with it all. And she considered her fears of mental illness and depression, the suicide of her father and the attempts her mother had taken. She even…this one was hard, wrote what it would have been like having this child with her husband, had none of the bad ever happened and if he was still the man she had known when they married, holding hands with him through hiking in Griffith Park and the picnics on the beach, surfing, and that time the surf board slammed him in the face real hard and all they could do was laugh, he was ok of course. Their Sundays spent visiting their favorite haunts…that one bookstore in Malibu where the huge shaggy dog always lay sleeping right in the open doorway and you had to step really wide to get in over it at all. It was a good thing she had long legs and she often had wondered what short legged people had to do. But these were things she thought of and wrote about. She also wrote a line in another direction of having the child with him and WITH the bad. The person not with whom she had fallen in loved with and married and knew but the person that she had to admit she had spent a year living with who had become a complete stranger. A very angry, moody and hurtful stranger. What then? What if a baby had not made him remember who he was and become again that good man she had once known? What if he remained angry and hurtful, or even became more so? What if it wasn’t only toward her that he turned that anger, but toward the baby? She faced a lot of what the problems were in writing it all down, forcing herself to think about all the things she didn’t want to. And how she had no control over some of it, and all the control over other parts. She thought and wrote of how often and in how many ways she had tried helping him, encouraging them to go to marital counseling, encouraging him to go to therapy himself. Something. She had tried to stay calm most times, more out of fear and walking on eggshells trying to not set him off into another rage that always ended aimed right at her. But other time’s she had been able to have complete calm conversations with him about it all, left off with his promises and agreements of getting help, admitting he needed it which he would forget by the next day. Help he would later make no move to get at all. And there had been time’s that frustration had won and she ended up in tears, even yelling at him “What is wrong with you?!” Once being a time in the kitchen, always their kitchen, when he had nitpicked at her all day, chasing her for a fight, like a small dog nipping just enough to bruise but not draw blood. So she had begun to cry, softly and to herself at first, as she kneaded dough, making bread which had become one of her favorite past times, her tears may have even fallen into the dough but she hadn’t cared. He walked around behind her, picked items up, set them down, sat and read things at the table, all the while speaking under his breath, mimicking when she spoke and just being down right mean. She hadn’t taken the baiting all day to the fight he was picking but finally her tears fell and blinded her to her task at hand and then he said “I liked you with your hair cut short, you know, the way you had it years ago. Much better than it is now.” It hadn’t even been the words that hurt but the tone, nasty. Sarcastic, venom filled just spitting at her and she finally punched her hands into the dough and with her head thrown back but her back still to him she wailed and yelled “WHY?! Why?! Why won’t you get help?!” Turning to him, her hands covered in yeasty paste and flour held out toward the ceiling. She only cried again, so blind with tears and hurt and frustrations more than she knew then that he had gotten the better of her, but she didn’t even care anymore, he had gotten what he wanted and she had lost her temper but not in the anger he had hoped, in her tears of giving up “WHY?!” Was all she had cried again and stormed off to wash her hands in the bathroom, change and leave the loft. She just had to walk until she couldn’t walk anymore and she’d returned home and went straight to bed. That night he had walked up from his downstairs shop soon after and crawled into bed next to her, she had been crying quietly into her pillow and he whispered “I don’t know. I don’t want to lose you is all I can think of” was all he said as he curled up around her. But she could never understood, then, why a person would treat someone they didn’t want to lose in such a way and even more so why he hadn’t wanted to hold on for so long and was now wanting to. It wasn’t long until it seemed he forgot those words, though. Now sitting eighteen hundred miles or so away on a porch on another coast she had moved on from writing idea’s and angles of her situation to writing these memories down, letting them pour from her, writing in her questions and wondering if there had been a solution she had missed, but it was too late to focus on that now even if she found one, and she wrote more toward her decision about having a baby now. Or not having one.
She wrote and wrote and never noticed that every so often her mom came and refilled her coffee cup, mixed just the right amount of sugar and cream and left quietly letting her stay lost in her thoughts. One thing the people of this house seemed to understand was to leave a person be when they needed it, especially if it was doing something that seemed to be their chosen release in life. Her legs curled up underneath her on the big whicker love seat, a soft gray blanket lay over her lap and her feet in warm socks…the morning went from beautiful and sunny to the afternoon bringing in rain and thunderstorms…and still Bird never stopped writing. Well covered underneath the large deep porch the rain never touched her though from time to time a wind gust sprayed mist her way, only to be mixed with tears that already wet her face. From time to time she could be caught staring off into space…see the memory playing before her like a movie. Sometimes tears came fresh to her eye’s and even once her mother watched through the kitchen window as she held her hand to chest and heaved back a cry…a lump stuck way deep down, the kind that seizes your chest. But still her sisters and mother and grandmothers gave her space, only casting occasional glances and refilling tea, sometimes you needed to cry like that. She once set a plate with a sandwich and tomato soup for her at lunch but it sat left un-touched like Bird had never seen it. The intense focus was not something new to this family and this family was well bred to leave one alone when in it. Usually not due to any mental field they were in but an artistic and creative one, actually. In Bird’s case they didn’t know which exactly she was in or what the words written were for and didn’t much care, they just cared for her and gave her quiet standing.
