CHAPTER FIVE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-EIGHT
~~We take a little break in our story~~
“Hi,” Sandy said. “Claudia asked the girlfriends and me to say a few words about …”
Sandy looked at Jill in such a way that it was clear a baton was passed. Sandy was standing next to Jill with Tanesha next to Jill. Heather was standing on the end next to Sandy.
“The world is pretty rapey right now,” Jill said. “Claudia asked us to talk to the violent assault survivors in the crowd.”
“And all those who love assault survivors,” Heather said. “Because you’re impacted too.”
Jill and Sandy nodded.
“Everywhere you go now, people are spouting their opinions on who committed violent sexual assault and how victims lie,” Tanesha said. “News stations spend hours tearing down sexual assault victim. Cruel commentators on social media spout disrespect…”
“There’s plenty of gross old men, that’s for sure,” Sandy said.
“‘She deserved it,’” Heather said, mimicking one of those men.
“‘It was a long time ago,’” Sandy said. “‘I don’t see why it matters now.’ ‘Why can’t she just get over it?’”
“Right,” Tanesha said. “Like, who cares if he sexually assaulted someone? She doesn’t matter.”
“It’s insanity,” Sandy said.
“Dumb,” Jill said.
The woman crossed their arms across their chests in silent agreement.
“They act like we don’t matter,” Jill said.
“Like all women don’t matter,” Sandy added.
“We’re just here, like paper towels, to be used and discarded,” Heather said. “We don’t have feelings. We don’t experience trauma.”
“Worse yet, they act like we should be honored to be assaulted,” Tanesha said. “That someone would find us attractive enough to violate us.”
Sandy, Heather, and Jill looked at Tanesha for a moment. Then, they all nodded.
“Like we don’t live under the shadow of what happened to us,” Sandy’s voice was quiet and small.
“Every day,” Jill said.
For a moment, no one said anything. Jill cleared her throat.
“We’re here to tell you — you don’t have to listen to this nonsense,” Jill said.
“These are evil words are designed to wound you,” Sandy said. “They are designed to stop you and every other sexual assault survivor from ever speaking your truth.”
“And to tell our daughters and sons that they should expect to be raped,” Tanesha said.
The other women nodded.
“As a society, we no longer shut our eyes to sexual violence,” Heather said.
“We try to stop it,” Tanesha said.
“Things have really changed,” Heather said. “Some people are still living under these old rules; so they say stupid callous things.”
The girlfriends nodded in unison.
“You know what happened to you,” Sandy said. “That’s enough.”
“We believe you,” Tanesha said.
“Certainly if you want to tell someone …” Heather added.
“Find someone safe,” Jill said. “Make sure they are ready to hear you, and tell them. You don’t have to share your stories with anyone else, certainly not someone who’s going to tell you that you did something to make your abuse happen.”
“‘Well you were drunk,’” Sandy said. “‘And that dress …’”
The women scowled.
“We’re really good at finding the wrong people to tell our traumas to,” Tanesha said with a nod.
“That’s the truth,” Heather said.
“Don’t do that,” Jill said. “If you’re ready to tell your story, find someone safe to tell it to.”
“Exactly,” Sandy said.
“As long as you vote,” Jill said. “And call your representative.”
“Or email,” Sandy said. She looked at Jill. Jill nodded. “That’s what I did.”
“I texted,” Heather said.
“Democracy requires that we all participate,” Tanesha said. “But once you have spoken to your representative? Feel free to turn off the television, Internet …”
“Twitter,” Jill said. “Facebook.”
“Not being on Twitter or Facebook for a week will not kill you,” Sandy said. “It won’t reduce your brand or get you out of touch. Not even a little bit.”
“Your job as an adult is to protect yourself from harm,” Tanesha said.
“There’s no way for you to not take the cruel, dismissive comments of these old men …” Heather said.
“Millionaires,” Tanesha said. “Every one of them.”
Heather scowled at Tanesha.
“What is your issue with the millionaire thing?” Heather asked.
