“But if out in the country a man happens to meet a girl and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. Do nothing to the girl; she has committed no sin deserving death … for the man found the girl out in the country, and though the girl screamed … there was no one to rescue her.”
“I never screamed. Not out loud.”
From, My Thoughts,” Tess’s Journal
I can’t decide what to take. My raggedy Ann doll, heaped in the corner, half hidden inside dirty clothes, or my Barbie case broken and half – filled. I don’t know which one’s more important. Nothing seems as it is, until tested against destruction.
“Tessie!” My mom screams from downstairs. She’s scared, and she doesn’t even care that maybe I am too. Waiting, just for a moment, as the shutters on our windows bang and break, I like that I can’t hear my mom through the tunnel of noise.
I’ll take Ann, poor thing. I wonder, how I could have let her lay on my floor so long? I run downstairs, doll in hand, and am thrown back three steps as a window pane above the stairway explodes.
“Tessie!” My mom screams again as she finds me flat on my back near the fifth stair.
I try to stand, but she grabs me up into her arms and runs like a hurt duck with me, crying, out the front door. As we pass through the front door my daddy yells at me. The only thing worse is the wind. It feels like it’s cutting my face. I know I’m crying only because I can see my tears fly away in the wind. The trees are losing leaves, the houses are grumbling, cars are honking, and when I see my dad try to lock our front door; I’m all of a sudden not afraid.
My eyes are glued to him, as my mom throws me into the backseat of our lime green Capri. I didn’t know it was exactly ‘lime’ until my mom heard me telling our neighbors that our car was actually a big piece of sour apple candy. She couldn’t just let me think that. She had to take all the fun out of it.
Flying wet hair in all directions, the rain pelts him from all sides and I can see his face, how he won’t stop trying to shut the door. I guess I’m not afraid because even I know that locking our front door wont’ keep the storm out. Seeing him doing something just because he’s scared, makes me feel brave.
Christie won’t stop crying next to me, and I want to tell her to knock it off, but she looks too sweet. Her blond curls all wet and heavy and her crystal blue eyes brimming with tears, she is for this moment just my little sister. The magazine sister. The little porcelain figurine I could buy in four monthly installments of $19.99. I don’t hear her tattling on me, or feel her long nails in my skin. I don’t see her stealing my toys, or ruining my puzzles. This storm is doing strange things inside of me.
She notices me watching and after plucking her thumb from her mouth she yelps, “Mommy, ‘cared!”
Turning to face us from the front seat, my mom says, “Don’t be afraid girls, everything will be just fine.”
I see her run her hand over her swollen belly, slowly. I can’t tell if she’s mad at the storm, mad at my dad for moving us to where storms live, or mad at us because she has to pretend about so much all the time. I didn’t think it was fair. And when the baby came, it would be even more unfair.
My dad finally got the door locked and the car tilted when he jumped into the driver’s seat. He shook his head like a wet dog and laughed, “What a whopper ‘eh girls?”
“Michael, this is not the time,” my mom said.
He smiled back at us from the mirror in the front window. The rain dripped off his face and ran over the blue veins on his forehead and neck. I couldn’t tell if he was angry, or as my mom always says, “God forbid, scared.”
He starts the car and glances at my mom, ‘You okay Leah?”
he nodded he head without looking at him, “Can we just drive Mike?”
“Well, we can sure try! Think we can find our way through it girls?”
Christie was still crying, and I just gave my dad a funny look. He always tried to be funny when stuff like this was happening. I kind of liked it, but I knew it made my mom mad.
He laughed, “Life’s an adventure Leah, just one long adventure!”
He drove, laughing to cover up mom’s far. We had to dodge tees and power lines left and right. People tried to get out of cars in ditches, kids were crying and getting wet. Mom’s were crying too. My mom wasn’t crying. I hoped then that we didn’t end up in a ditch.
“Daddy, don’t get in a ditch okay?” I asked him quietly.
He kept looking straight and said, “Hey now, don’t you worry about a thing,” he paused to wipe his forehead where some water was falling and then said really low, “‘cuz your dad won’t let anything bad happen to you.”
Christie smiled at me from behind her thumb and Peter Rabbit blanket. I cling to my huge, torn purple quilt. Amazed that my mother thought hard enough to remember it. The sky grew darker, the rain got louder, and even though the windows were rolled all the way up, I could feel the wind inside. But something was strange.
I could see what my family looked like from the other side of our car, from where the rain came. I see my dad wanting to save me. I feel my mom’s sad face. I see Christie and am mad at her for being so small and perfect. It isn’t just the storm I’m afraid of, but me out there inside of it. I want to come in from the storm and sit inside my skin and be just like they are; real and afraid and trying.
“Remember that song Christie? About God in he middle of the night?” I ask her. She shakes her head and the curls bob up and down, “Uh-uh.”
“I’ll sing it for you then, “I tell her and begin to sing, “Who is in the middle of the night? God is! Who is in the middle of the night? God is! Who is in the middle of the night? God is! God is in the night because everything God made is good!”
She shrugs at e, “Is not nigh-night Tessie.”
