The Other Side of the Bayou
(formerly third i)
The Other Side of the Bayou
(formerly third i)
(raw and unedited excerpt)
by C.E. Stewart
Chapter 10, Page 209
With nothing more than one old beat up suitcase in the back of my 1972 olive green Pinto, I headed out on a journey that would change my life forever. Having said my goodbyes to the Guilbeaus and Linda, my last stop was Mama’s house. I dreaded saying goodbye to them; I knew it would break my heart to look into little Lukie’s face and tell him I was leaving. He became distraught when I moved just a few miles away. This would really scare him. I felt guilty for leaving them. Deep in my heart, I suspected that I was the bravest of them all – not that I was very courageous, mind you, but because I was forced to take more risks than Mama or Catherine.
Even if Daddy let me move back into the house, I couldn’t do it. I’d tasted a bit of freedom, and lived around somewhat normal people. I could never go back but the thought of leaving Mama, Catherine and Luke behind in the shit hole that Daddy created made me sick. Really sick.
My stomach was churning and my head began to throb. I wanted to be strong for them and I surely didn’t want to cry while I was with them. They had to believe that I could find a better life, then come back and bring them into something happier. Hope was all I could offer them and I prayed like mad that God would help me make them feel it.
Luke ran to the front door and swung it open, “Hey, Monnie-Monnie!” I hadn’t told him that today was the day I was leaving. Even though I’d been gently priming him with small comments, I couldn’t bring myself to do it yet, but, today, dread was with me.
“Hey, puddin’. How’s my fav-o-rite guy in the whole wide world?” In an instant, I saw the two of us flying above the house together. We loved to soar and race each other all the way to Mr. Millford’s house and back. When he was younger, I let Luke win; it gave him such joy and the sound of his giggles was like sipping hot cocoa on a blistery, rainy night. But, now, he was gaining in strength and maneuverability and I had to work hard to keep up with him. And, that also gave me great delight. He was a natural born sorcerer and innately understood that he must always do his very best to uphold an honor of his kind.
“Me, I’m good.” Luke responded excitedly, then continued, “Whatcha got for me there, Monnie?” He was accustomed to the treats I always brought and that day would be no different. “Check my right pocket; dig deep, now punkin’.” Buried deep inside my jacket pocket were two miniature peanut butter logs, three red-hot jawbreakers and a piece of bubble gum. “Yippeee! Monnie, you’re the best!”
With his little hands full of goodies, he vigorously jumped up on the sofa so he was eye level with me. He stretched his little neck out and plopped a big, loud juicy kiss on my cheek. This was a bit of a ritual between us. He’d stick his tongue out as he kissed me, getting my face all wet. Then, as any practiced actress would do on queue, I followed with the appropriate response, ”YUK, you got me all wet, ya ‘lil stinker! Whatta you, a puppy dog? I’m gonna have to whip your butt for that!” Without fail, he’d take off running, giggling so much that he almost always had to go to the bathroom. God, how was I going to tell this precious little boy that I was leaving and wouldn’t be able to see him everyday? I said a silent prayer, and called Luke back into the living room. He hopped back up onto the sofa and I put my hands on his slight shoulders.
“Hey, big boy, sit down next to me for a minute; I need to talk to you.” Every muscle in my body tightened as I tried to hold back the tears that were begging…shoving their way forward. “Sugar, today I’m gonna be movin’. I’m movin’ to the town where Marty goes to school – you remember, Baton Rouge.” His little smile began to droop, and he looked completely confused. “But, Monnie, how will I see you?” Jesus H. Christ, why did everything in my life have to be so fucking hard! “Well, I’m gonna be comin’ home on the weekends to see you an’ Catherine an’ Mama. That’s on Saturdays an’ Sundays, you know the days when you watch cartoons on TV.” His little brown eyes began to tear up and his tiny whitish-pink lips began to quiver as he began to understand more. I’d fought furiously to keep this little guy when Mama got sick and now I was moving away from him.
Pain and confusion swept over me and I began to seriously doubt my own motives for leaving. He threw his blonde head into my lap and grabbed me around the waist. “NO, Monnie, ya can’t leave! Stay here with us. Maybe Daddy will let you move back with us. Axe him, Monnie. Axe him to let you come back, pleeeeeze, Monnie! He ain’t mad at you no more.”
By now, I was crying hard from a deep place in my heart and so was my precious little Luke. Damn it, I wanted so badly to remain composed for his sake but nothing I tried seemed to work. I took several deep breaths and looked at Mama, who was standing in the doorway between the living room and kitchen. She raised her arm and used her sleeve to wipe the tears that streamed down her face; she would be of no help to me. Her heart was breaking, too. It was one of the saddest days on record – and there were way too many to count - in the Schuler household.