“They are not like us,” Tanesha said, with a shrug.
Jill put her arm around Tanesha’s waist.
“You will hear their words as if they are talking specifically about about you,” Heather said. “Their words will enter your heart and mind and psyche. No matter what anyone tells you — it will feel like they are talking about you, right into your very soul.”
“Period,” Tanesha said.
“When you listen to words that justify sexual violence, you are harming yourself,” Sandy said. “And trust me — you will turn that attitude on yourself. In no time at all, you’ll treat yourself as cruelly as they are treating her.”
“Your mind can’t sort out the difference between this woman, this stranger, and you,” Jill said. “After all, she was sexually violated. You were sexually violated. Of course, these old men are talking about you. Even if you know that’s not true in your mind, it is going to feel true.”
“That’s just how our minds work,” Heather said.
“You deserve more than that,” Tanesha said.
“For the next week or so, you have our permission to ignore what’s going on in the world,” Tanesha said. “You can cocoon yourself in a book series or television show …”
“Take a break from the media. Find something to distract you,” Jill said. “Rewatch seasons of your favorite, non-violent show. Katy and I are working our way through the Gilmore Girls.”
Sandy and Heather nodded.
“I’m watching Greenleaf on my phone,” Tanesha said. “So good.”
“That is good,” Heather said.
“That’s too emotionally intense for me,” Sandy said. “I’ve been watching old Disney movies with Rachel Ann and Noelle. The Shaggy Dog, stuff like that.”
“Certainly, you can always read the Denver Cereal from the beginning,” Jill said.
“You can even set it all down and get out into the world,” Tanesha said.
“Volunteer at a charity,” Sandy said.
“Bake up a storm,” Jill said. “Like Sandy has.”
“I have,” Sandy said with a nod.
“The point is that you get to decide what comes into your head,” Heather said. “Be careful. Don’t let this b.s …”
“This old way of thinking said by these old men,” Tanesha said. “Millionaires who are not like you or me or anyone you know …”
“Don’t let it into your head,” Heather said.
“We give you permission to take a break,” Tanesha said.
“In the meantime, we’ll be here,” Sandy said. “Hanging out in the kickass town of Kayenta, Arizona.”
“Do you think Blane and Nelson will ever get it together?” Jill asked.
“What about Tres Sierra?” Tanesha asked. “He’s looking sexy as hell.”
Heather blushed, and the women laughed.
“You do you,” Sandy said. “We’re in this together.”
“Take care of precious you,” Heather said. “You’re worth it.”
“No matter what you do, if you start to feel like you just can’t take it anymore,” Tanesha said. “Ask for help. Don’t let this ridiculous moment in history put an end your life. Call the suicide support line. Talk to someone. Tie a knot to the end of that rope and hold on. These are not our values, at least, not anymore.”
Sandy and Jill nodded. Heather looked at Tanesha before they both nodded.
“And if anyone asks why you’re taking a media break, you can just tell them that your girlfriends told you to,” Tanesha said.
“Damn straight,” Heather said.
Jill and Sandy nodded.
“Tomorrow, it’s back to our story,” Sandy said.
Sunday night — 8:11 p.m.
Kayenta, Arizona, at the hotel on the Navajo Reservation
“Hi,” Nelson said as he entered the spa area.
Blane looked up at Nelson. Heather had set up a dozen comfortable reclining chairs for people to sit on while Blane treated them in a more “community acupuncture” style. Blane’s last patient had left and he was cleaning up the room.
“Hi,” Blane gestured to a chair. “I can treat you while I clean up.”
“I … uh … I …” Nelson said.
Unsure of how to proceed, he sat down in the chair Blane had indicated. Blane picked up his wrist.
“Can I see your tongue?” Blane asked.
Nelson stuck his tongue out. Blane looked at his tongue and nodded.
“Listen,” Nelson started.
Blane was walking away from him. Blane washed his hands, picked up a pack of needles, and walked back to where Nelson was sitting.