It wasn’t until the porch light came on with the dark that she stopped and moved to stretch…leaving the notebook laying there and slipping her feet into her shoes she stepped off the porch and went to get the guitar that she had seen still sat in her fathers library after all these years and walked back out to the firepit that someone had lit in the yard after the night had fallen and the rain had stopped. Grass wet beneath her feet. All of the women of The House Behind The White Gate had gathered around, chatting and talking, They smiled at her and made room in the circle..and they waited as her fingers strummed the stings and the tune began…and not the songs of her father they expected but instead songs that she herself had written over the years. She sang on a night crisp after an afternoon storm and her voice rang out across the clear night air like a bell…the story behind the lyrics even clearer.
After some time and enjoying the music, song, warmth of the fire and family and the healing that they could feel falling over them, Bird started in on some familiar songs of their papa’s…and her sisters and mother joined in. After Bird’s own songs and the settling of a beginning of a healing it wasn’t sad, though somewhat bittersweet to hear these songs at this house again for the first time in sixteen years.
Bird opened her eye’s and looked around at them as they continued to sing, all of their voices joining and ringing across the island…during this a few neighbors had walked in the gates and joined, bringing coolers and blankets and chairs and sitting around the fire with them. This was what she remembered about the neighborhood and she smiled brightly when she saw them come, not all things had been bad and not all things had changed, this warmed her on a crisp chill night… she saw Del walk in with a big dog and take up some space around the fire, thermos in hand. He nodded and sat and listened to the songs playing….and then at one point during her papa’s songs he had been handed a guitar by my mother and he strummed along…and began to sing too, words that he must have known long before…but then again…that was my papa on the island, Bird thought. He hadn’t died…he lived on and not in a bad memory or gossip but in at least song and lyric and when mentioned what came to mind first was always his big deep laugh.
I smiled and kept on singing….the voices filling my soul.
Then before the night came close to an end of music that had continued on to other songs of neighbors and friends and family known and shared…the fire stoked and kept hot…I slipped away for a quiet walk to stretch my legs and back, hands warming in the pockets of my coat and my scarf pulled up around my chin and neck.
“Mind if I join?” Del stepped in beside her in the dark.
“I heard all of the Strife women could sing but only one truly sang like a bird.”
“I am sure you have heard a lot about the Strife family on this island, sir.”
“I have.” Head down, smile gone and face went serious he nodded, hands deep in his own pockets.
“Everybody has their stories. And this island likes to make use of them all for their own entertainment a lot of the time.”
I nodded to that one and we walked in silence for awhile.
“Could I ask you out to dinner next Friday night?”
“I know…I am sorry. You are probably nowhere ready to date after everything that happened. I would like to date you….sometime. But in the meantime I offer my friendship and don’t ask for more, if you’d accept that?”
I took a deep breath and gave it due thought. “Maybe we could do that. It’s too small of an island to make enemies and I don’t have any friends here.”
“Good.” Even in the dark I could see his smile grow broadly across his face.
Suddenly I felt something rub my leg and yelped in surprise. “Bill! Heel!” Del spoke firmly and low and I saw his big dog round to his other side and walk at a perfect heel. And I started laughing…loud…and continuously. He joined in with a chuckle and we headed back to the circle of others around the firelight.
I saw Sas give me a look and raise her eye brow in that Oh So Big Sister way she had and look over at Mag with a look that said “told you so.” And Mag smiled at the two of us and then turn back to the child she had laying across her lap and slipping her hand into that of a man’s who sat beside her. Walking up they both stood, the man taking the child and turned to Del and I.
“Hi Del. Bird I’d like you to meet my fiancee, Jason and his son Jack.” My sister had nice looking man standing next to her and apparently a young father of a young boy who’s mother had taken off after getting wrapped up in some mistakes. Yes, Del was right, everyone had their stories. I realized then that I had not even thought of the lives my family went on leading, growing up and dating beau’s all these years and was caught a bit off guard and a little wistful at the time I had lost. Though I needed that time strangely for me, I had paid a price for it too.