Catherine appeared in the hallway outside of her room. She’d been purposely avoiding me, I could tell. She had tears in her eyes and looked frightened. She scared easily and seeing Mama and me sobbing brought her to the brink. “What’s goin’ on here?” Even though she asked the question out loud, she already knew the answer. I’d told her and Mama about the move several weeks ago, telling them that I’d found a widowed lady who was renting a room in her house near the LSU campus. Mrs. Breck sounded very old on the phone, but she also seemed kind. Mama and Catharine didn’t have much to say the day I shared my news with them. I guess they figured I was pretty lucky for getting to break away from Daddy and a dead-end life on the bayou. Maybe they even admired me, but more likely, I figured that they were envious.
“Lukie, sometimes, would you like to come visit me in Baton Rouge an’ spend the weekend?” We could go see Mike the Tiger at LSU!” As he rubbed his eyes with his right hand, which was balled into a fist around his thumb, he nodded agreement. I knew that it was a meek offering, and didn’t do too much to lift his spirits, but I wanted him to know that I wasn’t leaving him behind and that I planned to spend as much time with him as I could. My mothering instincts were on fire and I wanted to grab him and throw him in the car with me. Damn it! I felt like there was an overstuffed sack of oysters attached to my heart, pulling me down one ripped ventricle at a time.
Finally, when I couldn’t bear it any longer, I stood up and hugged Mama, then Catherine. “Be good, Cat. Please look after Lukie for me.” I grabbed my purse and slung it over my shoulder, then went back to where Luke was sitting, kneeling in front of him. “Listen to me, sugar. I love ya more then all the stars in the sky…more then all the mosquitoes in the swamp…more then all the money in the world…more then ANYTING, ANYWHERE! Understand? I’ll never stop lovin’ you, no matter what…nuttin’ could ever stop me from lovin’ you, honey bunny. You’re my fav-o-rite person in the whole wide world.”
As I spoke, he ran his thin fingers through my long, straight hair. I could sense that he needed to touch me so as not to loose the bond. I desperately wanted life to be different so I wouldn’t have to leave him, but I saw no other option at that moment. I rubbed the peach fuzz on the top of his head, and then cupped my hands around his little face. “If you ever need me, just call out for me, and I’ll hear you…I promise! Talk to me in your mind like we’ve been doin’ all along…you know I can hear you, don’t you?” “Yeah, I know, Monnie. But what if you’re busy doing other things an’ you don’t hear me? What if you buyin’ groceries or washin’ your clothes?” “No chance!” I was unwavering. “I’ve got you tuned in at the top of my list. You come first ‘fore anybody else, you always will! OK?” “OK, Monnie-Monnie.”
Luke let his small body fall into mine and we hugged for what seemed like hours. I stood up slowly, peeling him gently away. “OK, time for me to get my ‘lil buggy on the road. I’ll call you when I get there.” With that, I quickly turned and left. I couldn’t bear his heartbreak – or mine - another second. Living there, my life was pure-dee hell and now I was being crushed from the inside out because I had to leave. My innards were tormented and torn in half. I didn’t understand the whole thing, but I knew Daddy was at the center of the pain – all of our pain. Fucking Fred Schuler! He destroyed everyone and everything around him and now he was forcing me away from the people I loved most. He stood at the core of my deepest loss. God, I wished he were dead – he didn’t deserve to live.
With the Pinto in reverse, I slowly backed out of the driveway. As the shells crunched under my tires, I caught sight of Mama in her striped moo-moo, Catherine in her two-piece aqua shorts set and little Lukie in a stained white t-shirt and beige pants. Seeing them standing on the front porch that way was eerily similar to the disturbing and surreal day we were forced to say goodbye to Patrick so many years ago - a haunted sight that would forever be burned in my mind. Love lost, fragile hearts and the overpowering agony of separation engulfed me like thick hot tar.
The Other Side of the Bayou
(formerly third i)
(raw and unedited excerpt)
by C.E. Stewart
Just as the phone rang, we stepped outside into the hot, humid afternoon, Marty's mom, Mrs. Guilbeau, was pulling out of the carport on her way to her mother's house. "I'll be back in just a 'lil bit. I'm just bringin' some gumbo to Mama Florie now."
Julia answered the phone quickly so as not to allow the ring to wake her dad. "Monnie, it's your Mama" she said quietly. I couldn't imagine why she was calling me there. She'd told me to be home by 6:00 PM to cook dinner, but it was only 3:30.
"Monnie, this is Mama. Your Daddy just got home an' he wants you to come home right now, you hear." "But, Mama," I began, "Mrs. Guilbeau just left to go see Mama Florie an' might not be back right away. There ain't no other car for Marty to use to drive me home." I heard Mama's deadpan voice relaying the message to Daddy in the background, and then I could hear Daddy's screaming at her. "You tell her to get her ass home in twenty minutes or her stuff will be out on the street!"
