Take These Broken Wings

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A young man's thoughts and opinions on certain issues change after he is called upon to drive his sister and her children to a shelter for battered women.

Submitted: September 11, 2012

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Submitted: September 11, 2012

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little-boy-with-black-eye-turn-thumb2150Take These Broken Wings

I woke up with a headache so bad, for a minute I thought I had somehow gotten another concussion, like I did when I was eleven and tried to do a pop-up wheelie on my dirt bike, and somehow or another ended up flying head-first over the handlebars.

It took me five or six minutes to remember that I hadn’t fallen on my head recently. I was just very hung over.

And once I remembered that, all sorts of other unpleasant memories came rushing back. For instance, I suddenly recalled the conversation I’d had with my girlfriend that evening.

She’d called me and asked me to meet her somewhere to talk, and even though I’d been planning to stay home and try to study for my sociology test, I’d agreed to meet her at Caribou Coffee. That it self made me feel a little uncomfortable. It was too formal, like we were meeting to discuss a business plan or something. Wendy had wanted to meet somewhere away from my nosey stepsisters and her nosey roommates. She’d actually used the words “neutral ground.” So then of course the first thing that had come to my mind was that she was asking me to meet her at Caribou Coffee so she could break up with me. She was the kind of girl who’d want to treat you to a cappuccino while she broke your heart.

But instead, what she said was…

“Nolan? I’m pregnant.”

“Wendy,” I said. “Are you sure?”

Wendy made a face. “Quite sure.”

I didn’t know the right thing to say. “Wendy, I’m sorry.”

“Well, I had a part in it too, you know.”

“What can I do? Do you want me to go to the clinic with you? Is that where you go? Or do you just make an appointment with your regular doctor, or…” I stammered. “I’ll pay for half. I’ll give you the money… Or do you think I should pay for the whole thing?”

Wendy stared at me. “The whole what.”

“The, um, abortion.” I hated the way I sounded, sheepish and afraid.

“The abortion?” Wendy echoed. “That’s it, huh, Nolan? You’re just sending me off for an abortion?”

“I’m not sending you. I said I’d go with you,” I reminded her, hoping she wouldn’t really make me.

Wendy was silent. Her eyes darkened, like thunderclouds passing in front of the sun. “No, Nolan. You know what? I don’t want you to pay for anything or come with me anywhere. I really don’t. I’ll handle it on my own, okay?” She stood up fast, and her water tipped over and spilled all over the table and onto the floor. I righted the glass quickly. Wendy shook her head, glaring at me, and stormed off.

“I said I was sorry!” I called after her.

And that’s how it came to be that, instead of going home to study for my Soc test, I ended up walking all the way to the Blue Moon and getting shit-faced all alone, while trying to convince myself that this was all some sort of bad dream.

I did actually have a dream, somewhere in my drunken stupor that night. But it wasn’t about Wendy. It was about my sister, Alysha. And it was more of a memory, or a flashback, than a normal dream.

It was of when we were little, Alysha and me. Way, way back, before our parents were divorced or anything and we all still lived in our house on Walnut Street. In fact, I was so little, I couldn’t have been older than two in this dream, and Alysha was about four. Her hair was still really long, and bright red, and sort of glittery, and it’s funny because now I remember how in real life her hair would have rainbow sparkles in the sunlight. I was always trying to touch it or pull it, which would make Alysha cry and slap my hand away.

In my dream, though, Alysha was pulling me by the hand. I don’t know where we were going. She was just running and pulling me along with her, and she kept looking back at me, smiling and laughing, shouting, “Come on, Nolan! Come on!” And my little boy self thought she was the best big sister in the world.

As my twenty-year-old self lay in bed trying to make sense out of this dream, my little stepsister Jayda woke me up to tell me Alysha was on the phone.

“Take a message,” I grumbled into my pillow.

“She says it’s important,” said Jayda. “She sounds like she’s crying!”

“Tell her I’ll call her back. Or let her talk to my dad.” Alysha was married to a loser named Ted, and she lived in Clifton with him and her three kids. She was always calling me up to talk about the latest shitty thing Ted had done lately. I wasn’t in the mood right then to hear the latest installment of “As the Trailer Park Turns.”

“She said, specifically, `Let me talk to Nolan,’” said Jayda. “Come on, Nolan. Don’t be an asshole.”

I opened one eye. Jayda was holding the cordless phone by its antenna, and dangling it in front of my face.

I snatched it away from her. “Hello?”

“Nolan?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Could you give me and the kids a ride somewhere?”

I sighed, and reached for the cigarettes on my nightstand. “What time? I got English Lit in an hour, and Soc after that, but I can probably do it after three.”

“No, Nolan, I mean, like, right now,” said Alysha. Then she started sobbing like crazy.

