Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Chapter XXXVIII


We were finally out of the last checkpoint and heading home when out of nowhere Jude said, “You sure are squeamish.”

      “Am not,” I said automatically before thinking to ask, “What do you mean I’m squeamish?”

      “You claim to be grown but say one word about anything personal and you come all unglued.  You act like your parents haven’t had ‘the talk’ with you.”

      Outraged that he’d bring it up so boldly again I said, “Of course they have!  Honest to pete Jude, what is your problem?!”

      “I haven’t got a problem.  I was just … I don’t know …”

      Kurfluffled and out of sorts I stammered, “It just isn’t … isn’t proper is all.  You’re a guy.”

      He snorted.  “Naw, really? You just now figuring that out?”  He saw I was getting hot under the collar and said, “I didn’t mean to offend your delicate sensibilities Granny so get your underdrawers unbunched.  Just if you are going to claim to be grown you need to act like it.”

      “I do act like it.  You’re the one acting like a dork.  I suppose since you’ve had a gazillion girlfriends you think you are an expert and qualified to speak on all subjects female.”

      “I have had a few, I grant you that, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m mean … oh hell … you got me so turned around I don’t know what I mean now.  I lost my train of thought.”

      “That particular train never seems to run on time from what I can tell.”

      He turned and gave me the eye and said, “All right there Granny, you putting your toes awful close to the line.  All I meant to say was that you don’t go sticking your head in the sand about the important stuff and that if you did need to talk to someone just to make sure it isn’t Rochelle or Wendalene.  They’ll give you nightmares.”

      “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

      “It means Rochelle is older than Butch and Wendalene just a shy bit younger and they still don’t seem to know where babies come from … or don’t care … as you can see they have five between ‘em and none of the kids’ fathers are in the picture.  They’re more level headed lately but … you don’t need them to tell you anything.  They nearly ruint me for life.”

      “You?!” I laughed.  “You went to your sisters for ‘the talk’?  How old were you?”

      He shook his head.  “I didn’t ask them for nuthin’, they took it on themselves to spread the word to me.  Mom had just had the talk with them … guess I was eight.  The way she put things … well … I suppose the girls got the idea to make sure I didn’t grow up and get some girl in trouble.  Well, by the time they were done educating me I was convinced even looking at a girl would do the deed.  I got so twitchy the teachers at school called Dad and Mom in and recommended that I get evaluated for Tourette’s Syndrome.  Dad thought I was fooling around and took me out to the barn.  By the time he got the whole story out of me I thought he was gonna have a heart attack from laughing so hard, which I could have lived with compared to what he did next.”

      “I’m … I’m afraid to ask,” I said having a hard time not laughing myself.

      “By way of straightening out my confusion he took me to Mr. Schnell’s farm and had me watch them artificially inseminating the cows.  I swear, all of it nearly turned me off females for good.”

      I wound up laughing so hard that I almost fell off the wagon seat and then suddenly I needed to throw up so bad I could barely get Jude to understand that he had to stop the wagon before I was jumping off and running for the ditch.  I puked until nothing would come up – not that there was much to begin with – and then kept heaving and gagging until I saw stars from lack of oxygen.

      “Dovie!  What is it girl?!  Talk to me!”

      And then I was crying - great big gulping, runny nose causing, hiccup inducing, brays.  It took me a few minutes to stop enough to moan, “I was so scared … I was soooooo scared Jude.”

      He was holding me much like I had held Reynolds the second time he had come to the house unannounced.  “I know,” Jude told me patty my back.  “I know.  But everything is ok now and it’s gonna stay ok.  It’s ok Dovie, it’s ok.  I wouldn’t let nothin’ happen to you.  Dad and I had it planned out.  It’s ok now.  Shhhh.”

      I finally stopped completely and pushed away from Jude, beyond ashamed that he had seen me breakdown like I had.  “Oh God Jude … don’t tell anyone.  Please don’t tell anyone that I cried like a baby.”

      “You weren’t crying like a baby … it was a scary situation and you’re a girl.  Girl’s are allowed to cry.  Heck, I’ve seen grown men breakdown over quite a bit less than what you’ve been through.”

      I shook my head.  “It doesn’t matter that I’m a girl, there’s still rules.”

      He shook his head.  “Oh Lord, you and your rules.  What’s this one?”

      “Yes, girls are allowed to cry sometimes – like at weddings and baby dedications – and there’s times when they are expected to cry – like at funerals and stuff.  But there are also times that maybe they can get away with crying but when they do people see them as weak … like if something scary happens.  And Jude, the last thing I can do is have people see me as weak.  They already think it, I can’t have them knowing it.  They … they’ll … they’ll maybe not think I should be taking care of the kids.”

      “Nobody is going to do that Dovie.”

      “You don’t know that for sure.  You heard what Crystal said.  And while Clewis doesn’t count it’s pretty much a given that Rochelle doesn’t have much confidence in me either and her opinion does count.  Even Uncle Roe set you to keep an eye on me as much as you living there is to take some pressure off at the main house.”  Quietly I looked at him and said, “‘Cause … ‘cause sometimes they’re right.”

