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Only a Pebble Between Us


by Tanya E.E.E Schmid

Only a Pebble Between Us


I was walking my border collie through town today in the furnace of the noon sun, heading to the park just past the drugstore where the crosswalk is, to get to where the green shade embraces the brook, where I could let my dog run free and cool her paws. But I got a stone in my sneaker and I stopped, feeling silly to be bothered by such a small thing. I held onto the lamppost near the drugstore’s ringing glass door to awkwardly slip out of my shoe just as a silver Cadillac ran the light and crashed into a white moving van exactly where I would have been walking. When I got home, I was still holding the pebble and I thought of you.

You were two and I was seven when we made too much noise while playing in the bathtub. Dad pulled us from the tub, one of his fists clamped around each of our arms, hauling us to your bedroom. You cried furiously, your tiny hands waving to protect your backside. I watched the red welt appear on your fanny as the leather belt was raised again. I screamed, “No! She’s too liddle!” and I tried to grab our father’s wrist before he threw me out of your bedroom. I taught you later to always choose the wooden ruler, when given the choice, even after the time it broke against my thighs, because that leather belt was worse.

You were eight when I felt rebellious after a week of freedom staying at my friend’s house. I told our father at the dinner table, “You don’t know everything.” And you had to listen as he dragged me up the stairs, told me to lower my pants and lay across my bed to wince at thirteen welts from that belt, one for each year I had been in his custody. Decades later he said to me, after his standard second Chevas Regal on the rocks, “I only spanked you kids when you deserved it. That was normal back then.” He was the father that bought you a telescope, paid for my piano lessons, and painted our bedroom walls with rainbows.

You were ten and the man was the beloved guitar-player at the Potowatami summer-camp. You were so happy when he singled you out and invited you to his cabin while the other little girls were learning to swim in the lake. You knew you had to do what you were told. Afterward, you put socks in your underwear to hide the blood, not telling anyone, especially not yourself.

You were twelve when I stood up to our father, yelling, “Fuck you!” Words which he spouted daily but were forbidden to his two girls. I was seventeen then, and he chased me around the kitchen table, pulling wildly at the chairs, and I knew that if he caught me he would kill me – the same guy who attended every one of our band concerts and gave me flowers when I starred in a school play, the perfect family man in his suit and tie. But I made it out the front door and ran down the gravel road in my bare feet until I could run no further, then walked the five miles to my friend’s house—wearing just a tank top and short-shorts—along deserted back streets, past empty fields where nobody would have heard me scream.

You were twenty and I was miles away when you sat atop the living room stairs on the thickly padded, perfectly vacuumed, light-blue carpeting of our family home and listened to our passive mother invite the boy into our house. The boy you had recently told her had date-raped you. You sat shaking as she called, “Honey, Kyle’s here.” She couldn’t understand why you wouldn’t go down and at least talk to him – our mother who played school nurse and attended PTA meetings, who took us to church every Sunday and baked coffee-cake for the neighbors. Who always obeyed our father.

You were twenty-one the first time you overdosed. Our mother sat by your bedside in the hospital and when you woke, so devastated that you weren’t in heaven but burdened still, Mom asked you, “Why?” When you tried to explain again about Kyle, she said to your tears, “You shouldn’t have dressed like that. You shouldn’t have gone with him.” And you disappeared a little more.

You were thirty when I finally came home once for Thanksgiving, and we got dressed up to go with Grandma to her church dinner. We were laughing as we put on our make-up using the tiny mirror in Grandma’s very pink bathroom when Dad said, “Come on girls, hurry up,” as if he envied our fun. Then he asked, “You wearing any underwear under those skirts?” I gave him my “that’s gross” look, and you froze and left your body, and only a dark shadow remained where your face had been. I touched your shoulder as if to wake you from sleep, and you finally shook your head and whispered to me how wrong that was. That he’d often made comments like that, from the time I’d left home.

And when I called Dad into Grandma’s sewing room, because I owed it to you and because he was old now and I had studied karate and I was no longer afraid, I calmly said, “I need to tell you something, Dad. What you just said to us was inappropriate.” Then all hell broke loose as he fell into one of his foul-mouthed tirades.

Mom asked with a knitted brow, “What did you do now?” She didn’t question the raging bull kicking over the kitchen’s garbage can, the tyrant breaking dishes in the sink who left our grandmother cooing like a frightened owl. “Thanks for ruining our Thanksgiving,” Mom said when I’d explained what had happened.

I left home after high school. You were younger. You’d stayed.

Back then, I only knew to choose the ruler not the belt. I only knew how to shout back and run. I only knew how to leave. I didn’t know how to save you. If only I had been there to break that guy’s guitar and pull you out of his cabin before it was too late. If I had punched that boy Kyle in the face so he couldn’t take you to that party. If I had been with you the time you woke up in the hospital so I could tell you it was not your fault.

To tell you, it could have been me, if I had been born five years later than you.

Instead, I got a pebble in my shoe.



 




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