I sat up. “What’s the matter, Alysha?”

“Teddy hit Max last night. Really hard, in the head. I left him. We’re at Wal-Mart right now,” choked Alysha. “I think we need one of those battered women’s shelters. And I’m gonna get a restraining order. Do you know how to do that? Can you please help me, Nolan?”

“I’ll be right there,” I said. “Just sit tight.”

I got out of bed and pulled on a T-shirt and a pair of jeans, and then I went downstairs. I could hear rap music coming from my stepsisters’ bedroom. Jayda and Melinda were thirteen and fourteen, and they thought they were little bad-asses. They dressed in baggy clothes and made up phony gang signs to flash at kids they didn’t like, and sprinkled their language with phrases like, “word” and “dawg” and “ghetto”. It sort of made me laugh. We lived in Grand Junction, which was at least a four hour drive to either of the nearest big cities, Denver and Salt Lake. Farms and mountains surrounded us. Most of the radio stations that actually came in here were country music stations. Until a few years ago, we didn’t even have a Wal-Mart in our town!

I rolled my eyes as I heard Melinda singing loudly along with Eminem about being mad enough to kill. I grabbed the phone book out of the kitchen, and retreated back upstairs to my room so my stepmother, who was lurking around the house somewhere, wouldn’t hear my phone conversation. If my dad heard that Ted had hit Max, he’d probably have about eight heart attacks.

I wasn’t even sure what the hell I was doing. How did someone find a battered women’s shelter, anyway?

I looked in the Yellow Pages under Social Services, but the only name I recognized as a shelter was the Rescue Mission. I gave them a call, and they told me the phone number of some hotline for battered women.

I called that next.

A woman answered, with a voice like a grandmother. “Can I help you?”

“Hi, I need to find a shelter for battered women,” I said.

“Okay. Are you a male, though?”

I almost blushed. “Yeah, I’m a guy. I’m trying to find out for my sister.”

“Oh, alright, hon. I just had to ask because we do get men calling who’ve been abused by their spouses and partners, and unfortunately we can’t refer them to our women’s shelters.”

“Oh,” I said. “That’s interesting…”

“It’s your sister who needs a shelter?”

“Yeah.”

“Is she there with you now?”

“No, she’s, um, at the Wal-Mart waiting for me,” I said.

“Could I have her name, please, then?”

“Alysha Rubie.”

“Age?”

“Twenty-two.”

“Where does she live now?”

“Clifton.”

“Is she bringing any children with her?”

“Yeah, she has three.”

“Alright. Most of the shelters will take up to three children for each woman, but any boys have to be under thirteen years old.”

That seemed like sort of a sad rule, to me. What did someone do if they had a thirteen-year-old son? Leave him behind?

I told her, “The boys are only six and four, and she’s got a daughter who’s about eight months.”

“Can you hang on for just a moment, hon?”
I waited.

The grandmother’s voice came back. “Okay, right now the only shelter that has room for a woman and three kids is in Montrose. Can you get her to Montrose?”

“No problem,” I said. “Oh yeah, and do you have any idea how she should go about getting a restraining order from her husband?”

“She’ll need to go to the courthouse and file for an emergency order of protection, and it will be good for thirty days. After that, she’ll have to go to a hearing and request one that will last for a year,” said the grandmotherly woman.

“Thank you,” I said.

“Good luck to you,” she replied.

I hung up the phone.

I remembered my Soc test and my English-Lit class. It looked like I’d have to blow them both off, today.

I drove to the Wal-Mart and parked close to the store. I went inside and found my sister and her kids. They were all sitting on a bench just inside the double doors. Baby Hannah was asleep in Alysha’s arms. Collin and Max sat beside her. Max was leaning against Collin’s arm, his eyes drooping sleepily.

The boys were still wearing their pajamas. They had their sneakers on over their bare feet. I could see one of Max’s toes through a hole in his left shoe.

“How long have you been here?” I asked them.

“Forever,” sighed Collin.

“Shush, Collin,” said Alysha. To me, she said, “We just got here when I called you.”

“We slept inside a church,” Collin declared.

Alysha shut her eyes. “I didn’t know what else to do, Nolan.”

“What happened?” I asked her.

“The boys were just goofing around and Teddy wanted them to be quiet and go in their room so he could watch TV, and they weren’t listening, and he just jumped up and grabbed Max and punched him in the head. Max fell down and started crying, and Teddy just said, ‘That’s what you get!’ and went in our room.” The words tumbled deadpan out of Alysha’s mouth as if she were reading a newspaper article aloud. “And I just grabbed all of the kids and ran across the street to Lou Anne’s and called a taxi. I told Lou Anne we were going to Mom’s, but I didn’t know where to go in real life, so I had the cab drop us off at that big church on Fifth Street because I remembered they don’t lock up the chapel at night. And then in the morning, we walked here.”