As Mama dutifully relayed the message, I interrupted her by pleading for extra time. "Mama, please tell Daddy that there is no way in the world that I can get home in twenty minutes! Marty's Mama has the car an' I'm not sure when she'll be home. Please tell him, Mama, please!." Once again, Mama dryly reported my dilemma to Daddy, but he only became angrier. "Monnie, your Daddy don't care 'bout that. He just says get home."
In obvious turmoil, I hung up the phone. Marty could tell I was upset by the look on my squinched up face. "What's wrong, now, Monnie?" I tried to explain as tears of panic welled up in my eyes. There was no way I could be home in twenty minutes. Hell, it would take more than twenty minutes to get there even if the car was available and waiting. Thirty minutes later, Mrs. Guilbeau pulled into the carport. No sooner than she got out from behind the wheel, Marty and I jumped into the car. As he cranked the engine, he quickly told her the short version. I could see a look of pity in her eyes. Damn it, the last thing I wanted was to be pitied by anyone, let alone my boyfriend's parents. All I ever wanted was to be an equal and be able to hold my head up. But, no, Daddy had to ruin that every chance he got.
On the drive home, Marty asked me what my daddy's hurry to get me home was all about. "I don't know. Mama don't know either." I didn't say it to Marty, but my best guess was that Daddy was drunk and being completely unmanageable. When he got like that, Mama knew better than to try to reason with him. She simply obeyed and prayed for the best, which would be that he'd just fall to sleep before too many casualties arose.
Marty and I pulled up in front of my house exactly forty-three minutes after Mama's gloom and doom call. There, all over the front lawn, were my clothes. Luke met us in the front yard, apparently very shaken. "Monnie, Daddy threw your stuff in the yard. I yelled at him to stop, but he kept doin' it!" Panic was working its way through his body as he shifted his weight from leg to leg. His little brown eyes filled with huge alligator tears. As I looked at him standing there, so pale and undersized for his age, my heart beat extra hard. He was my little love - had always been since the moment he made his arrival into this demented family. He looked so much like Daddy that sometimes I had to take a double take. I couldn't hold that against him, after all, he had his own little personality and was already demonstrating more compassion than Daddy ever knew.
I ran into the house where Daddy was in the kitchen eating something very smelly. "Daddy, why did you do it?!" I yelled. Cold as ice, he answered in an eerily casual way, "Your Mama told you to be home in twenty minutes or your clothes, they'd be out in the yard. What else you wanna know?" God, I hated him! He was a son-of-a-bitch and Mama just sat by and allowed this craziness day in and day out. WHAT WAS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE and WHY WAS I STUCK WITH THEM?
From the porch, I waved goodbye to Marty, and his good intentions. I knew it could ugly if he tried to defend me, or butt in, as Daddy would call it. With an awfully confused look on his face, he made a u-turn in front of our house and headed up the bayou. I went back into the house with the fury of Satan on a really hot day.
Daddy was not going to get the best of me no matter how hard he tried! I found him still in the kitchen eating sauerkraut and sausage as though nothing out of the ordinary was happening. I stood directly in front of him and began to blast away. "I'm tired of this crap! I feel like a prisoner in this house! I do all the chores that Mama tells me to do, and then some. I watch Luke, I help Catherine with her homework an' chores. What else do you want me for? I HATE THIS PLACE! I FEEL LIKE I'M IN PRISON HERE!" I HATE YOU! I HATE Y-O-U!"
Adrenaline surged through me, forcing every cell in my body to awaken. By this time, I'd surely gotten Daddy's attention. His stare gripped me with cold fear, but like an ensnared animal, I had only two options…fight or flight. He said nothing for a moment and the silence scared the crap out of me. Suddenly, he lurched forward and swung his right fist, landing a solid blow to the left side of my head near the temple. I heard a crunching noise and saw lightening.
By now, Catherine, Mama and Luke had gathered in the doorway between the kitchen and the hall that led to Catherine's room. Luke was howling to the top of his lungs, "STOP IT DADDY, YOU GONNA HURT HER!" Catherine was sobbing loudly and clinging to Mama. Mama was screaming, "Jesus, Freddy STOP IT, YOU'RE GONNA KILL HER!"
I broke free and ran into my bedroom, which was about the worst choice I could've made. The only door out of my bedroom led to Catherine's bedroom, and by now my onlookers were blocking the one escape route available. I jumped onto my bed and landed across the width of the mattress. Daddy dove after me and landed on top on me, pinning me down with his heavy, beer-swollen body. He grabbed my head with both of his hands and began thrashing it up and down on the metal bed frame. I don't know how many times he managed to crack my head on the cold unforgiving metal; everything was a blur. Instinctively, I wriggled free and ran back into the kitchen. Crying uncontrollably by then, I was only vaguely aware of the distressed pleas in the background. I reached into a kitchen draw and pulled out a large butcher knife. Ah, now let's see who's so fucking tough!
