Authors: Debbie Fuller Thomas
She walked the rest of the way to the Victorian and pushed open the door. She headed straight into the shower and stripped off her clothes into a pile where she stood under the hot water, rinsing away the smell of tear gas and trying to get her breathing to return to normal. When the water ran cold, she crawled into bed with her hair wet and smelling of strawberries, and slept the afternoon away into morning.
The phone woke her at 5:00 a.m., and she went out to answer it in the kitchen before it woke Rain. It was her brother Rudy, and her heart stopped as she feared the worst.
Instead, he asked, “Have you seen the
today?” His words made no sense, couched in anger and disgust.
She rubbed her eyes to clear her head. They were still crusty from tear gas residue. “Rudy? Noâno. What's wrong?”
“Just pick one up. They're teaching you some great stuff at that school.” He hung up.
Bebe shook her head in confusion, but she went into her room and pulled on some jeans and a sweatshirt. She pocketed Toni's change from the dresser and walked down to Julio's Market. She approached the bank of newspaper machines on the sidewalk and her heart began to fail her as she saw the front page of the
through the scratched plexiglass. She put the change into the slot. Slowly she opened the display and lifted out a paper. The door slammed shut and
she jumped at the noise of metal on metal.
There, on the front page, was a clear picture of Bebe with her sign held high, screaming into the face of riot police, looking for all the world like a photo she'd seen of protestors meeting the trains of returning servicemen at the Oakland Army Terminal.
She never received another letter from Bobby for the duration of his tour in Vietnam.
Neil found her crying on the couch in front of the Christmas tree with Scotty's letter in her lap and the news clipping balled in her fist. He understood as soon as he saw the yellowed newsprint and wrapped his arms around her. Then he took the short letter and the clipping from her to assess the damage.
“Not your best side, but I always thought that shirt showed off your best assets.”
She frowned at him and he grew serious. “Scotty's not stupid, Bebe. He recognizes that Bobby's got some personal problems, so he wants you to be the one to explain it. It's your chance to set the story straight, and defuse anything Bobby might have gotten wrong.” He lifted her hand to his mouth and planted a kiss on the back of it. “Just tell him the truth.”
Bebe started a first draft of her letter to Scott that evening. She knew that it would be difficult to explain her reasoning for her actions and about the times in general. She wasn't even sure she completely understood the times herself, even though she'd lived through them.
She struggled with it for a long time, and put it aside. She went into her bedroom and dug in her jewelry box for the small amethyst ring. She slipped it onto her pinky as far as it would go, but it wedged above her knuckle. She held it to the light but the stone failed to sparkle, and was instead the color of deep cabernet. She removed the ring and briefly curled her fist around it. Then she put it back amid the bracelets and earrings and closed the lid.
The next time she sat down with her notepad, the words finally came.
First of all, I want you to know how very proud I am of you and your decision to serve your country in these uncertain times. You have my full and complete support, and that will never change.
I'm not exactly sure what your uncle Bobby has told you, but when you're home, we can sit down face-to-face and talk about it. Bobby was wounded in many ways by Vietnam, and I unintentionally inflicted one of those wounds on him myself.
The newspaper photo is not what it seems. I always loved Bobby, and it was the war and the government I was protesting, never him or the other soldiers or their service to our country. Most of all, I protested because I loved him so much and I was afraid for him. The government lied to us, and we realized it could no longer be trusted, and things were spiraling out of control over there. There were photos of massacres in the news and stories about POWs and soldiers fragging their officers. Things were so crazy. I was always proud of him, and it hurt when he thought he no longer had my support. Someone in the family must have told him about the photo, or sent it to him, because when he came back, he wouldn't even speak to me. He never gave me a chance to explain.
He was pretty messed up when he came back, and I became the focal point of all that was wrong with America. To him, I represented all the hippies who spit on the wounded soldiers at the Oakland train depot, and the druggies who tuned out to their responsibilities, and the feminists who destroyed the American family. Maybe I even got blamed for his post-traumatic stress syndrome. Unfortunately, some of that rubbed off on your grandparents, and for a while I avoided going home at all. I don't blame them. I understand now that they had to show their
complete and utter support for Bobby in the only way they knew how. That's what he needed at the time, and things have gotten better with your grandparents since then.
So, I say all of this to assure you that what I did was solely because I loved him so much and I felt like I was fighting for him, not against him. He just never gave me a chance to put it that way. Maybe one day he will.
As a mom, I have to admit that I sometimes have the same fears for you, but I'm hoping it will be different because you chose this yourself, whereas Bobby was drafted. His only other choice was to run. He was never cut out to be a soldier, so it was very brave of him to stay.
I think times are different now. The world is changing, and hopefully we're not quite so easily lied to. People are more aware and as a result, I believe, are forcing the government to be more accountable. At any rate, history will not repeat itself with me. Even if I disagree with the turn of events, I will always support you and your desire to serve your country.