“Jesus… Why didn’t you just call me?” I demanded. “Last night, I mean. I would have gotten you.”

“I thought you’d be sleeping,” Alysha said weakly. She made a choking sound, and a silent sob escaped her mouth. “I’m sorry! I just don’t know what to do!” Her tears fell down onto the sleeping baby’s face.

Collin’s eyes widened. He threw his arms around Alysha, and stroked her hair with his grubby hand. “Don’t cry, Mama! It’s okay!” He looked pleadingly at me.

I glanced away from them. “Come on, you guys, let’s get in the car. Alysha, lets go.” I picked up Max, and he rested his shaggy head on my shoulder.

Alysha and Collin followed me out to the parking lot. “Where are we going?” Alysha asked me quietly.

“The courthouse first, so you can do what you gotta do. Then, to the shelter in Montrose.”

“We’re going to Montrose? Isn’t there a women’s shelter in Grand Junction?”

“The lady on the phone said the only one with room for all of you is in Montrose.” I quickened my step, and my sister had to pull on Collin’s arm to keep up with me.

Max and Collin both fell asleep, almost instantly, in the back seat. The ride to the courthouse was silent, except for their heavy, rhythmic breathing.

“Can you stay with them while I go in?” asked Alysha.

“You don’t want me to go in with you?”

She shook her head. “It’s not that I don’t want you to. It’s just that I can do it by myself. Besides, I don’t really want the boys to be there when I do this. I’m gonna have enough to explain to them, already!”

“You’re doing the right thing, Alysha,” I said.

I watched her get out of the car and stride across the parking lot towards the courthouse. Her red hair flew behind her.

I looked at my sister’s sleeping children. Alysha had laid Hannah on the front seat, next to me. In back, Collin and Max were a tangle of arms and legs.

When Collin was first born, he lived with us. Alysha too. By us, I mean with our dad and step mom and stepsisters and me. Alysha was only sixteen when Collin was born, and she was still full of big plans for life. She was going to finish high school and she even wanted to go to college. Grand Junction didn’t have a community college, but our house is only a few blocks from Mesa State, and it’s pretty easy to get financial aid to go there if you’re a local. That’s what I do. And that’s what Alysha wanted to do. She was going to be a teacher. That was her dream.

Then she met Ted.

When Collin lived with us, he and Alysha shared the room that had always been Alysha’s room but is now the guest bedroom. (In case, someday, we actually have a guest.) Our stepmom would watch Collin while Alysha was at school a few days a week, and our mother, who lives twenty minutes away, would watch him on other weekdays. But after school and on weekends, while Alysha worked, Collin was mine. From the time he was the tiniest baby I cuddled him in my arms while I watched TV, did my homework while jiggling his bouncy seat with my foot, fed him his bottles, changed his diapers, and rocked him to sleep at night. As soon as Collin was big enough to walk, he would toddle after me everywhere. Maybe, if he’d been my father and stepmother’s child, I would have resented all that extra responsibility. But he was Alysha’s. At the age of fourteen, I was an uncle. And I thought that Collin was the best thing to ever happen to me.

Then she met Ted.

My sister, in high school, was a “good” girl. I mean, nobody in a zillion years would have guessed that sweet, mild-mannered Alysha would become a pregnant teenager. She was the kind of girl who had been going out with the same boyfriend, an equally sweet and mild-mannered boy named Shawn, since junior high. She never got in trouble at school and hardly ever broke the rules at home. While other girls her age were partying and having fun, Alysha was spending a lot of her spare time tutoring little kids at an after-school program in our neighborhood and writing books of poetry. Nobody could have ever imagined Alysha and Shawn sleeping together, even though they seemed to love each other, because Alysha took that kind of thing very seriously.

But somehow and at some time it did happen, and Alysha ended up pregnant. When it happened, Alysha seemed to think it was the best thing that ever happened to her, too. She didn’t seem upset or bothered or even surprised when Shawn refused to have anything to do with her or the unborn baby any more, leaving her to do everything on her own. While she was pregnant with Collin she read every pregnancy and parenting book she could get her hands on. She made it to every doctor’s appointment, and followed her diet and vitamin regiment religiously. It never bothered her when people began to look sideways at her and say rude things about her. She glowed all the time. And when Collin was born, he was all Alysha thought about. She went to high school all day, and worked at the Albertson’s as a cashier after school and on weekends, and spent all of her meager earnings on Collin. What she didn’t spend on diapers and wipes, formula and baby food, books and toys and clothes for Collin, she plunked into a jar to save up for their future. Collin was Alysha’s pride and joy… the light of her life.

And then she met Ted.

“Nolan? Hey, No-o-olan!”

I jerked awake. Collin was patting me on the head.