I spun around on my heels and held the knife at chest level, looking the brown-eyed beast squarely in the face. "Don't you come one step closer or I'll cut your fuckin' guts out"! As I heard the words come out of my own mouth I was amazed and somewhat alarmed. Even in a defensive rage, I knew I would never stab my own daddy. Oh, he deserved it, all right, but I couldn't hurt another human being like that, not even him, the vilest person I'd ever known.
My unwillingness to wound him didn't take away from the fact that we'd all be better off if he was dead. I occasionally prayed for his death, not sure if God approved or not, but knowing something drastic had to be done to stop him and in his tracks. Mama surely wasn't going to do anything. She was weak and half crazy and couldn't be counted on for much of anything. No, the way I saw it, it was up to me to take care of this problem and I'd have to come up with something very clever to undermine his self-appointed reign of power.
Daddy got eerily still and locked his squinted bloodshot eyes on mine. I knew I couldn't flinch or he might grab the knife and cut me bad - or kill me. He certainly had murder in his eyes and I believed him to be more than capable. Daddy hated me, even though I never understood why.
In a flash, a picture monopolized my entire field of vision. I saw Daddy in the woods. Someone was chasing him with a long fishing knife. Always just one step ahead, Daddy had a look of pure terror on his face, as though he were convinced that he'd never outrun the predator. Suddenly, poof! The vision disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. Someone seemed to hate Daddy as much as he despised me. I wondered if he understood why. I never could figure out why he abhorred me so very damn much. I asked Mama and she'd always say, "Aw now, Monnie, your Daddy loves you most of all". God in Heaven, how in the world did she come up with such a wild thought? What planet was she from? Jesus, her psycho drugs must've needed a major adjustment.
I held the knife as steady as I could, though my hand was still shaking heavily. With as much authority as I could muster, I repeated loudly and in the deepest voice I could manage, "Don't move or I'll slice your fuckin' guts out!" This time Daddy's expression changed slightly. He began to move slightly, and then froze in his tracks. In a near whisper he said, "Get out, now an' don't you ever come back. Go on, I ain't got no use for you, you slut."
Still in extreme alarm mode, I waited for him to leave the room before I lowered the knife. Intuitively, I knew the fight was over and even though he flinched first, he'd won. He was the adult and that was that. Secretly, however, I fostered the fantasy that I'd won the war, even if I did loose the battle. He'd never control that part of me that was tucked away deep inside. He might intimidate the external me, but he would never overtake my mind or my feelings - especially about him. I knew who he really was and somehow I think he got that.
At times, Daddy and I had short bursts of silent communication. I don't know if he was aware of our unusual link, but I was very clear about it. Even though Daddy lied a lot about things that mattered and even about things that didn't, I could sense the truth through the airwaves. Maybe telling the truth out loud made him vulnerable to others, but I didn't have the luxury to care about that. All I ever wanted to know, all I ever pushed to know… was…the truth. What could cause a man to so violently evict his own flesh and blood? What?
I picked up the phone, crying hysterically, attempting to dial Marty's number. My hands were shaking so severely that I had to rest my right elbow on the table and try to steady my hand. He answered the phone after just one ring, undoubtedly very anxious to hear from me. "Can you come pick me up? Daddy's kickin' me out." Snot was dripping from my nose and my eyes were swollen nearly shut. I was still hyperventilating, but fought to calm down enough to speak clearly.
Mama went into their bedroom and Catherine took Luke into hers. Daddy was in the bathroom and that left me with the humiliating lone job of scooping all my clothes off the front lawn. Our house faced the main street, and I knew many of my classmates would probably drive by and see me scavenging like a bum. I HATED THAT BASTARD! He ruined everything for everybody every chance he got. He was so fucking miserable that it seemed to be his job to screw up all our lives, too. He would surely burn in hell. In fact, I demanded that God see to it and I invited the Devil to personally assist. Nothing short of the big guns would take this reptile down. His pickled brain was prone to delusional thoughts and desires, which he seemed to mechanically carry out with little delight. In Hell he would no longer be the Big Kahuna. No, he would have to defer to the Boss and he would get to feel what I felt. The only peace I felt was in the knowing that he would get his due one day.
I began to feel lightheaded and noticed a ruthless throbbing just above my right temple. Automatically, I reached up and ran my fingers through my hair, haltering at a thick lock of blood-crusted hair. Jesus Christ - I was bleeding and Mama didn't even so much as try to fake concern! I stooped down to pick up my a few pairs of underwear that landed several feet away from the main spattering of clothes. As I spun around to place them in a brown paper grocery bag, I started to black out. I fell back on my heels and landed spread eagle on the lawn, patchy from lack of proper attention. The underwear went flying into the air and my head bounced on the firm dirt beneath the grass. There was a black hornet flying overhead, or was it a vulture? I lifted my head slightly, and then let it drop. I was spinning out of control fast on my way to the other side of nowhere.