“I’m listening,” Blane said in a wry voice.
Blane began sticking needles into Nelson in what seemed like a random order.
“We haven’t had a chance to talk since …” Nelson said.
“Since you showed up uninvited in the SUV with a life-threatening illness?” Blane asked. “Refused to leave? And then proceeded to nearly die while we’re on the road? You mean, we haven’t talked since then?”
“Sure,” Nelson said. “Yes.”
Blane put in a few more needles.
“You need about a half hour,” Blane said. “An hour if you can spare it.”
Blane walked away from Nelson and went back to tidying up the room.
“Can you just stop?” Nelson asked. “We need to talk.”
“You’ve said that,” Blane said. “But you’re not talking.”
Nelson groaned. Blane picked up an antiseptic spray. He began spraying surfaces of the clinic room and wiping them with a clean towel.
“I understand that you’re mad,” Nelson said.
“I’m not mad,” Blane said.
“Fuck,” Nelson said. “I went to see you because I had to talk to you, to make it work out. I didn’t want you to come here and have this … this … thing that I had done between us. I didn’t know that I was sick.”
“How is it then that you had a number of newly filled prescriptions in your bag?” Blane asked.
Nelson didn’t respond. Shaking his head, Blane kept spraying things and wiping them off.
“I don’t have any idea of what to say,” Blane said. “Honestly. How you could take such a risk with your health is unfathomable to me. Truly. How could you do that?”
“I …” Nelson said and then shook his head.
“Did you just expect me to save you?” Blane asked. “Cement our relationship with ‘my need to save people’? Isn’t that what Enrique used to say about me? ‘Stupid Blane, always needs to save people. It’s the only way he feels like he is worthy.’ So you figured that you’d hoist yourself on me and that would, what? Deepen our relationship?”
“I forgot that he used to say that,” Nelson said.
“You forgot?” Surprised at how angry he was, Blane shook his head. “I don’t have time for this. I need to be at a meeting in ten minutes to decide what to do with these water wells. I can’t show up there pissed off.”
“Why not?” Nelson asked. “I thought you were all ‘honesty is everything.’ What could be more honest than what’s going on here?”
“They read minds, asshole,” Blane said. “Jacob will know in two seconds flat that I’m upset. Any emotion is a way in to my head. It’s only a matter of time before … I don’t really want to express myself to the entire world. I mean, you want everyone to know — literally see in their minds — you coughing up a fist of mucus?”
Nelson looked at little green. He shook his head.
“I didn’t think so,” Blane said.
He looked away from Nelson to put the cleaning supplies back in the cabinet. He started straightening the room.
“I find myself in the position of having to apologize to you again,” Nelson said. He winced. “I have taken advantage of your understanding.”
“Again,” Blane said.
“Yes, again,” Nelson said. “I …I don’t know even what to say. This — all of this — from seeing MJ to panicking to having Hedone’s intervention and seeing Jax again and reconnecting with my father and … God, I felt so heard yesterday.”
“Before you almost died,” Blane said.
“Yes, before I almost died,” Nelson said, his voice rose in irritation. “I didn’t intend to get so sick. Yes, I knew that I might have a flair up. I’ve been working crazy hours, up all night, getting ready for the trial. I could feel my chest tightening so I order refills and picked them up. When I realized you were leaving, I went to get in the SUV. That’s it. That’s all that happened. I didn’t have some nefarious plan to get sick or nearly die. It just happened.”
Blane didn’t stop moving, but he also didn’t respond. So Nelson pressed on.
“I couldn’t leave things the way they were,” Nelson said. “I had to make some effort to reconnect with you. I couldn’t just let you go and …”
Nelson shook his head.
“I’m sorry, I guess,” Nelson said.
“Everyone is sorry,” Blane said, his voice hot with rage. “Everyone is always sorry. Sorry this happened. Sorry I hurt you. Sorry you were hurt. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. You were sorry yesterday. And today? You’re sorry again. What’s going to happen next that you’ll be sorry about?”
