Friday, August 13, 2004

PART 31 - Cry for Help

This man has too soulful a voice for me to believe that he is really an English white boy.

Rick Astley
Cry for Help

She's taken my time, convinced me she's fine
But when she leaves I'm not so sure
It's always the same, she's playing her game
And when she goes I feel to blame

Why won't she say she needs me?
I know she's not as strong as she seems
Why don't I see her cry for help?
Why don't I feel her cry for help?
Why don't I hear her cry for help?

I wandered around the streets of this town trying to find sense of it all
The rain on my face,it covers the trace of all the tears I'd had to waste
Why must we hide emotions? Why must we never break down and cry?
All that I need is to cry for help]
Somebody please hear me cry for help
All I can do is cry for help

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
It would be fair to say that I have been known as a "cart before the horse" kind of person. Sometimes I do things kind of backwards. I have been known to eat dessert first. Sometimes I skip to the back of the book and read the last few chapters, then go back and finish reading the whole story.

So it was with the divorce. Most people contemplating divorce go through an agonizing decision-making time, a long negotiation, a period of acceptance and grief, and finally, they get the relief of the finality of the divorce. Not so with me - I flew through the divorce proceeding so fast, I barely realized I had been through it by the time it was finalized. Kind of like going through a tornado, really. I was left sitting in a pile of rubble in the aftermath, not quite realizing what had hit me.

The euphoria of the escape was short-lived.

Living alone for the first time in my life, I had plenty of time to relive, review, recant, second-guess and grieve for everything I had loved and lost. In my quiet moments, I found myself replaying our last day together over and over in my mind - as it actually happened. When I dreamed about it, more times than not, it had a different outcome. The whole scene, lucid or dreaming, was always in slow motion in my head. Every time I woke from a bloody scene in a cold sweat, I questioned whether I would have really done it if it had dawned on me to grab the loaded .22 out of my dresser drawer that day, or if he would have hesitated to kill me if he had remembered that the gun was there, for that matter. Those thoughts made me shudder, and yet I couldn't stop thinking about whether or not either of us could have been pushed to murder the other. The thoughts plagued me, and I couldn't believe that we had been driven to such acts of desperation.

It was an incredibly hard time for me. I was thrust into a new work environment, so it was important to be a productive, enthusiatic worker to impress the new boss and secure my position. I was the picture of efficiency and happiness to all that saw me. Not a trace of weakness. All of my energy was poured into each 8 hour day, and I dragged myself home and collapsed on my sofa, not bothering to eat dinner or turn on the lights, or answer the phone for that matter. More times than not, I would wake up on the sofa in the middle of the night and stumble to bed; it was hard for me to lay in that bed when I wasn't half-asleep already.

I found television to be too jarring for my jangled nerves, and for the longest time, all I could bear to watch was Bob Ross, the painting guy on PBS. Something about him soothed me - I guess he was like Mr. Rogers for the adult me. His declarations of, "This is your world and you can do anything you want," calmed me somehow. I watched intently as he would gently suggest with that mellifluous voice of his "Maybe there's a happy little tree that lives riiiiiight here." I never tired of watching him paint his canvasses with mixtures of his titanium white, yellow ochre, alizarin crimson, sap green, thalo blue and van dyke brown. I loved that he never made a mistake; just "happy accidents." Alot of people make fun of that guy, but he was like an audio-visual quaalude for me.

Other than Bob Ross and work, there wasn't much going on in my life. My family kept their distance from me; the sting of their disapproval of my divorce was still pretty fresh, and any attempt on their part to reach out to me was met with a chirpy, yet curt refusal to admit or discuss my pain or accept any support at all. The friends that we had shared weren't a part of my life anymore - since no one knew the details of the divorce, they all assumed I had left him out of the blue, and he retained their support because he was still there. Out of sight, out of mind.

About 2 months after the divorce, I really hit rock bottom. I missed the kids so badly, and my house, and my dogs, and his family that had been MY family for the past 10 years. I had lived my life in the center of bustling activity and a tightly connected family and I had a beautiful home, and it was all gone. It was so quiet in my life it felt like I had died - there was just no semblance of my former life whatsoever. I had been his wife, and we had both been our family's pride and joy, and now I wasn't anyone's anything anymore.