The next morning…I lay in bed and stretched out and enjoyed the softness. My bruised body was finally healing and the color fading and with it decisions became clearer. I was sure. I just lay there thinking, enjoying the peace I felt come over me and relaxed, released so much of the tension that I had been holding…for the first time for as long as I could remember. Yet I also couldn’t, or wouldn’t try to, avoid the sadness. My mind lingered to a memory…many memories, of laying in bed on a Saturday morning together, him and I. In the happier times. The memory brought a bittersweet sadness but I felt for the first time the enjoyment of a good memory while letting go of the instant regret and guilt that I felt..and the sadness and tension that had come the past year, when he had changed. I hadn’t wished to shoot him, but it happened as it had and try and different as I wished I couldn’t change that or take it back. The realization was I had protected myself, if it had not happened it might have ended up being me who’s blood stained the concrete sidewalk. I had not shot the man I loved but I had shot the man he had become and who had hurt me, who would likely have killed me and who had come very close to it previously. Him catching me leaving him that day might have been the end of it….well, it was the end of it. I didn’t embrace that fact. I didn’t forgive myself for pulling the trigger. didn’t excuse it. I just…understood it. For a moment I could think about the good of him, the good he and I had had before. Our mornings in bed together before it all changed.
Finally the smell of bacon and coffee that had made it’s way upstairs made her too hungry to stay in bed any longer and she padded down in her pajama’s…hair a mess but a smile on her face as she entered the kitchen to the smell of bacon and the pile of pancakes…and saw Del mid-plancake flip…hearing his deep laughter the second she saw him. She stopped, shocked for a moment. Mag caught site of her and stopped laughing while holding baby Jack in her arms, taking his little baby hand she waved and said “Hey Auntie Bird, come get some coffee.” Jason stood nearby pulling dishes off of shelves and threw a smile and greeting at her over his shoulder.
Heck…I was already down there, Del wasn’t a love interest…oh no. Nowhere ready to think of that, though his blue eye’s twinkled when he saw her, they would only be friends. She…why was she even thinking this? She pushed the idea out of her head. She couldn’t do relationships, dating or even sex.No. God…it had been…when was the last time she had thought of such things? She couldn’t even remember. She felt guilty at thinking them. She laughed and came in, pushing her wild black hair into a bun at least. She poured her coffee, shook little Jacks hand, said hello to everybody else in the room including Mag’s fiancee, Jason and then to Del, as if not a ruffled feather upon her. She took a spot at the island sitting across from Del who was flipping pancakes and Mag’s handed her a plate piled high…”I can’t eat all this!” I said
“She will make you” Sas said from behind the newspaper sitting at the breakfast nook table where she was munching on her own slice of bacon, her raised eye brow over her thick black rimmed glasses peeked at me over the top of the paper. Her face saying ” I’ve done this a time or two… don’t argue. Just eat.”
But my stomach grumbled and taking Sas’s un-spoken advice I dove into my plate and Mag handed Jack to me to go take care of the eggs. Suddenly…I stopped eating. I was holding a baby and….Mag’s looked up and caught on “Oh…let me here. I’m sorry Bird I didn’t think…” She trailed off and looked around the room, at Del, biting off her words.
“It’s ok..It’s fine.” I bit into my pancakes and soon the room started to relax….get busy and pretend there wasn’t an elephant standing right in the middle of it. The normal way of the Strife family. Del gave a quizzical look and then seeing the reaction of the women…and Jason pretending to get busy with Jack too…went back about his pancake flipping making a big show of them and making baby Jack laugh…Sas kept reading the paper after a good hard shake and Mag finished scurring around with breakfast making and encouraging Jack to eat and then started cleaning but the guys shooed her to sit with some coffee while they handled the mess. She sat on a stool next to Bird, holding baby Jack and leaned close whispering “I’m sorry…this probably isn’t the time to have a baby around and I shouldn’t have thrown him in your arms, and when I saw your face when I handed him to you, I just …” I cut her off “It’s fine, Mag, really…everything is fine…it just kinda hit me for a second is all and yes it’s not easy and it’s weird and difficult and it all will be but it’s fine…it’s needed and life goes on and it doesn’t stop revolving because of my problems.” I leaned over and fed some pancake to Jack.
After the breakfast was eaten and cleared away, Del wiped his hands on a dishtowel and turned and asked who was up for some kayaking…Sas folded the paper, grabbed some books on the table by the back door saying something over her shoulder about work, took off…and Mag took baby Jack up off the floor where he was playing and said something about plans they had to meet with another couple and scurried out the door pushing Jason ahead so that it was just Del and Bird left in the kitchen…Bird was reading a part of the paper and Del turned and stared at her until her eye’s came up from it, giving him a look and saying “huh?”
“Kayaking…come on it will be fun.” He said.
“It will be fun, they say.” I mimicked, eye’s back on the paper, bacon in my hand. “Always the last famous words.” And took a bite of bacon. “It’s cold.”
“It’s perfect…go get dressed and I will bring the truck around.”
So an hour later they had shoved off the embankment of Offat’s Bayou, which was a bay area of Galveston Island, where they had driven to known for it’s sailing and other aquatic sports. The scene around them on a crisp winter day was of sailboats and glass pyramids. And they sat in a shared kayak paddling into the water away from shore…for a moment they were silent and Bird felt that the shoving farther from shore was exactly what her soul felt like…away into the deep waters and farther from safety…such was her life these days, toward the deep end. She dipped her paddle into the water again moving farther still. She wondered if she would ever be able to forget and ever feel normal again.