Bebe sealed and addressed the envelope before she had a chance to rewrite it. This was how she truly feltâlike the lancing of a wound. She wiped away a few tears as she walked to the mailbox in the dark and lifted the flag for the mail carrier to see that she had a letter for her son who was a United States Marine.
ain pulled up in front of her mom's house on Saturday and sat in the car for a few minutes to focus. Her mom's condition had deteriorated the last time she'd visited, and she wanted to prepare herself for a change so she wouldn't react. She also wanted to put on a mask of normalcy. She didn't want to let on about the fertility shots or her hope for a child. She didn't want to hear any negative comments about her personal life at all.
Rain glanced up at her mother's bedroom window and saw her standing there with the curtain pushed aside. How long had she been watching Rain and her reluctance to enter? Nothing like dishing up a little guilt for her mother to use when she first walked through the door. Rain got out, climbed the steps to the house, and opened the front door.
“So I see you decided to come in,” Jude said, as she carefully made her way down the staircase.
Rain ignored her comment and stood at the bottom of the stairs in case her mother stumbled. “Maybe you should move your bedroom
down to the office. I could help William move the furniture.”
“It's quiet up there, and I only come down when William isn't here.”
“That doesn't exactly make me feel any better. He could come home one night to find you in a pile at the bottom.”
“That should make him happy.” Jude sank into an overstuffed chair and said, “Hand me that afghan, will you?”
Rain spread the blanket over Jude and went to the fridge. “Do you want anything?”
Her mother shook her head with her eyes closed.
Rain poured herself a glass of ice water and sat on the couch. “Do you need me to throw some laundry in or fix you some lunch? Anything?”
“No. Update me on the Celebration.”
“Okay. Well, I know that Toni finalized the house arrangements, and Mare's working on the menu, and Bebe is investigating some distractions to keep everyone from strangling each other over the three days. She asked if I thought you would agree to use a wheelchair so we can all go to the aquarium together.”
Jude frowned without opening her eyes. “Why does she think I'd need a wheelchair?”
“It's a long day of standing and walking. But from what I hear, it's pretty amazing.”
Jude considered her. “I'll think about it.”
“She has to buy tickets, so let me know soon.”
“I assume they're also working on ideas for a group project. Something to raise awareness or a cause to commit to?”
“Oh, I think that goes without saying.”
Jude opened her eyes and looked at Rain. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Rain gestured with her hands. “It means I have no idea. I haven't seen Mare or Toni since Dulcinea's and I've spent practically every Saturday over here.”
“Are you complaining?”
“No.” Rain gave Jude an overly sweet smile. “I'm really not.”
Jude couldn't hide a small smile before she closed her eyes and settled back into the cushions.
Rain flicked on the television and turned down the volume in case her mother wanted to talk. Rain watched Jude breathing with the afghan pulled up beneath her chin like a child, and felt a softening toward her that she hadn't felt in a long time. Suddenly, she wanted to fill in the gaps about her mother. Why should she care to know a father who wasn't even there, if she didn't really know her mother who was?
Rain wanted to know what Jude was like growing up, and as a college coed in a time of turmoil. What had made her so self-reliant and so hard? Why had she written her own rules to live by at such a young age? Jude rarely spoke of her own mother, and perhaps Jude was a better mother than Shirley had been to her. What had made her so antagonistic toward men and tradition and, well, God?
Jude must have sensed her watching, because she opened her eyes and asked, “What?”
It startled Rain, and she had trouble denying that there wasn't something. When Jude pressed her, she said, “I was just wondering what you were like when you were young, that's all.”
“That's all?” Jude answered, without opening her eyes.
“So, dish. âEnquiring minds want to know.'”
Jude opened her eyes a slit, considered Rain for a moment, and closed them again. “I was a scrappy little baby who grew into a scrappy little girl from the wrong side of the tracks.”
Rain balked. “You did not. You grew up in a very nice neighborhood with a pony. I've seen pictures.”
“Tom Tom wasn't a pony, he was a mastiff.”
“Still, he was huge and you were riding him.”
“The first thing every newly poor family does is to buy a pet that they can't afford. It's a form of denial. Even at that age, when my father came home with him, I knew.”
“But the house?”
“We lost it. My father gambled and was in terrible debt. My mother couldn't hold a job because of her drinking. He left us, and we moved
to the Heights. If you don't mind, I'd really rather not discuss it.”
Rain was just wondering how far she could push her mom about it when Jude shifted beneath the afghan, and asked, “Would you mind making me a cup of tea? It's in the cupboard, arranged alphabetically, I'm sure.”
Rain made them each a cup of White Pear, and asked, “How is your mom doing?”
“Considering her condition, Shirley's probably better off than I am,” she said, adding under her breath, “At least, she doesn't know what's happening to her.”
“You mean her dementia?”
“I mean her physical state. Her march toward eternity. The inevitable reality.”
Rain set Jude's cup on a coaster on the end table within her reach. Jude sipped her tea delicately. “William always buys cheap tea,” she said, grimacing.