“Huh? What?”

Collin smirked. “You were sleeping.”

“I was not,” I said.

“You were. Where’s my Mama?” he asked.

“Inside that building,” I told him.

“She’s been in there forever,” groaned Collin. “What’s she doing?”

“Nothing. I dunno.”

“Well, cause, I’m hungry,” Collin said. “And Max pissed in his pants.”

Collin,” I protested, even though I wasn’t really shocked at his language.

“Well, he did. And it stinks.”

I turned to look at Max.

He stared blankly back at me. His face looked paler than I’d ever seen it.

“Does this happen a lot?” I asked Collin.

“No. Max knows how to piss in the toilet. Only Hannah still pisses in her pants. That’s why she has to wear a diaper,” Collin explained.

“Thanks for the info,” I sighed. “Does he have any clean pants?”

Collin shook his head. “We didn’t bring nothing with us.”

“What should I do?” I wondered.

“I dunno, Nolan. You’re a grown-up, not me.” Collin reminded me. But he seemed to quickly realize the doom behind that idea. “Go to a store,” he commanded.

The nearest place was Mesa Mall, and I drove there as fast as I dared. I shepherded the boys into Mervyn’s, the baby dangling in the crook of my elbow. I grabbed a pair of blue jeans for Max. Then, noticing for the second time that the boys were in pajamas, I splurged and got Max a T-shirt too. I got Collin a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, and found a package of Superman undies and a package of socks that would fit both of them. I wasn’t sure what to get Hannah, but I figured she’d be okay in her little onesie thing

I took my crew into the men’s room in the back of the store and got everyone cleaned up and dressed in the new duds. I pulled the price tags off of all the clothing, and when we went through the checkout line I simply handed the cashier the wad of tags. She looked at me suspiciously. I smiled, hoping to create the illusion that I knew what I was doing.

We drove back to the courthouse. Alysha was sitting on the steps in front. When I pulled up, she hopped into the car. “Where’d you go?” she demanded. “I was getting worried!”
“Max had an accident,” I explained. “How’d it go?”

She held up a bunch of official looking papers as her answer. “He’s gonna get served with these today,” she said.

“Good work, Alysha. Congratulations,” I replied.

She looked at me expectantly, and I wondered if I was supposed to hug her or something. But then she said, “So. On to Montrose, right?”

“Alysha,” I said. “You know you don’t have to go to a shelter. You could come home.”

“Home, like, where?”

“You know. To Dad’s.”

“That’s not my home anymore, Nolan,” Alysha reminded me patiently.

“It would only have to be for a while. Not forever,” I said. “We could help take care of the kids so you could get a job. Even Jayda and Melinda are old enough to babysit now! You could go back to school, if you wanted, I bet. It would be just like before.”

“It’s not just like before though,” Alysha broke in. “First of all, it’s not just me and a baby. I’ve got three kids now. Where would everyone sleep?”

“In your old room. If there’s not enough room, you could put Collin in with me,” I suggested. “Or you could take my room, I’ll sleep on the couch, and the kids could stay in your old room. Or…”

“It’s not gonna work,” said Alysha. “I have to be on my own. If I stay with you guys, the first time Dad lectures me about what I should be doing with my life, or bitches at me about the messes my kids make, I’ll start wanting to run back to Teddy.”

I raised my eyebrows. “You’d seriously go back to him, after he hit Max?”

“Well, I’m not thinking about it now, Nolan, but I know how I am. I know how my mind works,” said Alysha. “This isn’t the first time I’ve left him, you know.”

“Leaving him for twenty minutes doesn’t count.” I scoffed.

“I left him for two weeks once,” Alysha told me. “It was right after the first time he actually hit me in front of the kids. Max was pretty little, but Collin was traumatized. He was screaming, ‘No, Teddy, no! Don’t hurt Mommy!’”

I shuddered, and glanced at Collin in the rearview mirror. I wondered if he was listening. I wondered if he remembered that.

“The church paid for me and the boys to stay at a motel,” said Alysha. “But it was hard because I was supposed to be looking for a job and finding day care for the kids and getting our own place to live, and it was almost impossible because nobody wants to hire you if your address is at a motel and you’re dragging two kids to your interview, and the boys were always cranky, and I was yelling at them all the time, and I just started thinking, things weren’t that bad with Teddy. I thought maybe us being gone so long would have scared him and he’d change… and if he didn’t, we’d leave again, but I’d plan it better.”

“I can’t believe you lived in a motel for two weeks and I didn’t even know about it,” I said.

“I didn’t want Mom and Dad to find out. I didn’t want to deal with their running commentary on my life,” said Alysha. “Anyway, we went back, and for a while Teddy was wonderful. And the next thing I knew, I was pregnant with Hannah, and I didn’t even want to think about trying to make it on my own with three kids.”