With no way to stop myself, I was falling into a cave from its huge mouth at the Earth's surface; it dropped to a narrow point at the base. Even though I was moving in slow motion - and could actually see myself dropping, I was petrified that I would kick the bucket upon impact. So convinced of my fate, in fact, that I attempted to do my own life review. I'd always heard that God did that for you, but it wasn't happening; the sands of my life were rapidly slipping into the lower half of the hourglass, a pure-dee queue to take things into my own hands. Not surprisingly, my self-induced life examination was a flop and try as I may, nothing popped up on the anticipated drive-in movie screen. Oh well, I thought, it'll all be over with soon and I won't have to worry about my miserable life.
I'm not sure how much time went by, but Luke was now sitting near me with his right hand gently under my head. He was calling my name over and over while he held a flimsy paper cup filled with tepid water from the hose on the side of the house.
"Monnie, Monnie, MONNIE; here drink this. It'll make you feel better." Poor little thing. The youngest member in the family yet he had the biggest heart. It was plain to see why I adored this little guy so much, which only made the pain of leaving that much more unbearable. I took a small sip and slowly sat up. Not wanting to scare Luke, I casually said, "Jesus, that sun is so damn hot it made me faint right away." "Naw, that ain't it, Monnie", he said in a pint-sized whisper. His two front teeth had fallen out eight months earlier and had not grown back in, making his courageous, yet weak and crooked little smile all the more heartbreaking.
Even with thirteen years between us, we equally understood the gravity of the viciousness that just took place. But, neither of us could bring ourselves to say it out loud. To admit it gave it power and confirmed that it would happen again. Instead, we sat silently gazing at each other. The tears of a severely torn and injured spirit filled my eyes. How could I leave this innocent little sweetheart with this depraved monster? How could Mama let this happen! Bitch! I never thought I'd escape his grip, and now I was actually being evicted. I didn't have the luxury to celebrate the moment; I had to figure out where I'd live and how I'd be able to keep an eye on little Luke. He reached out and laid his tiny pale hand on mine. I flipped my hand palm up and gave his precious little fingers a squeeze. "You know that you're my 'lil love, don't you? I'll be back often to play with you, Lukie. As soon as I know where I'm gonna be stayin', I'll call you an' give you the phone number, OK. Don't you worry, honey. Your Monnie loves you lots! Now, help me pick up these clothes, won't you."
Luke lovingly began to assist and before long we had most everything put into the three medium sized paper bags. Luke began to cling to me when I stood up. "Monnie, don't go! I miss you!" He began to cry, softly at first, then in big choppy whimpers. It broke my heart and I vowed in that very moment to get even with Daddy if it was the last thing I ever did. He ruined everything; he hurt people; he was heartless and all he cared about was his damn beer. Fine! He could have his fucking beer, then! His whole family would leave him and he'll die alone and lonely, fat old miserable bastard!
If Grandma Schuler were alive, she'd be very, very mad at Daddy. She was a tough old broad, but she didn't take kindly to abuse, especially of animals or kids. Why do such awful people get to live on Earth? Why are the cold-hearted fingers of cruelty repeatedly allowed to reach out and strangle the life out of innocent people? Why?
I sent Luke inside to eat a day old tuna fish and egg salad sandwich. I was always trying to fatten his little pencil-thin frame. Mama didn't seem to notice the dark circles under his eyes or how easily he bruised. While I sat on the sun-scorched porch waiting for Marty, my thoughts swirled like a category five hurricane in the Gulf. I was so angry I was afraid I'd burst; I was emotionally distraught and fragile, and I was physically injured and fatigued.
As Marty and I drove back to his parent's home, I had too many questions and no real answers. Even though my trust in men had been severely shaken, I was more than grateful that Marty didn't fit into the same category as Daddy. That day, he was my protector and, as much as I hated to admit it, I needed all the help I could get. I was leaving my Mama, little sister and baby brother because Daddy couldn't stand to look at me any longer. Something about me made him real mad, but what? How could Mama say that I was his favorite child of all and stand by and watch him beat me to a pulp? It occurred to me that even though Daddy had always treated me badly, it got much worse when I started dating. I needed answers all right, but something told me that it would be a cold day in hell before I truly understood.
The Other Side of the Bayou
(formerly third i)
(raw and unedited excerpt)
by C.E. Stewart
Note: Help! I need assistance with getting this project, which is so near and dear to my heart, out into the world. If you have connections to the publishing or entertainment industry, I'd love to chat with you!
I chose the following excerpt for my first public reading on January 3, 2007. It was a glorious experience and I send heartfelt thanks to those who showed in support of my work. Enjoy!
At 38, Mama was had already begun the change of life when she got pregnant. I was convinced Mama and Daddy had only had sex four times until then, each time resulting in a baby, so why should this time be any different? Mama said she wasn't expecting this sort of thing to happen and I'd be willing to bet that Daddy wasn't either.
