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Stepping Stones

chapter 3

by 

Carrie Michael

          Angela is getting antsy, climbing around on her seat, going from the window to the isle, and back to the window, throwing her little smurf on the floor and picking it up, and coughing like a seal the whole time.  I search in the bag I brought for her coloring book and crayons, most of them broken and small.  She needs something to do, or else she’ll get cranky, and I want her to be more still since she is sick.  I hand her the coloring book with Sesame Street characters on the front and the small box of crayons.  She squeals and grabs them gladly, spreading the book open and finding a page she hasn’t colored on yet.

            God, I think, what am I going to say to Marilyn?  I know I’m going to have to be nice and keep my thoughts to myself, and put up with her I-told-you-so attitude and her looking down her nose at me.  I decide to be very quiet, to keep the details to myself, to let her in as little as possible.  She should never know of the way Tommy had treated us in the last few months, or the way we have been eating canned baked beans and macaroni and cheese because it is all we had left in the cupboard, either.  All she needs to know is that we need her help and that Tommy is gone.  That, in itself, should make her happy. 

            She was there when I told my parents I was pregnant and Tommy and I were getting married—whether they liked it or not.  I remember the way she looked at me, somewhat similar to the way she looked at people like Tommy, with an obvious amount of disapproval and superiority.  And from that point on, she looked at me that way. Even when she came into my room while I was packing, with tears running down my face and muffled sobs in my throat, and she said she’d always be there for me if I needed her.  There was no hug, because that would mean that she accepted my decision.  That would commit her too deeply to my situation.  She simply stated it and left, frightened that Mother and Daddy would hear her words.  As I packed my suitcases and boxes into my car, my father stood under a big willow tree, unwilling to look at me or help me.  My mother stormed out of the house, handkerchief in her hand, her eyes swollen and angry.  She came close enough to me that I could smell her expensive perfume and so that Daddy wouldn’t hear her. 

            “I want you to know, in no uncertain terms, that we all disapprove of what you are doing.”  I looked away, her words cutting deep, even though I had known what she would say all along. “And that we will not EVER have anything to do with that boy or that child you are carrying.” She could see, I’m sure, the tears streaking down my face and my hands shaking as I put the last bag in the trunk and slammed it shut. I could feel her piercing stare.  “Do not come to us when you need help.  Do not call us crying when you cannot feed that child.  As far as we are concerned, you are no longer our daughter, and that child is certainly not our grandchild.  You have betrayed us, shamed our family, and shamed yourself.  What you were thinking, after all of the fine upbringing we have given you, is beyond me.” 

            I looked over at my father, who was leaning on the trunk of the tree now, his shoulders slumped and his head lowered.  He always let Mother take care of messy situations, make all the decisions about his children.  He was weak that way.  I looked up at the house as my mother walked to the back door, entered the house, and softly closed the door.  Always proper.  Even in distress.  Marilyn was in my bedroom window, looking down at me with one hand on the window.  I managed a small smile for her, knowing that her lack of understanding and empathy was due to many years of brainwashing by my mother and inherited desires for wealth.  But I remembered her words and did not actually take her up on her offer for help until Tommy hit me that first time.  And now this time.  I silently make my decision to pretend everything is much better than it seems, and to do whatever I had to do to start a better life for Angela.

             Angela is happily coloring outside of the lines, content for a while with her crayons spilled across the seat.  I watch her for a moment, and realize that she is the only reason that life with Tommy was worthwhile.  I have a beautiful daughter who I wouldn’t trade for the world.  Maybe he would, but I wouldn’t.

            “I need some money,” I sobbed into the phone,  “I need two hundred dollars to get Tommy out of jail.”

            The line was silent. I could picture Marilyn’s face, her jaw tight like Mother’s would get when she heard unpleasant news, carefully choosing the right words. 

            “Caly, what did I tell you about that guy?” 

            “I know, I know,” I cried, “I wouldn’t call you unless I was desperate.  You see, there was a—a misunderstanding between us—an accident, sort of, and I got mad and called the police to get him back, and now he’s in jail and I’m sorry, and I need the money.”

            “Oh Lord,” she sighed, her southern accent in full force, “You’d better tell me what happened.”

            “It was no big deal—“

            “Caly, in order to get that money from me, I’d better hear a good reason for it.”

            “Okay, okay,” I swallowed and took a deep breath, wiping my face on my t-shirt, “I’ll tell you.  Tommy got mad because I bought Angela a new bed.  He said that I had no right spending his money like that, and then he sort of—uh—pushed me, and I dropped Angela on the driveway, and her lip split open.”

            “Oh Lord,” Marilyn’s voice wavered. 

            “No, really, it wasn’t a big deal…I just need to get him out of jail so he can work tomorrow.  If they find out he’s in jail, he’ll get fired, and we need that money.”  Angela was curled up in my lap at the police station, sucking on her fingers.  Her lip was puffed and purple, her eyelashes still wet with tears.

            “I declare, Caly, you’ve really gotten yourself into a mess here.  He hit you?  My Lord!” 

            “I know it sounds bad, but it is all just a—“

            “I heard you, a misunderstanding.  Well, I suggest you pack your bags and get out of that house, and leave that sorry bastard in jail!  Y’all can come stay with us.  Why, we have three bedrooms that are not being used.  Angela could have her own room, and—“

            “No, Marilyn.  I need two hundred dollars.  He is my husband and Angela’s father, and I’m determined to make this work.  Everyone screws up once in a while…Tom just screwed up, that’s all.”

            There was a long pause again, and my heart was tight in my chest, wondering what I would do if Marilyn didn’t come through for us now. 

            “Well, okay,” she said quietly, her voice not able to hide her disappointment.  “ I’ll wire you the money today.  But please think it over, Cal.  If he hurts you again, it could be worse, and…well, I don’t want to think of what he could do to that child.”

            “Thank you, Marilyn,” I cried, the tears starting again.  Relief flooded me and my body went limp.  I gave her the information for the nearest Western Union and thanked her again.  She was quiet, and I knew it pained her to do any favors for Tommy, but I accepted that.

            “I worry about you,” she said.  I was shocked.  “And Angela.  She is my niece, after all.” 

            “Yes, she is.  And I love you, Marilyn.  I know it may not seem like it, but I do.”

            “Me, too.”

            “Oh, and Marilyn?”  I said, “Please don’t tell Mom and Dad.”

            “Are you kidding? Mother doesn’t know that I even talk to you,” she laughed, “But Daddy asks me about you sometimes.  I think he misses you in a way.”  My heart flooded with happiness.  What hurt me the most about going off with Tommy was how it hurt my father.

            “I always wonder what they tell people about me,” I said.

            “Oh mother has glossed it all over with some fantastic story.  I don’t even remember what she says.  Daddy just stays quiet for the most part.”

            “Nothing new there.”

            “No, they haven’t changed much,” she sighs.  “I’ll have to go if you want that money soon.” 

            “Okay…thank you again.”

            “You’re welcome.”  And she hung up.

 I bailed Tommy out of jail that day, and told him that if he ever hurt us again, we would leave.  He smirked and asked me where the hell we would go.

            I said, “My sister’s!” staring him in the eye with defiance.  He just laughed.  He did promise he wouldn’t hurt us and apologized for it, but he never asked me where I got the bail money.  Things changed from that moment on.  They got worse.

** Look for Chapter 4 of "Stepping Stones" on January 14, 2000! **

Copyright©2000 Carrie Michael