“Until now,” I pointed out.

“Until now,” Alysha echoed. “Until now.”

We drove through McDonalds and got Happy Meals for the boys and Value Meals for myself and Alysha, and then we stopped at City Market and got formula and bottles and diapers for the baby. It was Alysha’s idea to stop at the park to eat, so the boys could play outside for a while.

Little kids never eat their Happy Meals the way normal people do. I mean, they don’t just sit and eat. You can confine them at a picnic table for about five minutes, but then they’re up for good, and they just run back to the table for a bite of hamburger or a sip of pop every so often. The sanity of McDonalds and a picnic in the park seemed to brighten Collin and Max up a little. Alysha and I sat and watched them romp in the grass and monkey around on the playground. Baby Hannah sat by us and batted her hands at the bugs like a kitten.

“So, what’s up with you, little brother?” Alysha asked me. “What’s going on in your life?”

“Not much,” I said. As an afterthought, I confided, “Wendy’s pregnant.”

Alysha smiled. She’d always liked Wendy. “Really? Congratulations!”

Instantly I regretted telling her that. “Well, she’s getting an abortion.”

Alysha looked at me. “What?”

“An abortion,” I sighed.

“Really?” said Alysha. “That doesn’t sound like something Wendy would do. She told me once she’d never have an abortion because it would be too hard for her to deal with.”

“When did she tell you that?” I wondered.

Alysha shrugged. “I think it was at Jayda’s birthday party last year. We were talking about Collin, and I was telling her how young I was when I had him, and the subject just sort of came up,” she said. “She was really, like, certain about it. That she wouldn’t ever get an abortion. She had a cousin who got pregnant when she was only fourteen, and the girl’s parents pretty much forced her to get one, Wendy was really freaked out that the parents made the girl do it, because she didn’t want to. She’d wanted to have the baby and then let someone adopt it.”

“I never heard anything about that.” It seemed odd that my sister and my girlfriend were having these deep, meaningful conversations while I wasn’t around! “Anyway, it’s easy to say you’d never get an abortion when you’ve never been in the situation. But now we’re in the situation, and she doesn’t have much of a choice.”

“According to who?” Alysha demanded.

I was surprised by the note of anger in her voice. “I dunno. According to life. What other choice is there? We’re both in college. I don’t even have a job. This isn’t a good time to start being parents.”

“I did it,” Alysha reminded me. “I did it when I was in high school, and without a father for my baby.”

“And look how great your life turned out,” I grumbled.

Alysha’s jaw dropped. Her eyes were like ping pong balls popping out of her head.

I felt like an asshole.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean that. That was a shitty thing to say.”

I thought Alysha would either burst into tears, or smack me in the face.

But I definitely didn’t expect her to say what she said next.

“Did I ever tell you I got raped?” she asked me.

I narrowed my eyes. “By who?”

“By Collin’s father.”

“Shawn raped you?” I said incredulously.

“Not Shawn,” said Alysha.

“Collin’s father…”

“I never said Shawn was Collin’s father, did I?”

“You never said anyone was, Alysha, but it was pretty obvious… I mean… then ,” I faltered. “Who is his father?”

“I don’t know. Some guy. The rapist. Pay attention, Nolan! ”

“I’m paying attention, but you’re being all cryptic and shit,” I retorted.

Alysha went on as if she hadn’t heard me. “Me and Shawn fell asleep watching TV at his house. I woke up and started running home. I was cutting across Mesa campus, and this guy jumped out and grabbed me.”

“Did you know him?”

“Nope.”

“Then how did he know you’d be there? Was he, like, stalking you?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he was just waiting for any girl to come past. Maybe he waited there every night.”

“Did he, like, rip off your clothes?”

Alysha glared at me. “I don’t know, Nolan. I don’t remember. I don’t really want to relive it play-by-play.”

“That’s true.” What do you say when your own sister tells you something like this? I was doing a lousy job here. I knew I was saying all the wrong things. What Alysha needed was a sister or a best girlfriend. But she didn’t have anyone like that. She only had me.

“I yelled for help,” said Alysha. “I yelled at the top of my lungs. But nobody came. Then he punched me in the head so hard, all I saw was bright light. Two times he hit me like that. That’s what I remember clearest out of the whole thing. That bright flash of light. And I knew he could kill me with his bare hands, if he wanted to.”

“Damn!” I said.

“It’s the most fucked-up feeling in the world. I mean, even fighting with all my strength, there was no way I could get away. All of the sudden I realized that the only thing I had going for me was my own mind. You know what I did, Nolan? I talked to him. It was so fucked-up. He was raping me, and the whole time we were holding this calm, insightful conversation.”

“What’d you talk about?”