Del finally spoke from his seat in the kayak behind her, “I have a feeling that there is a lot more going on with you than just what was in the papers, Bird…if you want to talk…you can.”
I just paddled slowly, following his lead. I didn’t respond but instead looked over the sunlight glittering on the calm waters. The waters , however, did not reflect my life at the calm rate they gently lapped…but knowing that the water ran deep, was murky and sharks swam in it, did…this was where my mind wandered.
Del began chattering away, pointing out the sites and they paddled on through to some marshes…he occasionally asked if she was ok or needed a break…she always said she was fine and shook her head to keep paddling…letting her mind drift over his words and over the waters….just drift…not have to make any decisions.
She paddled on.
Finally Del had them directed back at the embankment and they had put in a few hours of kayaking, he praised her for hanging in there and doing a good job…obviously being knowledgeable and kind of kept up a busy chatter. Handing her a water bottle out of the cooler they sat for awhile after everything was loaded up, she was still in the calm quiet that she had been in all day.
“Bird…are you pregnant?”
I nodded. Looking down at the bottle in my hands.
“You aren’t keeping it though, huh?”
I waited awhile…I thought, ‘let that question roll in my mind and simmer’, and then shook my head and softly said “Yes, I am and no. I’m not. The family doesn’t know what I have decided yet though, they just know it’s a decision to be decided.”
He only nodded and reached over sliding his hand in hers and squeezed. The warmth of his solid large hand felt good, as good as the silence that he continued sitting there with her in until she was ready to shake it off and get back to the house.
She got back , leaving Del driving off in his jeep, to find her mother and both grandmothers on their knee’s in various parts of the garden snipping and trimming and digging and weed pulling…the day was unusually warm for winter but then again…this was Galveston, a little island off of Texas. Ninety degree weather could be found one day and forty the next, smack dab in the middle of January. One didn’t pack away the summer wardrobe here.
I joined my mother in the garden and bent to knee and helped her toil in the soil in perfect silence. The ladies all looked up by raised eyelids and brow but not more than that, no pause given. My mother wasn’t one much for nonsense talking and had always been very comfortable in long silences, another like her realization just then, allowing the words to come when they came and letting the thoughts drift when they drifted and sometimes…not thinking much at all and focusing on the task at hand. But never not thinking, either. Sometimes sort of…meditating. She was realizing that some things she had found cold and stand-off-ish about her mother as a child were now traits she recognized in herself and also found she appreciated about the older woman now. Her mother’s strong presence seemed solid next to her and right now that solid was just what she needed. Solid with silence something to be grateful for.
Eventually Mag called out to them carring a trey of hot tea onto the porch through the kitchen door and yelled at them “Take a break you old ladies your knee’s can’t take that much kneeling without one, and it’s cooling off, perfect for a cup of tea!” So we dusted the dirt off and went and sat on the porch, I leaned back on the porch steps with a warm mug in my hands and closed my eye’s basking in the warm sunlight of the day, remembering a time when we were kids, just the three of us first girl’s then, the two younger so set apart from us not yet born. Mom and Papa were kneeling in the garden together…I remembered watching them and thinking “they love each other.” Right then and there. I don’t know why those memories seemed so crowded out of my mind by the bad one’s and I shook my head as the red water bathtub image tried to creep in my mind again, an image that had severely blocked out many possible others. I saw my mother rocking in her chair and watching me. Maybe not so much a look of love as much as a look of contentment. I caught her look and she put her cup down and stood up, stepping down when she got to me she kept moving forward looking ahead and said, “Come walk with me, Bird.”
We walked through the garden, past the white gates and onto the sidewalk toward the beach…the entire way to the water we walked in determined silence, my mothers face set in serious lines. I studied her and I saw my own face twenty-five years from now, I hadn’t realized just how much we looked alike. The lines on her face were like a map of the journey I was taking leading to the destination I was would end up in.