The door opened and Jacob peeked inside. He looked at Blane and then at Nelson.
“Jake’s here to talk to me about this water well stuff, you know, what we are here to actually do?” Blane said. “Nelson has another twenty minutes on his treatment.”
Rather than respond to Blane, Jacob shut the door behind him. He looked at Nelson again and then at Blane.
“Did I walk in on a recital of the monologue on ‘Sorry’?” Jacob asked.
“Fuck you,” Blane said.
“Also known as the ‘Sorry Soliloquy’,” Jacob said. “Personally, I like the later name but the former also works.”
“What?” Nelson asked.
“Blane does not like ‘I’m sorry,’” Jacob said.
“I thought that was how we do relationships!” Nelson said. “One person screws up and the other person says that they are ‘sorry.’”
Jacob put an arm over Blane’s shoulder and patted his chest with his other hand.
“When someone has been truly harmed in their lives, they’ve heard a lot of the word, ‘sorry,’” Jacob said. “Abusers say that they are sorry but never change their behavior. Social workers are sorry that one thing or another happened, but don’t do anything to fix the problem.”
“Like banning certain people from getting foster children,” Blane said.
“Like putting monsters in prison rather than allowing them to be around vulnerable children,” Jacob said. “Like boyfriends who cheat and don’t care who knows. Like doctors who are sorry that you’re addicted to medications but give you more medications to become addicted to.”
“Everyone’s fucking sorry,” Blane said.
“Yes, yes.” Jacob looked into Blane’s face. They shared a look for a long moment before turning back to Nelson.
“You really do look alike,” Nelson said.
“See!” Blane said. “He’s not even listening.”
Blane gave an angry grunt and tried to get away. Jacob held him in place.
“The key …” Jacob said, pointedly. Nelson nodded that he was listening. “ …is not that you are sorry. Everyone is sorry. The key is to do something about it. In this situation, it occurs to me that you might actually be thankful rather than sorry.”
“But I am sorry!” Nelson said.
“See what I mean?” Blane asked.
“This man saved your life,” Jacob said. “And you’re sorry?”
Nelson looked at Jacob for a moment and then looked at Blane.
“Come on,” Blane said. “Let’s just go. He doesn’t get it.”
“Give him a chance,” Jacob said.
They turned to look at Nelson. He seemed lost in thought. Noticing that Jacob and Blane were looking at him, he shrugged.
“I don’t always do the right thing,” Nelson said. “I mean, everything is so new that … How can I be held to a standard where I don’t fuck up?”
“The question is not whether or not you’ll fuck up,” Blane said. “Or even be sorry, but …”
“People who are genuinely sorry change their behaviors,” Jacob said, cutting off Blane. “Rather than saying a blithe, ‘sorry’ for hoisting your deathly ill body on a near stranger, you could say, ‘Thank you for helping me, staying with me, saving my life. I will do everything in my power to not be in that condition again.’”
“Ah,” Nelson said. “That’s what you mean. Me saying ‘sorry’ doesn’t say what I’m going to do so that it won’t happen again. But … I was sick.”
“You knew that you were sick!” Blane’s anger exploded. “You got your prescriptions filled! What the fuck did you think would happen?”
“I didn’t think,” Nelson said. “That’s probably not very satisfying, but it’s the truth. I didn’t think about how you would feel when I stormed out the other night. I didn’t think about what would happen if I was sick on the drive to the middle of nowhere.”
Jacob held Blane in place. When Blane didn’t respond, Nelson continued.
“I should have,” Nelson said. “I didn’t. I wanted so badly to be with you, to be your lover, but I see that my desires have made me thoughtless, to you — the person I actually wanted in my life.”
Nelson looked at Blane.
“For that, I am sorry,” Nelson said. “I will try not to be so thoughtless.”
Blane seemed to be thinking about what Nelson said, so Nelson continued.