“Everything. I told him about you, and about school, and the divorce, and shit. He told me he was in foster homes his whole life. He didn’t even remember his mom.”

“That’s crazy,” I said. I meant the fact that they had this whole talk while the guy was raping my sister. But I think she meant I was talking about the fact that the guy didn’t know his own mother.

“Yeah, it is,” she said. “So, then, somehow, I convinced him I had to go to the gas station and get a Seven-Up, like, right away. I actually had him believing I’d come right back! He just let me walk away. And you know the weirdest part? I actually felt sort of guilty, leaving him there.”

“That’s definitely crazy.”

“I know. See how fucked-up I am?” said Alysha.

“So what did you do? Did you get Dad or Mom?” I was hearing this story for the first time, but our family was not too communicative. They could have easily kept it from me for the past seven or eight years.

But Alysha shook her head. “I just ran home, and washed up, and went to bed. I never told anyone in the whole wide world.”

“You should have,” I said.

“I was scared, Nolan. And embarrassed. I was only fifteen, you know. Mom would have made a huge production of it. I would have been, like, her newest cause in life.”

“She wouldn’t have been like that, Alysha.”

“Yes she would. Trust me,” she said. “Look how she acted when I turned out to be pregnant with Collin. She was, like, thrilled to be personally involved with a teenaged pregnancy.”

“That makes no sense,” I scoffed.

“Maybe not to you,” said Alysha.

We were quiet, for a while.

“You never told anyone?” I asked.

“Never,” Alysha replied.

“What about Shawn?” I asked. “You let him think the baby was his?”

“That’s the thing,” sighed Alysha. “He knew he didn’t get me pregnant. We’d never done it. Ever! Shawn thought I cheated on him. It broke his heart.”

“Then you should have just told him.” I said.

Alysha studied me, like I was still some back-asswards little kid brother of hers. “Shoulda, coulda, woulda. It doesn’t matter now,” she said. “And do you know, Nolan, that when Teddy’s being an asshole to me, it’s the same feeling. He tried to strangle me once. He was high, and I’d hidden the rest of his paycheck. I needed it for groceries and to get Collin’s birthday presents. I’ve never seen anyone that angry! He grabbed my neck and started choking the hell out of me. I couldn’t breathe at all.”

“What’d you do?”

“I punched him as hard as I could in the chest, and he let go of me, and I ran.”

I let myself picture it all in my mind.

Then I looked at Alysha.

It was like I was seeing her for the first time in years. I mean, I was used to seeing her all the time, but somehow I still imagined her being about fourteen years old, all smiles and sparkling eyes and laughter. Now, when I looked at her, I saw how old she looked. She’d lost weight, and the old T-shirt of Ted’s that she was wearing hung off of her. Her eyes had lost their sparkle and had been replaced with a tired, wary gaze.

“Alysha,” I said slowly. “You’re an incredible person.”

A tiny smile flashed across her face. “Shut up.”

“No, I’m serious. I think in either of those situations, I would have just gone into a blind panic.”

“I dunno, my mind just slows down, or something.” said Alysha. “But I hate that feeling, you know? Of not being able to get away. Of being…”
“Powerless?” I blurted.

Alysha nodded. “Exactly.“ She sighed. “But you know the worst part of it all? Some day, Hannah’s gonna feel that.”

“Naw,” I protested. “Not Hannah.”

“It’s almost inevitable,” said Alysha.

By the time we had piled back into the car, we were all quiet and somber again. Collin and Max had had fun at the park, but getting in the car seemed to remind them of everything that had happened in the past twenty-four hours. They sat silent in the back seat, their eyes glazed over. Even Hannah lay subdued and quiet in Alysha’s arms.

Montrose was still more than an hour away, and I didn’t think I could stand it. I handed Alysha my CD book and ordered, “Find some music for us, sis!”

Alysha flipped through the book and made a face. She’d never liked my taste in music. I listen to Gorillaz and Taproot and Spiralcell and stuff, but Alysha listens to older, mellower music like Bob Dylan and James Taylor and The Grateful Dead.

“Here, this will work,” my sister said finally, popping a CD into the disk player.

In a moment, the sound of the Beatles singing “Blackbird” filled the car. Alysha started to sing along. Collin and Max joined in. Their voices were high and crystal clear.

“Hey, you guys know all the words?” I asked in surprise.

“I sing this song to them sometimes at night,” said Alysha. “To help them fall asleep. I sing them lots of songs.”

“You were only waiting for this moment to arrive,” crooned the little boys.

Alysha leaned back in her seat. She shut her eyes and smiled softly.

The Montrose address I’d been given was for a small storefront place, with a sign in front that said “Women’s Resource Center.”

“Are you sure this is it?” asked Alysha.

I checked the address on the window with the one I’d written on a scrap of paper. “Yeah, this is it!”