Finally walking left when we hit the line of water she spoke “Bird, this decision is so very yours to make. You are loved and supported either way you choose. I am going to say something not to sway your decision but…so you know, and have support in any way that you may need. I do not regret you or your sisters for a single minute and I wouldn’t change having had you for a moment but I will say this…my life was different from yours, my choices of life were different than your choices. My lifestyle itself was different from the one you have built for yourself. You aren’t making a lifestyle, Bird, you really have set one. It’s hard to see it but it’s not over yet and you still have that life, a little different, but it’s your life. You may even be a little different but you are still you. But you set it anyway and I can see that it hasn’t fit children…and it could very well adjust to them as well. That’s parenthood for you, never ready and always adjust to when it happens. I wish I’d been able to adjust better. I hear that it works that way for most women.” She sighed, bent to pick up a shell that she brushed the sand off of before continueing “But at the same time, if I had made it to my thirties with no children and had a set lifestyle that perhaps didn’t fit them…I would have perhaps continued on. And if I had been faced with the decision you have now to make, even without all the circumstances you have circling in yours, I likely would make the choice to keep on without children. It’s not to say I regret you girls. I have in my time, truthfully, but I don’t now and mostly never did. You fit in my life, I just ever seemed to be able to make myself fit into yours. That is not to sway you to not have this child but to let you know it’s ok if you don’t. And it is ok if you do. I am also not in your shoes, either. If your father had…earlier…I don’t know. I don’t think that…” She paused as if she had more but didn’t go on, her face set looking out to the water, she reached over and took my hand and gave it an affectionate squeeze but then didn’t let go until I nodded and we both stared out over the water. I had a moment of thinking of how young my mother was when she had us and how she tried keeping it all together with five young daughters, a husband, and mental illness always trying to drag her down and force her to cry defeat. I thought of myself in her shoes and realized that with many young daughters almost all before she was my age I don’t see how I myself would have done it…and here I was blaiming her for not being a better mother. Expecting perfection. The tiniest sliver of acceptance lifted some of the anger toward her that I carried. Had carried for a very long time. Maybe not entirely, there was a lot that I didn’t understand or maybe a lot of pain that I was not ready to forgive. But the thought of her so young, with such babies, and knowing my own fear of mental illness but her actually dealing with it put things in a different perspective. I squeezed her hand back.
Later I opened my notebook, again writing some and reading over my thoughts and directions and the scenarios of my alternative choices. Writing and sometimes what looked only like staring at a blank page or scratching the pen across surface was often my form of clearing and sorting thoughts, ideas. A way of coming to conclusions, in both my work and in my personal life. Meditative and sometimes a needed calm came from it, sometime an answer to a question I pondered over.
I read back over some of the last few days and what I had written about the choice that I had ahead of me. I had never really seen myself with children and when he and I had married we both had held that same thought…a kinda hey if it happened sure we go through with it but our lives were better suited without and we took precaution. We built our lives for a childless way of living. We had renovated a historic down town industrial building where his shop was downstairs and our home was the loft above, opening onto a courtyard where we gardened together. He built furniture, carefully crafted really. Beautiful stuff. He had a real talent. He always came up for lunch covered in sawdust and an obvious love for his work. For a long time an obvious love for me too. I went toward the thought again of where that had gone. When. Going back to the thoughts of our…my,now…lifestyle, I thought of my days writing, my desk in the sunlit open loft upstairs next to an open window, my large desk where I spent many hours studying, writing, researching and working altogether. Sometimes I would go to one of the local coffeeshop’s nearby. Change my scene, absorb from other people, their colors, fashion, voices and mannerisms. Studying their faces and picturing their story in my mind. I would take long walks and soak in the sites and sounds. I spent time pouring through books at the library, melting into the pages of dusty books of history and the dark brown wood’s of the old library. Disappearing for hours before coming up for breath…taking moments to realize where I was once again and clear my mind, blinking my eye’s to focus and see that I was not lost in the pages I read but a library and often that it was time to go home when I’d felt as if I had just arrived.
We would joined friends in evenings, music, laughter and red wine glinting in soft complimentary lighting. We talked with many other artists and scholor’s and professor’s of the nearby college. We would cook a dinner together in our kitchen, barefoot and dancing to the music, laughing and testing the sauces, trying something new.
Again my mind wandered to better times and I shook my head clearing the images away. Not yet ready, if ever to cherish them. Feeling guilt, and a longing that hit so hard it hurt.
I read back further in my notebook…there were pages it held written in the last weeks of his life…when no longer did we laugh but when I walked in a constant tense waiting. Tip-toeing on eggshells afraid he would hear the crack of sound and burst into one of his becoming more and more frequent tirades. I never could pinpoint what would set him off to learn how to avoid that one such thing. It didn’t take drinking or a bad mood or bad news or even a bad day….sometimes the rages happened when we’d had a perfectly good day, when it felt like I had my best friend again…and then suddenly he would look up from what he was doing and look at me with pure disdain with eye’s that minutes before had held that old pure love that I had looked into when saying my vows.
I read one of the last passages, exactly a week before the accident.
