I met the woman that was killed by her husband about a month ago at this meeting I go to once a week. It’s for women that have chosen crazies for husbands and are tired of hospital visits. She was a big woman, Candy was, about 300 pounds and her husband, she said, was only 165. He was a meth head, so she said he wasn’t always that skinny. But he could beat her down with his fists and his tongue by lashing into her. That’s what we learned at those meetings, that words can hit too, unlike that stupid saying, “Words can’t ever hurt me.” Wasn't nothing but a big damn lie. Seems like lots of things we were told as young'ns turns out to be lies.
Another tragedy. But you see, I’m betting she knew he’d kill her. Maybe she even welcomed it. That’s the state we get to, loving a man who don’t love you back and only thinking you’ve got one way out.
Once, during a meeting he came barging in, and screamed, "You fat whore, you good-for-nothin!.” One member, Wendy, tried to hold her hand to keep her from leaving. Another woman muttered curse-words under her breath. Truth is, he might as well been talking to all of us. And you don't know what a man in that state is capable of. Candy didn’t look back as she slowly got up to follow him out. We could still hear him out in the big hall, long after the door had closed. Ten minutes of silence followed, before we moved to holding hands to say The Lord's Prayer, which is how we ended our meetings.
The drive home that night, on the outskirts of Eden's Gap, down the windy road to my mama’s house, scared me more than ever. Each turn, each pine tree that my car lights flashed upon, I’d swore I was gonna see Jim standing there, shotgun barrel pointed right at my head. A squirrel run out was all, and Mama had some dinner saved for me. By then, she’d rarely say anything about my meetings. Most I ever got out of her was a useless Praise Jesus comment, but then she’d have dinner warming for me in the oven, which was her way of saying, “It’s gonna be all right somehow.”
When I moved back in with Mama, I stopped smoking pot altogether, though at times I thought I would die without a fix. My anxiety was running so high those days. I didn’t even try to sneak it like when I was in high school, she was being so kind to me.
Mama was religious, so she didn’t even drink, because that was a sin. I don’t think she’d had a sip in her whole life. I’d thought she sure didn’t know what she was missing. Jack'n Coke is a wonder drug when somebody’s done knocked you upside the head with a frying pan or taken a belt buckle to your backside. I liked the sweet taste of Jack Daniels, and weed was all right by me, but luckily I never got much into pills.
My best friend, Angie, however, had prescriptions from four different pharmacies, all within a sixty-mile radius (and that there is in the country) before she got arrested. I didn’t have the motivation it took to be a pill head.
My older brother, Danny, was the first to get me high. We were at a barn party one October night, after the Bruins beat the Wildcats at home. I was in eighth grade then, Danny was a miracle Junior, meaning it was a miracle he hadn’t dropped out of school yet. But he and his loser buddies were out behind the barn passing around a joint. The air was sweet all around them, and when I walked up he handed it to me.
One thing I can say is that before I ran off and married Jim and before my brother got into the kinds of drugs that will steal your soul, me and Danny were close. Unlike some other stories, we were really close. I guess growing up the way we did, Daddy being long dead and no good besides, and Mama being all into God and her church, well we had each other.
So, when I joined him and his friends, he didn’t say anything and they knew better than to wonder what I was doing there. Danny passed the joint to me, and I put it up to my lips and breathed it all in, like I was blowing up one of those cheap party balloons but sucking in instead of out and I coughed so hard I about threw up my dinner. Of course, they all laughed at me. “Fuck all y’all,” I said before walking back towards the bonfire.
“Don’t be mad, Charlie!” my brother called out to me.
At the fire, someone, a tall, lanky kid maybe a year older than me, handed me a beer. I drank and drank until he grabbed it out of my hands. Then, with both the effect of the hit off that joint and the ease of the beer running into my belly, I started feeling all right–nothing too special, but I remember I got a big grin on my face and damn, I got hungry. That was the first time I got high and hungry but it sure wasn’t the last.
When I was living in the trailer behind the tire place, and wasn’t trying to be a Fifties homemaker to my useless husband, I smoked weed and ate. Now, I'm not real fat, but unlike my mama who’s small-framed, I turned out more like my daddy, big-boned.
Of course my size never hurt me as far as getting the attention of some man, but I figured they were only after one thing. Maybe that’s why Mama found religion. But then men don’t care whether you got religion or not. My way of thinking was they’d fuck and beat you all the same.
My daddy beat the shit our of my mama when he was alive and Danny told me once that he’d seen Pawpaw backhand Granny, my daddy’s mama, for asking him a question while he was watching some big game on TV. Danny wasn’t but seven. I was too young to remember, I guess, but Danny says that Granny walked in and asked Pawpaw what kind of chips he wanted with his sandwich. She must have blocked him from seeing some big play, and Danny said Pawpaw moved so fast from his recliner, from sitting to standing, that he about knocked over his TV tray, a full ashtray and newspapers, as the back of his hand smacked her square on the side of her face. “Goddammit, Woman. Don’t never interrupt me watchin’ no Goddamn football again. I’d done told you . . . ."
Then Danny said that Granny, stunned, said, “The children, Harley, don’t you take the Lord’s name in vain in front of the children,” as she headed back into the kitchen with a visible red streak across her face.
Maybe my daddy learned it from his daddy. One thing I know is all Mama’s praying and church-going didn’t save her from Daddy’s fists. The other thing I know is if he hadn’t died of a heart attack when I was eight, she may have met her God in Heaven sooner than he met his Devil in Hell.
Not all men are bad, so I’ve been told, mostly once I started going to the meetings and heard the women talk about how they got out, recovered, and found men who respected them. I didn't understand why they kept coming to the meetings long after getting what they wanted all along. I was to learn, in time, we were recovering from what lived in us.
But before my meeting days, I loved one man with all my heart, and that there was my brother, Danny. After nineteen, he up and left Mama and me. He got into the hard drugs and wasn’t the same person I’d known as a girl. But I never stopped loving him for the man I knew him to be, which was kindness and protection.
I used to have the scariest nightmares from as early as I can remember. One nightmare was of these mean wolves. In it, I was sitting on the sofa in the living room and all of a sudden a pack of them came down the chimney. They snarled at me and one lunged into my stomach. The darkest, biggest one tore at my flesh. I screamed out and woke up drenched in sweat. Danny was the one who woke up and was right there beside me, patting my head, telling me it’d be all right. “Shhh . . . Charlie . . . shhh . . . just a bad dream . . . I’m here,” he’d say all gentle-like.
Even though he could also give me the most shit of anybody, I never doubted he'd put himself in front of a train for me. I always wondered where he learned to be so sweet. I also wondered how this gentle boy who loved me so, could run off and leave me. I missed him hard.
RACHEL DREWS is from Clemson, South Carolina. She currently lives in Los Angeles where she is working on her first full-length novel, Wild Woman.