“But where are people supposed to sleep?” Alysha wondered. “It doesn’t look like there’s much room!”

I shrugged. “Maybe they’ve got rooms in back.”

I parked the car and we went inside. As soon as we stepped into the place, an older woman hurried to greet us. “Can I help you?”

“Is this one of those battered women’s shelters?” asked Alysha.

“We have a shelter for women and children, yes,” the woman replied. “Do you need help?”

“I’m leaving my husband and I need a place to stay,” Alysha told her. “He does drugs and he’s violent with me, and last night he hit my son.” She reached out for Max, and drew him closer to her.

“Okay, well, you’re at the right place! Come on in and sit down.” The woman glanced at me. ”And you are…”
“That’s my brother,” Alysha said quickly. “He drove us here.”

“And he got us McDonalds and took us to the park,” Collin added.

The lady smiled warmly. “Well, that was nice of him, wasn’t it? My name is Miss Melody. What’s your name?”

“I’m Collin!” chirped Collin. “And that’s my brother Max and my sister Hannah and my Mama and my Uncle Nolan.!”

“Nice to meet you!” said the lady. “I guess you’re not hungry since you had McDonalds, but would you like a drink? Or a snack? We have cookies and milk!”

“Yeah!” Collin grinned from ear to ear.

“Go on right back there and Miss Christina will fix you right up,” said the lady.

“Thanks! C’mon, Max-o!” Collin grabbed Max’s hand and hauled him off in search of milk and cookies. All at once I had another vision of being a little kid, and Alysha dragging me off on some adventure or another.

The lady looked at me again. “It’s going to take a while to do an intake on them and get them all settled in, but your sister will be fine now. You can go now if you need to.”

“Yeah, Nolan, you don’t need to stay. Thank you so much for everything.” Alysha hugged me tightly. “You saved my life. You were wonderful.”

And suddenly, I didn’t want to leave. I felt like I’d spent a month with my sister and her kids, instead of just a few hours. “When can I come visit? I mean, can I bring you guys some things from your house?”

“You don’t have to,” said Alysha. “You’ve done so much for us already, and we can get new things here.”
“Yeah, but… I mean, the boys might want some of their own stuff,” I pointed out.

“You can come and visit them any time you want, but you’ll have to call first so they can meet you here,” said the Miss Melody lady. “The actual shelter is at a house in the neighborhood, but we can’t allow anyone except for the residents and staff to be there. For everyone’s safety and privacy, you understand.”

“I understand,” I said. The lady wanted me to leave. Maybe she was afraid I’d turn out to be another man like the ones who beat on my sister and the other women who came to the shelter. Maybe once you worked for a long time at a shelter that helped women and kids who’d been abused, you started thinking there was something wrong with guys in general.

“Okay,” I said. “So how about this weekend, we can do something?”

“Definitely,” said Alysha. “I can’t wait!” She hugged me good-bye one more time.

It was nearly three-thirty in the afternoon. I’d missed both of my classes, but I didn’t care. I headed for my sister’s place.

Ted’s truck was parked in front of the trailer, but I’d expected him to be at home anyway. I lit up a cigarette, and walked straight up to the door. I pounded on it until Ted opened it.

Right away he wanted to know, “Where are they?”

“Gone,” I said. “I’m here to get their things.”

Ted narrowed his eyes. “Why should I give anything to you? If Alysha wants her shit, she can get it herself.”

“Alysha’s not coming back here,” I said. Then I embellished, “I already talked to the cops, and they said if I had any trouble getting my sister’s stuff, I should call them and they’d give me an escort.”

Ted looked hard at me. I stared right back at him. He tried to portray himself as a tough guy. Maybe, once, he had been. But too much crack and meth had taken its toll on him. He was skinny and pale. His eyes were red and blood shot. The only thing he had going for him was that I seriously doubted he could even sense pain, anymore.

Finally, he stepped aside. “Get what you want. Nothings really hers, anyway, you know. I paid for it all. She ain’t never worked a day in her life. But go ahead, anyway.”

I moved past him, through the living room and into the kids’ room. It wasn’t a hellhole. Alysha always kept the house clean. Once when her wash machine was broken, she had done all of their laundry by hand in the bathtub for a month.

The kids’ room was small and tidy. The walls were decorated with drawings the boys had made, and a few framed pictures of nursery rhyme characters that Alysha had bought at the Rescue Mission thrift store. The boys slept on bunk beds pushed against one wall. Against the opposite wall was a small dresser, and next to that a cardboard box filled with toys. Hannah’s bed was really a large laundry basket, padded with a quilt.

With Ted’s eyes boring holes in me, I picked up the laundry basket and started filling it up with kids’ clothes. I grabbed a teddy bear for Max and a cloth Woody doll for Collin. They’d have lots of toys to play with at the shelter, but I thought these soft toys from home might comfort them a little.