“This evening while we made dinner I had the most frightening moment. I think in his mind he truly contemplated killing me. I could read it in his eye’s. One minute we were completely fine, almost the old good best friend again, we’d both had great successful days and had come home talking of our good achievements. I no longer talk of my own achievements if he doesn’t have one to share because of what happened that last time…
We had been talking about a funny client of his when suddenly he went super still and stopped chopping the onions he was dicing, he always could do the best real fine dicing that I can never seem to get right, he was real still, knife in hand. Hs shoulders had gone absolutely rigid. I looked at his face and he was like stone…I called his name like a whisper…he flinched at the sound and I stopped, flinched waiting for his hand to reach out and smack me. But he didn’t…he just stared down at the cutting board…for a long…long time. I stayed silent and didn’t move either, afraid that if I did it might set him off as he had such a weird look and…sudden feel about him…you could see the anger growing, the red creeping up his neck and the veins pulsing. His hand was tightening and gripping the handle of the knife so hard and for a moment I didn’t fear for myself but for him…the thought of him harming himself gave me the bravery to reach out and settle my hand over his, the one wrapped around the knife handle, instantly he relaxed…instant, his whole entire body, whatever had possessed him whooshed right out of him in an instant and he looked over at me, right in the eye’s and says “Bird, if I ever hurt you, I am very sorry.” And then there he goes back to dicing the onions like not a thing had happened or that hadn’t just been the freakiest phrase one has ever said. He just started back on the conversation about his funny client exactly where he had left off like nothing…”
I closed the notebook, sighed and stared off, the image of that day so strong. the feeling I had that day of the most pure fear in me. I was not sure if I felt more fear for myself, or for him but fear for myself had never made me feel like that. When I realized fear for him was when my stomach simply knotted in such a way and the breath constricted in my throat, and the hush of heavy air that settled had happened. The thought of him hurting himself had weighed on my mind a couple of times through the Bad Time as I called the time when he had changed from my best friend and became detached, lost in his own mind often wandering around muttering to himself, angry, so very angry all the time. All of a sudden.
Such a contrast from before when he had been the most smiling happy gentle and caring man, outside of my father, and who I had known and been married to for years.
I thought back to when it began and the one and only time that one of these outbursts brought anger from my side. Well, anger that I showed at least. I wished that I had found a way to help but I just didn’t know how and I felt so helpless when he became depressed all I did was try to help. It had started when I had a project with the production company and was gone much of the time at their offices, I did this from time to time with long stretches of working from home so it wasn’t anything completely new and out of the ordinary. The first day that I came home he hadn’t moved from his position I’d left him on the couch that morning, in his pajama’s and playing video games. Not like him at all, he had times that he played the games and even relaxed but usually they were days we both decided to have a down day all day lounging together, eating crockpots full of chili, but this time…I had walked in and he didn’t even look up, his face was set like he was mad which was a rare look on him. I pondered at how strong his jaw was and that I didn’t very often notice that. And I put my books down on the table and went and wrapped my arms around his neck, sitting behind him on the couch with my legs on either side I kissed his neck and then began to massage his neck and shoulders while he continued playing the came. He never responded and the tenseness I could feel in his shoulders caused his muscles to be un-kneadable. Finally feeling the aloofness and not knowing what to do with it I went to change into my running clothes, coming out I put in my headphones but not turning them on yet, bent down to give him a kiss on the cheek and he says “Leaving again? You are always leaving.” I stood back as if bit, I said ” I always go running at this time, everyday, hon.” My voice questioning more than telling or reminding. He just stared forward, his jaw set. I ask what’s wrong and he won’t respond, I ask if he’d like me to stay and hang out, play a game, make some dinner but am again met with no response…finally I turn and leave for my run, totally buffuddled at the scene. Now needing my run, a good head clearing, and not sure what else to do in such an awkward situation, thinking maybe he needed some time to think as well.
When I got back in he was still playing, I called out hello, and chatted happily about my run, making a glass of water as I spoke in our open living space my voice carried easily. He continued with his set face, I could see the veins bulging in his neck and I said ” hon? What’s wrong, babe?” He throws the controllers toward the tv, hitting the floor and stands up and just…walked out of the room. I stood there thinking “What the fuck?” Purely concerned because this was never…not in the least…ever at all how this man went about responding over anything. He was even the better communicator out of the two of us. I set my water glass down after shocked pause and then followed him through our bedroom to the bathroom and found his bent over the toilet throwing up, rushing to him I laid my hands on his shoulder asking if he was ok and what was wrong? I wet a wash cloth and handed it to him and he looked up finally…his face streaked with tears and snot coming from his nose even, his face in pure agony and I asked “Is it your dad?” Knowing his father was older and he was a big worry on his mind these days as well as being the only person in his family he even got along with…this emotion seemed reaction for something major that had happened. But he says “I am just waiting for you to leave me one day. I know you are going to.” I melted immediately onto the floor without pause even though surprised and crawling into straddling his lap I wrapped my arms around him and held his head to my chest and said ” Why would you think that?!” I was shocked…I wasn’t cheating and we had a trusting relationship. A good one. We had spats and arguments and debates but I had certainly not feared we were in trouble of any kind. He wasn’t an insecure type of man.