During the last month of her pregnancy, she warned me that she had very quick deliveries. Once her water broke, Mama said she needed to get to the hospital immediately. After all, each one of her babies was born within an hour or so. I guess Daddy was used to this, because the morning I called him at his electrician's shop, he came home immediately. Travel in southern Louisiana was easy; one highway on each side of the bayou generally got you where you needed to go.
Mama's bag was already packed and within a quick thirty minutes, they arrived at Our Lady of the Sea General Hospital. Just sixty minutes after that, baby Luke made his first appearance.
If I could've warned him, I would've told him not to bother.
To say ours was not a very happy family would be an understatement. Mama was either crying or eerily silent most of the time and Daddy was either being cruel or drunk, and many times, both. It wasn't much fun to be in the Schuler family, no, not much fun at all. Nevertheless, when baby Luke arrived home, swaddled in a yellow cotton blanket, I could barely keep my eyes off him. He was the tiniest and most precious little thing I'd ever seen - even with that pointed little head of his. Mama said they had to use forceps to help him come out and that his head would get rounder as each day passed. I sincerely hoped for Luke's sake that she was right.
Birthing a baby really left Mama weak. She wasn't all that healthy to begin with, but now she was way too thin and alarmingly pale. Daddy told me to take care of Luke for Mama and I really didn't mind at all. Little Luke was the first thing since before my older brother Patrick ran away that ever made me feel like I had a place in the world.
As long as Luke needed caring for, I had a purpose - a real purpose - to live. I bathed his tiny pink body, prepared his formula and gave him his bottles - day and night - and gently rocked him in my arms. I loved the way Luke smelled and his little body felt so very right nestled against me as I sang lullabies from a 45 record somebody gave Mama.
When Luke's small, warm face was next to mine, I could hear his thoughts - or maybe it's more accurate to say that I could feel what he was thinking and experiencing. He often told me that he loved me - not in words but in the way his energy felt.
His body temperature would rise a little and I could swear that his little cells were vibrating. The first time that I noticed it, I got worried. What if he had a fever? But, as I held him closer, then away a little so I could get a good look at his precious little face, he would present me with a sweet, near angelic smile. Mama would say that he just had gas, but I knew different, and so did baby Luke. He silently called me Mama and we decided to keep it our little secret.
He was my baby Luke, until the day they took him away, that is.
Apparently, the pregnancy and birth caused Mama to have another nervous breakdown. I figured that her body couldn't handle the whole thing, but her mind seriously failed, too.
When Luke was three months old, Daddy came into the kitchen with a very serious look on his face.
"Monnie, your Aunt Vernie an' Uncle Stu are gonna take Luke to live with them for a while. Your Mama ain't well and she just can't take care of the baby." I was horrified!
"NO, YOU CAN'T TAKE MY BABY AWAY - NO!"
My words stung through the tears and Daddy said again, "Your Mama can't handle it, Monnie. This is the only thing I know to do."
"I'll take care of Luke, Daddy, I can do it. I been doin' it all along, can't you see that?! Daddy, please, p - l - e - a -s - e don't let 'em take away my baby!"
By then, I was crying from a place so deep, I didn't even know it existed until that very moment; cold fingers of desolation wrapped around my neck and squeezed until I thought I'd pass out. The excruciating pain of loosing my beloved Patrick, my one and only hero, still stabbed and ripped at my heart. I wanted a brother so badly - in the worst way.
Why didn't Daddy want boys?
I just couldn't bear to loose another brother…not again! What was wrong with these wretched people, for God's sake - were they ALL nuts? I was just about thirteen and had already shown them how capable I was with the baby - I was a damn good mother…way better than her! Couldn't Daddy see that?
NO, God please don't let them take baby Luke away from me…
It felt like I was in a dark, small soundproof dark room with no air. NOBODY seemed to hear a DAMN THING I was saying.
IF YOU TAKE AWAY LUKE, YOU'LL BE KILLIN' A PART OF ME - CAN'T YOU SEE THAT?!
WHY ARE YOU GONNA LET SOMEBODY ELSE RAISE OUR BABY WHEN I'M RIGHT HERE TO DO IT?!
CAN'T YO HEAR ME, YOU SON-OF-A-BITCH?!
Neither Mama nor Daddy showed any expression. What if I wasn't really talking at all? Maybe the screaming was only in my head.
HEARTLESS BASTARDS! DON'T YOU DARE TAKE HIM! HE'S MY B-A-B-Y!
The next day at 9:00 AM, Aunt Vernie and Uncle Stu pulled into our shell -covered driveway. It was embarrassing to have them see our broken down shack and overgrown yard. But that paled in comparison to what would happen right before my very eyes.
Drew, their little boy and my first cousin, got out of the small, blue Chevy first, then Aunt Vernie and Uncle Stu. They all smiled, but I didn't feel at all like smiling back - not one teeny-tiny little bit - and I would not do it just to act friendly…no siree.