      “What do you think you mean, that they’re right?”

      “Sometimes even I wish … oh, never mind.  I just … I thought you might understand because you get the sweats too.”

      He got me up out of the dirt, grass, and gravel then brushed me off and helped me back over to the wagon and put me up on the seat.  With more than a little concern Jude asked, “What do you mean you get the sweats?  Please don’t tell me that at your age you got into anything that got ahold of you that hard.”

      “No … I mean … look I’ve seen you.  Even today.  You walked by that shelf with those liquor bottles on it and every time you flinched like someone was going to reach out and pinch you.  All that temptation sitting right there and I could tell you wanted it.  But I watched you conquer it, push on through, and the sweat dried off your forehead and you were fine.  Well, I sweat sometimes because I wish Dad and Mom were here … because sometimes it feels like I just can’t do it, live without out them and Jack and Jay, help Paulie and the other kids grow up right, the cooking, the cleaning, hunting for food, having to … to live with what I did out on the road, acting like everything is ok when sometimes it feels like nothing is ever going to be ok again.  I’m so tired of it all Jude … sometimes I want to … to be Mimi’s age again and not have to worry about anything.  Sometimes it feels like doing the right thing is going to kill me.  But then I know that’s stupid and that things are what they are and that no one was breaking my arm to take on the kids and that I could have chosen a different path … and that I have to push on through the sweats and just pray I’ve got what it takes not to make mistakes that are so big it hurts the kids or anyone else.”

      Jude was quiet while he walked around and then got up on the wagon seat himself.  I thought I had really misspoke but then he looked at me and said, “Dang Dovie, sometimes you say things so right that it makes my head hurt.  I do know what you mean I just didn’t know that’s how you felt.”

      Quietly I told him, “I don’t feel that way all the time.  Most of the time, really, it’s ok … just … just sometimes I get the sweats too.”

      He thought about it then sighed.  “OK, I won’t say anything about you crying … on one condition.”

      Apprehensively I asked, “What?”

      “When you get the sweats you come talk to me.  If I learned nothing else from being such an idiot I learned you can’t do it all by yourself.”

      Curious I asked, “Who do you talk to?”

      “Dad,” he told me before adding bluntly, “I was a rotten kid.  You don’t know half how rotten I was.  I was three-quarters down the road to ruin and hadn’t even thought of hitting the brakes yet.  Then that blow up with Mom … I hit rock bottom and … and it was bad; I was drunk for two weeks straight, got alcohol poisoning for the first time in my life and it nearly killed me.  Dad didn’t have much reason to have any kind of confidence in me but he held out his hand anyway and it was like a lifeline.  He picked me up and got me going.  First thing he did was insist I start going to church again.  Even if I got a serious drunk on Saturday night he expected me to be in a pew on Sunday morning.  He said that he wouldn’t help me unless I was willing to give that much on my end.  Only had to do that twice before I learned that Brother Shirley liked to hit that podium awful hard to make a point and it was easier to handle if I didn’t have a hangover.  When I realized I could give up going out on Saturday nights it was like a light bulb went on and I decided to quit cold turkey and never look back … but Dovie I’ll be honest, I like the taste.  A good drink is a good drink to me.  And I like how it makes me feel while I’m drinking … ten foot tall and bullet proof and all my troubles fuzzy and far away.  I ain’t a bad drunk, not mean or destructive and I kept enough sense to never drive while I was drunk; I’m just a useless drunk ‘cause I lose my motivation to do much of anything but get more drunk and stay that way.  I never even really got into drugs ‘cause they made me nauseous like I’d just ate a big meal and then got on a roller coaster.   I do miss some of my friends … or think I do.  Run into them from time to time and realize I don’t miss some of them as much as I thought I would.  But the thing is, for me there isn’t any such thing as one drink or a little drunk.  I had to decide; I could either drink and continue to be an ass, or I could give it up and try and make something of myself.  I picked giving it up.  But I don’t know if I will ever get rid of that craving that comes on me when I least expect it.”

      Realizing he had to trust me to be telling me this part of the way things were I felt complimented in a way I never had before, somehow more grown despite my recent outburst.  I asked, “Uncle Roe really listens to you?  He helps?”

      Jude shrugged.  “In his own way.  He don’t always understand and he don’t always like what he learns when I gotta talk, but he always listens and most of the time that’s all I really need … someone to be there, listen to me, and help me stay away from the hard stuff when a real fit hits me.”

      I shook my head pretty strongly.  “I can’t talk to Uncle Roe about this.”

      “I’m not saying you have to.  I’m saying you can talk to me … if you want.  If not me, you need to find someone.  You’ve been through a lot in just a small amount of time … you’re lucky you ain’t as screwy as a squirrel hopped up on locoweed seed.  And that’s my condition same as Dad gave me one.  Can you abide by it?”  I nodded and he reached in his pocket and handed me his handkerchief.  As I wiped my nose he said, “You ok for us to get on?  Dad is going to be itching to find out what’s happened.”

      I nodded and he clucked to Grits who gave us an “about time” roll from his horse eye before starting off.

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