But he just started heaving his cries were so hard, his shoulders bouncing with sobs and his tears wetting my shirt and kept saying the same thing, babbling and not making sense. I cooed and held him and kept assuring him that I had no intention of ever leaving him. That he was my husband. That I loved him and asking why he would ever think such a thing and what had gotten into him?” He just bawled and I held on until the cries turned to hiccups and we ended up sitting on the bathroom floor laughing…kissing and then making love right there…ending with a climb into the shower, washing down the drain the tears and the lingering fears.
The week after that, nearly having forgotten about the incident entirely, I carried groceries in, reached the top of the flight of twenty-five steps….all of which I felt with a load of groceries in my arms, and he was standing over my desk, thinking nothing of it as I hid nothing and he often needed stamps or some such item but was otherwise respectful of my privacy, I walked to the open kitchen and began putting groceries away. “How’s your day going? How is that new Demsca desk you are building coming along? I need to come down and see how it’s turned out.”
He kept standing over my desk, something in his hand. Not looking up at all and answered back “Why do you suddenly need to check on my work?” His words came out in such a vicious snarl I stopped unpacking the bags, setting the bell pepper down slowly onto the counter and looking over at him. I think the only time I had heard him speak in such a tone was a time when a guy tried picking a bar fight after he kept grabbing at me even as we walked our way out.
“I don’t check up on your work, hon, I was just asking.” Confused, as we spoke about each others work all the time, in detail, and asked each other’s opinions even. Our work was very important to both of us, and our partner’s work to us because it was to them. Our lives farely revolved around our careers and was often the topic of discussion or idle chatter. Questions such as I asked were not uncommon of either of us in our daily talk. He brought over the papers in his hand and said “Is this supposed to be the kind of man I am?” He waved them in the air, leaning on the counter. I saw he was holding my latest article on a relationship series that I was writing for a magazine. It was about communication.
“Actually I was able to use much of your personality as a good base for it, it’s more how you’ve always been rather than what I wish you were or think you are supposed to be.” I responded slowly, cautiously Still very unsure of why and where this was going. “But it’s only influenced a little, otherwise it’s not based on you at all.” Relationship based articles geared often toward womens magazines were nothing new of my writings.
He threw the papers on the table and spat out “A man not afraid to show his emotions?” That’s you’re bullshit writing?!” He was so furious that spittle came with every word. “I”….I began but he cut me off “You and your fucking idea’s of what a man should be. Always trying to change me. You think that you have something to fix?! You don’t have anything to fix. I don’t need fixing!” More dumbfounded I recalled that my article…nor any of them previously, mentioned fixing a man or changing him at all. I stood there at the counter, turning to watch as he began marching around the kitchen, picking the papers up and reading a line and then waving them around to then be thrown back onto the table just to be picked up on his next round of it, another line read in furious state. But none of the lines matched the rant he was ranting even for this seemingly misinterpretation. He had always been a reader of my writings before I’d send them in, I never wrote anything to offend him and I was at a loss for his reaction or even, really, why he’d been reading unfinished work before handed to him to do so at all as he usually gave me space in my work. Respect of my space. So as bewildered as I was, I also felt the heat of anger rising in me. “You are taking things out of context…why….what is going on?” I managed to choke out.
“Going on?! Why don’t you tell me what is going on? You always say you are at the library when I know you are fucking someone else!” he shoved a chair against the table, hard and began picking things up off of various surfaces and then slamming them down. “What?! What are you TALKING about…?” He cut me off again rushing and shoving his face into mine and and grabbed my jaw with one hand, spittle landing on my face as he said “I know you are. You fucking little cunt!” He shoved me down until I was leaning so far back over the counter that my feet came off the ground…I couldn’t breath but more I was shocked and appalled…he let me go suddenly and stormed out to his shop downstairs. I had stood there a moment looking around the kitchen and thinking, again, “What The fuck?” But now I was mad…I wasn’t cheating…hell I barely spoke to other people without him there, he was the social butterfly. I worked hard when I was at the library, headphones on and not looking up from the pages for hours. I was usually pretty lost in my own head I hadn’t ever even looked at a man sexually since I had met him…I got mad…I pushed away from the counter and stormed down the stairs after him
“What the FUCK is your problem?!” I yelled.
He was sanding on a furniture piece he’d been building.
He looked up in surprise like he didn’t know why I was upset and said “Bird, whats gotten into you?” I saw his eye’s were clear and the rage from them gone…I stopped and bit my tongue…wondering at this change if I had just imagined the entire scene that had happened just a minute ago in the kitchen, I reached up and felt my jaw, sore from the roughness he had grabbed me with, “Bird?” He said in genuine concern I turned and stumbled upstairs…unsure of what was going on….I was left wondering if my mothers problems had started in my own head and that perhaps I was losing my mind.
Back in my life in Galveston now, and back from my memories to the present day, I set my notebook on the bedside table and turned out the light but I wasn’t able to turn my mind off and the memories that swam through.
“You looked like you slept with an angry bobcat last night.”Sas said as I walked into the kitchen the next morning.