Running up to Daddy, I begged him again, "Daddy, I can quit school an' take care of the baby. Mama will be well soon, and then she can take over. I know this will wok - you gotta let me try this - just gimme a chance to prove it, Daddy!"
I could hear the sound of desperation in my own voice and I prayed to Almighty God above that he could, too.
He continued to ignore me, brushing past to greet the thieves who would dare to embezzle my baby. Daddy didn't even like these people - they were Mama's folks and he made no bones about not liking any of her people. Why, all of a sudden, were these his new best friends? Two-faced bastard!
After a short visit, Mama, in a sleepwalking-like motion, bundled Luke up in his new yellow cotton blanket and handed him to Aunt Vernie. My heart dropped to my bare feet and I was certain I'd faint right on the spot. I grabbed for him, but Aunt Vernie lifted him up above my reach. Not a damn thing I said or did could change Daddy's mind. I felt so incredibly helpless.
That was MY baby he was giving away - MY baby brother - MY reason for living! WAS ANYBODY LISTENING TO ME?
In that singular isolated moment, I despised Daddy more than I thought humanly possible, as I vowed to get my baby back. What kind of animal was he, for Christ's sake? Cold, heartless creature. Nothing he could ever say or do would make up for such a shameful act. He'd just given away the only thing besides Patrick that I ever really and truly loved.
That gloomy April day, my heart bled all over the filthy kitchen floor, but nobody saw it. Nobody gave a damn about me. I was nothing in their eyes, and until I got Luke back, I was worthless in my own eyes. If I couldn't get my little sugar back, I may as well be dead.
That night, a feeling of deep gloom and tremendous hopelessness engulfed me. It was hollow and smothering, and cold and scorching all at the same time. I lay on my bed looking up at the stars through the torn screen, knowing I needed to go there for a while. I couldn't bear the pain any longer and I knew the only relief was to go to the place where I'd always been safe. I could rest there, no matter what was happening to my body or my mind.
My precious baby Luke was gone, ripped away from me like flesh torn from the bone. Now, my only purpose was to get him back - and I WOULD get him back, oh yes, no matter what. He needed me. He knew how much I really loved him - I told him so all the time with my words, my songs and especially with my mind. Even at just three months old he knew, all right. We spoke the same language, Luke and I. That's how I knew he felt as lost and scared as me and how desperately he wanted to come home. I tried my hardest to tell Mama and Daddy how frightened Lukie was, but they ignored me.
God, would I ever be able to trust an adult? They always screwed things up. Just about the time you thought you understood something, they always did something stupid or malicious.
And just about the time I realized that I loved something - or somebody - more than anything, it was stolen from right out from under me. Pets, friends, neighborhoods and most of all brothers.
As I floated amongst my twinkling friends, I got the instant knowing that even though I was still a kid, I'd always have to take care of myself.
Nobody was raising me.
I was all alone.
As I drifted from star to star, absorbing the warm illumination, anxiety left me. I wasn't even worried about my little sister, Catherine, as I always did. Even in a semi-comatose state, Mama would see to her. She always did.
The next day Daddy got up early and went to work as usual, as though nothing out of the norm had happened. Instead of returning about six or seven o'clock in the evening, after three or four hours drinking at Manuel's, he came home at eight o'clock the same morning. Catherine and I hadn't even left for the bus stop yet.
When Daddy walked into the kitchen, he asked Mama if her bag was packed. "Yeah, I'm ready", she said flatly.
"What's goin' on, Mama?" I pried.
"Monnie, I'm goin; to the hospital for a while. I don't feel too good an' I need a rest." I wasn't completely sure why she needed a rest, because I did most everything around the house, but I could tell by the way she was dragging that she was sick again.
Thank God, the men with the funny white jacket didn't come for her like so many times in the past. This time she willfully got into the car and submitted herself to heavy-duty drugs and those horrible shock treatments. Poor Mama. She never seemed to be able to hang in there for very long. She was weak by nature, Daddy said, and I was beginning to see his point.
It was a very, very sad day. Tears rolled down my face - I couldn't stop it no matter how hard I tried, even if I refused to let myself sob out loud. My world was like a single dice in a dull black cup. The cup was shaken regularly and I never knew what to expect. It was hard to count on anything - except that my heart would be broken - and there would be loss - over and over again.
Weeks, then months dragged by. Deep down inside I had to admit that I really couldn't come up with a plan to bring my baby home. But, in order to keep hope alive, each day I'd visualize how I'd storm my relative's house and nab Luke. They lived in a superb of New Orleans, a good two-hour drive from where we lived. I was only a teenager - and a new one at that. When I was being painfully honest with myself, I had to ask what could a kid like me do in such a case like that.
I silently talked to Luke everyday, though, telling him how very, very much I loved him and reassured him that I was NOT the one who sent him away. It was vitally important to me that he understood.