My dad hears her and starts singing from up front, “Who is in the middle of the storm? God is! Who is in the middle of the storm? God is! God is in the middle of the storm because everything God made is good!”
Nobody says anything. Christie smiles at me, like she’s telling me that I never get anything right and I shouldn’t even bother. I open my mouth, about to tell my dad that it looks like night outside so my song was just fine; when the car slams to a stop.
I hear the tires scream, my dad says a bad word, and then my face hits the back of my mom’s seat. My doll is tossed to the floor as I grab to hold my nose. My mom screams, “Jesus Christ!”
The Capri slid really slowly for a minute, then we went into a ditch on the side of the road, just down the hill from our Pastor’s house, where we were headed for safety because they had what my dad said was reinforced walls.
“Would you look at that?” My dad said, almost laughing.
My mom hugged her stomach, “It’s not funny Mike.”
“Are you girls okay back there?” My dad asks, smiling still.
I hold my nose, and when I say, “You weren’t supposed to go in a ditch, dad,” It sounds like a turtle talking. If a turtle could talk.
I look to where he is pointing and notice that Pastor’s house is just up the hill. “We’ll have to make a run for it. It’s not far. Leah, you just get yourself inside, and I’ll bring the girls right behind you,” my dad says, still with a smile.
I watched my mom crawl from her seat, leaving her door wide open. I don’t know if I should push the seat up and get out of her side, or wait for my dad to pull me from his side. So, I just sit, waiting. He pulled his seat forward, reached in and grabbed Christie. I still waited. He didn’t close the door, and just when I thought he was going to come around to get me, I watch him take off up the hill. Without me. And I do nothing. I can’t move. Something strange happened in that second.
Like before, only different; I saw myself from outside where the rain came from. I saw me, in the car all alone. I wasn’t afraid. I was hurt. Forgotten. I tried to lift the handle underneath, finally able to move, but I couldn’t pull the trigger next to my mom’s seat hard enough to make it move. Sliding to the other side of the backseat, I got out of my dad’s door and stepped out into the ditch. I heard something snap.
I hear a loud thunder, than a sharp lightening sound, and then the snap. I look up but can’t see anything.
“Tess! Tess Renee! Run!” My dad yelled out to me and I turn to see him through the blanket soft rain. He puts Christie on the ground and runs at me. What have I done wrong now? What else can I possibly mess up? He jumped at me, and grabbed my arm hard. We rolled right back into the ditch, and he fell on top of me.
“Don’t move, don’t move Tess,” he screams even though I’m right below him. I start to say I’m sorry when I fell the air around us move so heavy that it takes my dad’s breath away. He made a big groaning noise and then I couldn’t breathe at all. He’s heavy on me, and it’ all I could do to open my eyes.
He took a big breath, “It’s okay honey. Just don’t move for a minute, okay?”
“What’s wrong? What happened? I cry out
“Tess, look over daddy’s shoulder and tell me what you see.”
I lift my chin as far as I can and see that the tree is resting just across my father’s back. I start to cry. I almost killed my daddy.
“I’m going to count to three and then me and you are gonna slide up together. Just use your legs Tess and push your body backwards, okay?”
I tried to nod my head, but my chin is stuck up under his shoulder.
“One, two .. three …” He whispered the numbers to me and we both used our legs and pushed up and out from under the tree. We got out, and he lifted me up from the ground. He hugged me hard, “I’m sorry daddy, I’m sorry!” was all I could say.
“Hey, hey .. it’s okay. We were luckier than old sour apple though, ‘eh?”
I look at our car. Smashed right down the middle, under the big broken tree, it had saved us. My dad swings me up into his arms and run to Christie, still sitting in the road crying, sucking her thumb, holding other her Peter Rabbit blanket. Her blond curls so wet that don’t bounce at all.
We make it into the house and past mom. She’s screaming at dad, “How could you forget her in the mar Mike? How could you forget her?”
She was yelling at my dad, but she didn’t even reach for me. She took my sister and left me standing on the cold linoleum floor in the dark kitchen.
“She’s fine Leah, we are all fine.”
Pastor Coker reaches out to shake my dad’s hand, “Thought we almost lost you Mike,” He says.
I spoke up, “Dad protected me, just like he said he would.”
My dad smiled at me. This storm isn’t so bad after all. Kathy, the Pastor’s wife takes Christie from my mom’s arms, and just as she says, “Let’s all get into the living room,” the lights go out completely and we are surrounded in total darkness.
I turn, to reach out when Pastor picks me up and carries me into the dark further. I lost my mom and dad, although I can hear them talking to one another to hold hands. I fall down into some pillows. I feel scared.
It’s too dark. I don’t know where I am. And it’s really quiet suddenly except for the howling winds and the shaking of the house. I’m cold and shivering. Like when we got out of the swimming pool at the park and went into the dark shower rooms, where the water would never get warm.
My mom would tell me to close my teeth together and then I wouldn’t shiver, so that’s what I try to do. But thinking about that makes me want her so I call out, “Mom?! Where are you mom?”