“Shhh.” I grumbled and poured my coffee.
“Just didn’t sleep well.”
“Well I’m off to the the shop…need anything before I go?”
“No, I’m good, thanks.” I waved her off and buried myself behind the paper…not to read, just to be left alone.
Mag who had stayed silent, kneading some dough at the middle island, raised her eyebrow as soon as the door closed. “I could hear the nightmares you were having. Not bad enough to come wake you but from time to time you made enough noise to know you were having them.” She said, more of an amused mixed with concern on her face, she tried teasing and keeping the conversation somewhat light.
I mumbled into my coffee and didn’t look up.
She put the dough into the fridge, washed her hands and went to start her own day, stopping to peck me on the cheek on her way out.
One thing this family knew was when to back off and for that I was grateful as I wasn’t in the mood to talk or explain or to answer. Right now I wasn’t in the mood for anything but coffee. I was damn near in the mood for a fight, and I think my sisters had sensed that most. Left alone in the kitchen I took my coffee and opened the door to my fathers library. I breathed in deep and setting the coffee on a table, opened all of the curtains. The room was obviously dusted thoroughly from time to time as I had at first expected to choke on it. I picked up my coffee and sat on the brown leather chair in front of the fireplace. Sipped…and then stood up and walked over to the desk. There I lifted the cover off the the old typerwriter which my father had preferred for his writing, rather than computers, and slipped a sheet of crisp paper inside that I found still nestled in a drawer on the right hand side.
I hadn’t touched a typewriter in …well since the last I had played in this office, writing some paper or another for school I suppose but usually I did that at the library on the computers. I pecked a few keys…typing out the word Hello and then sat back and sighed…staring around the room. Nearly waiting for the walls of it to talk back to me.
Then I typed and the words flowed,
I think of you every day. I still cannot understand or wrap my head around why you did what you did. I just can’t. I want to yell at you and scream and ask you why you would do such a thing, especially after you knew what it did to all of us when mom attempted the same. Why would you leave us? Did you not love us? Did you hate us that much?
I will probably never be able to understand, but Papa…I love you and I do understand the feeling of just wanting to give up, stop fighting and lay your head down and let go. Sometimes it seems so hard…like this heaviness on my back and shoulders and I want so badly to lay it down but I can’t. I also don’t feel that I could give up, not like mom tried, not like you did.
I just….I won’t understand. And you aren’t here to try and explain.
More than anything I wish you were here with me through all of this. You would know what to do, and the thing that I don’t know about any of it is what to do.
I don’t know if I can swim this time, Papa. I think I might sink.
Not even a letter. Not a word. And in my mind rings forever the sound of that gun shot…now taken over by another shot. I shot my husband , Papa. Do you know that?
I always feared being like mother, having what made her the way she was. But I ended up being more like you. I hurt someone really badly. I killed him. I don’t know what to tell you really…how to tell you. I imagine if you were here when this happened. I imagine you could and would fix it all and make all of this bad dream go away. I am glad that you aren’t here in a way though. I am so ashamed. So hurt and afraid and ashamed. I not only killed a someone, but my own husband. For a long time he reminded me of you…the good that you had taught me to want out of a husband. But …I don’t know how to explain the change, Papa, if you were here maybe you would be able to explain it to me. The sudden smiling and happy man all of a sudden not being….
I feel there is a comparison…nobody shoots himself in the head without some kind of anger, I feel. He yelled and showed plenty of his anger, you bottled it and held it in…was it anger or was it more sadness? Was that achieving what you wanted or simply giving up? Papa all of these questions and more than any other, the one I would ask if you were here….is it ok that I don’t want to have my baby?
I look back and think how I hadn’t really wanted kids or planned to ever have them, even with my husband and his own wants fell into that. We just had lives better without them. Not built for them.
Do I have a child because I am with one but now, under the circumstances made worse by the fact that one day my child will surely know, ask or find out the answers they may hold of who or where their father is. I don’t think I can do that to them. I didn’t plan to get pregnant I took all the right precautions…we didn’t have any accidents but somehow I now have this…unwanted child.
There, I said it. Unwanted. Does that make me a terrible person? A hardened hateful mean murderer of a person? I have killed my husband and now do I abort my child too? Once is an accident, twice is…
Papa if you were here….
Why aren’t you here?
I rested my hands from the type writer…filled with more questions, my eye’s filled with tears, I had never attempted to talk to my father since his death and now I had found my fingers fly over his very own typewriter where his own fingers had rested, where his own words had been spun from. And this is what I brought to him. My question’s. My burden’s.
Do we ever get to understand?
The next morning I woke up early , showered and dressed and Met Sas in the kitchen to drive me to the doctor. She took my hand when they called my name in the waiting room and gave me a squeeze “I’ll be right here when its all finished.” I was making a decision that couldn’t be unmade.