"Luke, this is your Monnie. Hello my lil' puddin', I miss you so, so much! I want you to know that I want you back home now an' I'm doin' everything I can to get you back. I'll never give up, Luke, you hear! When Aunt Vernie holds you an' rocks you tonight, it'll really be me, OK. Remember, it'll be me. You'll feel me, an' you'll know its me…I'll be there, sugar. I love you."
I knew the relatives were taking good care of him, but I also knew that they could not love him the way I could. He needed me.
The second Saturday in August, Aunt Vernie and Uncle Stu were finally scheduled to bring Luke home. Mama was home by then and feeling some better, but she still looked awful. She'd lost even more weight and her face was so drawn, if I squinted my eyes, I could see her skeleton. Her eyes sockets were sunken and hollow and she had dark circles under her eyes. I knew Mama still wasn't well, but Daddy said it was time for the baby to come home. And, what Daddy says, goes.
He lectured me on how I was to help Mama around the house and with the baby. I should do anything she asked of me - at any time. News flash - I'd always done those things! Somehow, Catherine managed to escape the Czar's commands due to that damn iron poor blood of hers.
As Aunt Vernie got out of the car, I ran to greet her. I quickly asked if I could hold Luke and she lovingly handed him to me.
Luke didn't seem to know me at first - that was very difficult to digest. How could he forget me? I thought about him every single day and sent tons of mental messages of love and hope. He probably just needed a little time to recognize me again, Aunt Vernie said.
After a few hours, Luke did seem to know me better as I rocked him, singing his old favorite lullaby just like in the old days. Within minutes, my little bundle of joy was fast asleep. A gentle humming sound whistled through his tiny button nose. Was it possible that everything would be better now that he was home with me where he belonged?
I dared only to hold this thought for a moment or two.
The Other Side of the Bayou
(formerly third i)
(raw and unedited excerpt)
by C.E. Stewart
On rainy days, when I had to stay inside the house, I’d lay on my bed crossways watching the wind blow the shredded plastic curtains aimlessly above my head. The overgrown elephant leaf plants just outside my bedroom window felt like a prison wall, too high to climb over and too dense to plod through. Even if I ever managed to scale the forest green barrier, there was most likely an alligator infested swamp just beyond.
Oftentimes, I felt completely trapped and robbed of all energy or motivation. Gary Puckett and the Union Gap sang about a “Young Girl”, which made me feel even more hopeless. Didn’t anyone care about the feelings of young people? Daddy would put a hex on anything good in my life, especially if I let on that I really wanted something in particular. So why even try?
God, I HATED Daddy’s control and how it played into the sickness of our house! Would anybody believe me if I told them that I sensed that the house supported – maybe even fed upon – the brutality taking place inside? It was a relentless enemy and I knew – even if nobody else would admit it – that it was smothering the hopes, wishes and even the life out of me. It sat up and took particular notice when Daddy was his drunkest. It feasted upon his darkness – or was it the other way around? A grim brotherhood…
The Other Side of the Bayou
(formerly third i)
(raw and unedited excerpt)
by C.E. Stewart
Visiting Grandma Kemper in the housing project, where poor people lived, was always done quietly, but it was fun just the same. Oddly, Grandma never seemed poor to me, but Daddy made fun of her as though living there was a bad thing.
Sometimes, when I was sitting on the floor at her feet, I saw a fuzzy image behind her head. It had a pink tint and felt very loving and reassuring. I'd tease her, saying, "Grandma, your hair is turning colors again!" She'd rock back and forth and joyously laugh from deep within her large, round belly. "Yeah, I do that just for you, Monnie-girl." And, somehow, I knew she did.
Grandma Kemper had a special box filled with toys just for us. We were allowed to play with anything in that box while we were visiting, but the rule was that we had to pick up every little last thing before we left.
Grandma was so mushy sweet; I wondered why we didn't escape to her house when Daddy was being cruel. Maybe it's because Grandma Kemper never cooked. In all the years we visited her, I never once saw her in the kitchen or even smelled food on the stove. It was odd that she was so plump for never eating.
As I was fishing for something to entertain me, a Merlin the Magician storybook edged itself between my fingers. I handed the book to Grandma, asking her to tell me about it. Funny, I'd never seen it in the toy box before then.
"This then is Your Quest," Grandma said in a lowered voice and accent very different from her own. "You must travel to the otherworld and retrieve for yourself an amulet of your personal power. In doing this, you will face many choices, and you will be asked to overcome many of your deepest anxieties and fears. This amulet will forevermore be yours and will aid you in time of need. It is a powerful amulet and a powerful quest - one which few can complete."
"I reallllllly wanna go, Grandma!" My excitement caught Catherine's attention across the parquet that separated us. Until that moment, she and Mama were oblivious to what was happening between Grandma and me. She studied me carefully for an elongated moment, and I got fidgety where I sat.
"Very well. To begin your journey, you must start where all those who leave this life begin..."