Pastor’s hand goes over my mouth, and my words don’t get out right. He hushes me quiet and moves closer to me.
“Your shivering,” He whispers into my ear.
I nod in the dark, “I’m c-c-cold.”
I feel a blanket go around me as the sirens scream through the walls. He feels my wet clothes. I’m wearing jean shorts, tennis shoes without socks, and a t-shirt. He is taking my shoes off.
“Let’s get out of these cold clothes,” He whispers.
I wanted to take them off, they were stinging my skin. But I didn’t want to be naked. I remembered my mom telling me not to let boys see me naked at the swimming pool, when I ran across the shower room without my swimming suit on. She got mad. But I didn’t think I had to tell Pastor that. He talked all the time at church about stuff he knew, and people listened to him, so I didn’t think I had to tell him about being naked. But, he started taking my shorts off, and I felt stuck.
Stuck in mud, like the kind of that I’m not supposed to be playing in on Sunday morning dressed up in my nice dress. The kind that you can’t get away with, or wash off. Then, when he pulled my shirt over my head; I did not know how to feel or what to do. All of a sudden I couldn’t hear the wind. I couldn’t hear the lightening. I couldn’t hear Christie crying. I didn’t hear tress falling down on sour apple candies, or people screaming from ditches. Everybody was busy being brave, or scared into stillness and the only sound I heard came from my teeth knocking together.
My lips felt blue, even though I didn’t know what blue felt like. Then, I thought of Mrs. Christiansen at school the day before, when she told us about different colors and how they made you feel. Yellow made you feel warm because the sun was that color. Red made you feel love, because hearts were colored that color. She said that blue would make you feel light, like you could fly. That’s because the clouds and sky are blue. But if she were here I would tell her that blue felt cold and scary.
When Pastor lifted me up onto his lap I felt a different fear. Like I was going to get a spanking for something I didn’t do, or did do and lied about. I tried really hard to step outside, like when we were driving and I could see my family from outside where the rain came. I wanted to see what was happening to me, to watch it better, so that I’d know if I should really be this afraid of Pastor.
Then, it happened. I didn’t have time to go outside and look in. A storm came, so strong and so silent that nobody else besides me knew it was there. My daddy wasn’t there to protect me like h said he would, and my mom wasn’t there to make sure he did. I closed my eyes tight shut and froze. I knew this was bad, but I did’ understand why he was going it. I want to say something, but what?”
Right now I wish that lightening would strike and a tree would fall into the house and land on Pastor’s head. Why is he doing this to me? I start to cry, but he puts his other hand over my mouth and tells me to be quiet, that he is just keeping me safe.
Some time passed. The sirens raged, the storm screamed, and I was embarrassed. When the hurricane started coming at us, when it made the windows break, made my mom scream and my little sister cry – I just kind of ran along with it. But this, this made me stuck.
When he asked me with a low, shaky whisper if I felt good, I didn’t say anything. I felt my tears fall down my face. This time, the wind didn’t wash them away.
“I think it’s safe now!” I heard my dad yell out from the darkness as the lights flicker wildly. Pastor jerked. My dad screams again, “Where is Tess?”
Pastor yells back, while he is trying to put my shirt back on me, “She’s here, she’s with me, we are near the kitchen, we’re fine!”
I try to get up, after hearing my dad’s voice I want to follow it, but Pastor yanks me down, grabs onto my chin, and growls at me, “Don’t tell what the devil made you do. You keep quiet, like little girls should.”
I nod slightly, despite his grip on my chin but I can’t help but wonder what I did wrong. I didn’t do anything. Why did he say that about the devil? Maybe I was going to go to hell now. What if I liked what he did? No, I did not like it at all. But what if I was wrong? What if I did something to make him do it?
Candles flicker, and as he hands me my shoes to put on, I see Kathy coming towards us and then my dad in the distance, holding Christie. I run to them. My mother reaches for me, “Honey, are you okay?” she asks.
I pushed into her so hard the she fell back onto the couch. Climbing up into her lap I cry. I was real. I was here. It wasn’t what I thought it would be.
“It’s alright Tess, it’s all over now sweetheart,” my dad said as he sat next to us.
But he didn’t know. Christie came over to me, her blankie tucked under her arm and as the sirens wound down to a slow stop she asked me why I was still crying, because she said, “I’m not crying now Tessie.”
Her hair had dried some and her curls bounced again. My mother and father sat together, not fighting. And everything came back. Raggedy on the floor, my broken Barbie’s, the window breaking in front of me on the stairs. I saw my dad locking the front door, my mom yelling at him when he laughed. I saw the cars, heard the horns, felt my face in the back of my mom’s seat. I heard the loud snap and then felt the weight of my dad when he fell. I heard the crash that killed our sour apple candy car. Then, I felt his hands. I shivered then, just as I shivered now; not just because my clothes were cold and wet, but because I felt what blue feels like. And worst of all, I couldn’t stop hearing in my head, “The devil made you do it, you’re a bad little girl.”
I don’t know who is saying it, but it is there. It was real. Like me now.