Everything was gone, and all that was left for me was my work and a small, dark, lonely apartment that was beginning to close in on me. All of the years that I had worked so hard seemed to have amounted to a pile of dust, and I felt like a loser that no one loved. I couldn't fathom trying to build a new life, and at 25, I was beginning to believe that my life was over, or at the very least, I was beginning to wish it was over on a daily basis.

It was just another work day when the phone at my desk rang. It was a casworker from DFCS. "Rita, this is an unusual request, but do you think that you could keep the kids for a while? An incident has occurred, and we need to place them right away." Surprised, I agreed. I called him to let him know what was going on, and he said, "Yeah, I know. I told them to call you. If you want to get the kids, you can bring them to the house. I can stay at my mom's until we figure out what's going on." I headed out right then; I was dying to get to the kids.

The social worker gave me directions to go retrieve the kids from a relative of David's. I didn't have all the details, but I was pretty sure the parents had been busted again.

Arriving at the delapidated house, I saw about 10 people gathered in the yard and on the porch. As I approached, I scanned kids in the yard looking for Ronnie and Kimberly. Finally, I approached a barefooted, dirty looking girl smoking a cigarette. "Do you know where Ronnie and Kimberly are?" I asked her. She gave me a cold look, and she said, "Are you here to get Cynthia's kids?" When I told her yes, she asked me if I was "Cynthia's kinfolk". I told her no, that I was sent to pick up the kids by DFCS. She changed her stance a little and said "Oh, ok, I thought ya mighta have been that skank's sister er somethin' and I was fixin ta tell ya to get them kids from in yonder quick and git out." I was more confused than ever when I walked into the house. It was a pigstye, and stiflingly hot. No one was in there, and I called for the kids. Ronnie answered from the back of the house.

I walked toward the sound of his voice and opened a door to a dark bedroom with a bare mattress on the floor, and a dirty sheet covering the window. Ronnie was sitting on the mattress next to Kimberly, who was balled up facing the wall, quietly crying. I nearly threw up. I approached them both, and Ronnie's eyes were wide open and scared. "I'm glad you came to get us Rita. We came over here in the night," he said as I hugged him close. "Me too, hun, let's go home," I answered him, and when she heard my voice, Kimberly jerked her head toward me, startled. I held my arms out to her, and she jumped into them, holding on to me for dear life. I wasted NO time. Holding Ronnie's hand, I got the hell out of that shithole and headed for the house.

In the light of day, the kids looked nearly as bad as the first day I had ever seen them. "Is my mama in trouble?" Ronnie asked me as I put seatbelts on him and Kimberly. I told him I wasn't sure, that all I knew so far was that I was supposed to pick them up. Driving toward the house, he began to tell me what happened in bits and pieces.

"I woke up in the night and heard Mama and David fussing downstairs. I heard Mama screaming, and when I started to go down the stairs, I saw David fall down. My mama had a knife in her hand," he said, matter of factly.

Holy shit.

When we got to the house, he was there. His demeanor let me know that he already knew the whole story, and as quickly as he gave me a knowing look, he put on a smile for Ronnie. "Hey buddy! Are you hungry? I got you and Kimberly strawberry milkshakes and cheeseburgers from McDonalds!" Ronnie went into the kitchen with him, while Kimberly ignored the comment altogether and headed straight upstairs. Curious, I followed her.

She went straight into the bathroom and stripped off her filthy clothes. She stepped in the bathtub and stood there silently looking at me. Without a word, I filled the tub with warm water and bubbles and gently bathed her and washed her hair. While she laid back with her eyes closed, I got a chance to look at her body closely. She was covered in bruises, and she had a nasty burn mark on her left inner forearm, about the circumference of a lit cigarette. I lost my composure, and as I bathed her, my tears fell into the bathwater, mixing with the perfumed suds. She looked at me curiously, and patted my cheek as I dried her. She was once again silent.

I sent him across the street to borrow some clothing for Kimberly from our neighbor. Ronnie ate quickly and went out to play with the dogs. Dressed and sipping her shake, Kimberly sat in my lap in the livingroom while he filled me in on the details.

David was dead. Cynthia had stabbed him through the heart with a butcher knife, and he was dead on the scene.

That night, Kimberly and Ronnie slept with me, and he slept downstairs on the couch. I laid there staring at the ceiling. This was home and yet it wasn't. These were my kids and yet they weren't. My husband was downstairs and yet he wasn't. I was glad to have escaped, and yet I wanted to be back.

I was still contemplating this as the first rays of sunlight hit the bedroom window the next morning.

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