I moved onto Ted and Alysha’s room. Ted followed me. He watched me retrieve some clothes out of the closet.

“You’re wasting your time, bro,” Ted said. “She’ll be back.”

I turned to look at him. “Yu hit Max!” I snapped. “I oughta kill you!”

“You oughta try,” Ted retorted.

We faced off for a moment.

His eyes softened a little. “And maybe I oughta let you.”

I picked up my laundry basket and walked past Ted, towards the door.

“Bro,” he called after me.

I glanced back.

He was standing with his head hanging down, as if the bones in his neck had collapsed.

“When can I see my kids?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I told him.

“I may be a shit head. I know I blew it big time when I snapped on Max-o like that,” said Ted. “But they’re my kids. They’re all I got.”

I looked at him and I couldn’t even hate him any more. All of the sudden, I felt kind of bad for him.

I thought of something Alysha had told me, about how when she’d finally gotten away from that rapist, she’d felt a little guilty about abandoning him. And I understood, now, exactly what she meant.

I got back in my car and started driving back towards Grand Junction. I turned down the volume on my radio so I could think.

I had learned in my Psych class last semester that kids who are beaten grow up and beat their own kids. I wondered who’d beaten up on Ted. I tried to picture him as a scared little four year old boy. In my mind, the four-year-old version of Ted looked just like Max.

I thought about Collin and Max shivering all night in the pews of a dark, empty church. I thought about fourteen year olds who were forced to get abortions, and fifteen year olds getting raped. I thought about Melinda and Jayda and even baby Hannah, growing up and maybe getting hurt by some angry guy.

I thought about some lonely, screwed-up dude out there somewhere who had never met his mother and would never meet his son.

Then I thought about Wendy. Caught up in the chaos of my sister’s life, I’d managed to push all thoughts of Wendy out of my head for most of the day. But now it was like she was sitting right next to me, watching me drive, just like Alysha had been doing a few hours ago.

“You’re just sending me off for an abortion?” Wendy had said, last night at Caribou Coffee. And now I could see it, the pain in her eyes. I’d been so dense not to realize why she was mad.

My hand was shaking as I plunked thirty-five cents into the payphone outside the gas station, a block away from my house. I waited impatiently until I heard Wendy’s voice.

“Wendy,” I said.

For a minute she didn’t say anything. Just when I was about to shout her name into the receiver again, I heard her say, “What.”

“Did you go to the clinic yet? Did you do it?” I asked her.

Why?”

“Cause, did you or didn’t you?” I prodded.

“I didn’t go yet, Nolan. Shit, it hasn’t even been twelve hours. What’s your big hurry?”

I hardly heard the second half of her comment. “Don’t go, okay?” I said.

“What? Don’t go?” echoed Wendy.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” I rushed on. “And I think we should talk about it more. This is a big decision and I don’t want us to blow it.”

“Nolan, are you drunk again?” Wendy demanded. “I swear to God, if you’re drunk…”

“I’m not drunk. Just listen to what I’m saying. We could keep the baby. We could get married,” I said. “Or, we don’t even gotta get married if we don’t want to, we could just raise it as two single parents. A lot of people do that. Or, there’s adoption. You can do it now where you actually get to pick the people who adopt the baby. I saw a commercial about it on TV. Or, hell, we could even ask my mom to raise it for us until we finish school and shit. I know it sounds crazy, but she’s really good with babies… and I just think we should talk about it more, and whatever you want, I’ll be behind you, okay? I will!”

I was almost hyperventilating, after spitting all that out. I leaned up against the wall so my knees wouldn’t buckle.”

Wendy’s voice was so soft, I had to hold my breath to hear it. “You serious about what you’re saying, Nolan? I mean, are you really, really serious?”

“I am,” I assured her.

“This is a big change from last night.”

I didn’t know how to explain it. All I could say was, “I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want it to be like that.”

“Then let’s keep it, okay?” she whispered.
I let out my breath. “Okay! We’ll keep it, then!”

Wendy was crying. “We’re gonna keep it?”
“We’re gonna have a baby!” I started laughing because the words sounded so beautiful. The idea had seemed terrifying just that morning, and now it sounded like the most wonderful idea in the world. “Wait a minute… I’m gonna come over, okay, Wendy? I’m gonna come over cause I need to see you, right now.”

“Okay,” Wendy wept.

I hung up the phone, forgetting to say good-bye.

As I walked towards my car, I felt like flinging out my arms and spinning around and around until the whole world was a swirly blur, the way Alysha and me used to do when we were kids.

I wondered how late that shelter where Alysha was would take phone calls. I wanted to tell her she was going to be an aunt.


© Copyright 2017 NickiMann. All rights reserved.

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