“Thank you for giving me a chance,” Nelson said. “Thank you for saving my life. Thank you for giving me a chance to be a part of all of this. I can only say that I will do everything in my power to not be thoughtless.”
“And not so sick?” Blane asked. “I had the deadly version of that virus and I found ways to stay healthy. It took time and effort, but I made the effort.”
“And not become so ill,” Nelson said. “To the best of my ability.”
Blane still didn’t respond. Jacob shook him.
“You are an only child,” Blane said.
“I am that,” Nelson said, with a laugh.
“Take his needles out. I’ll wait for you outside.” Jacob turned to Nelson he said, “We really have to go. Don’t say anything.”
Jacob left the treatment room and stood in the hallway. Blane took Nelson’s acupuncture needles out. He picked up Nelson’s wrist.
“You’re stronger,” Blane said. “But still on the edge. You could make a full recovery or get sick again. It’s up to you.”
Blane nodded and went to wash his hands at the sink. Nelson got up and stood next to him.
“You should try to get a treatment in tomorrow morning,” Blane said. “We head out at 5:30 am but I can see you at 5 if you need it. There are a few other people who will be here. I can place the needles, and Heather will take them out.”
Nelson held out his arms. Blane looked at his arms. Against his better judgment, Blane let Nelson hug him. Nelson kissed Blane’s cheek.
“I will do better,” Nelson said.
Blane nodded. He walked out of the clinic room where Jacob was waiting for him.
“So you decided to mess in my life because …?” Blane asked.
“Just returning the favor,” Jacob said.
“I never,” Blane said.
“I seem to remember someone finding the zoo pass and hand drawing a map to parking? Someone enrolling Katy at the Marlowe School under the name Katy Marlowe?” Jacob asked. “Telephones for Jill? Car? Health insurance for both of them? Gave me the credit for being ‘so thoughtful.’ Any of that sound familiar?”
“Me?” Blane put his hand on his chest in mock surprise.
“Very funny,” Jacob said. “You told me that we meddle …”
“Because we can,” they said together.
Aden met them in the hallway. Over Blane’s head, he asked, “How’d it go?”
“Good,” Jacob said.
“Did he get to the ‘I’m sorry; you’re sorry; everyone’s sorry’ speech?” Aden asked.
“You know he did,” Jacob said.
Aden patted Blane’s back.
“At least you’re consistent,” Aden said.
“Is there some reason I deserve this?” Blane asked.
“Reservation at 17th Avenue Café?” Aden asked. “6 o’clock was booked out for two months until you called.”
Blane shot Aden an irritated look and then laughed.
“We meddle because we can,” the men said together.
Laughing, they went into the meeting to make a plan to dig a few water wells.
Sunday night — 8:21 p.m.
Kayenta, Arizona, at the hotel on the Navajo Reservation
Tres opened the door to his room the moment Heather knocked. He grinned at her and stepped back. She held up a pint sized carton of vanilla ice cream.
“The brownies are almost done,” Tres said.
He gestured toward the small microwave midway into the room. He waved for her to come inside. She hesitated for a moment and then stepped inside the room.
Her eyes instinctively flicked to the wall on her right. Tres’s room was on the other side of her and Blane’s room. Right now, Tink was next door with Wyn and Mack. She hoped they were all right.
Tres stepped in front of her gaze.
“Tink’s took the kids to Charlie’s room,” Tres said. “I check on them on my way back to the room. They are watching kid movies with Noelle, Ivy, and Wanda. Charlie’s ordered pizza and cokes for everyone. He has that credit card from Sandy. Nash and Teddy were on their way.”
“Why don’t I know that?” Heather asked. “Usually Tink …?”
“I told her that I would tell you,” Tres said. “She knew that we were going to hang out this evening.”
Blushing, Heather nodded. The microwave dinged, and Tres went to the microwave.
“You seem uncomfortable,” Tres said, as he opened the microwave.
“I’m kind of stuck on the whole sleeping thing,” Heather said. “I know it’s just one dumb detail but …”
“I sleep alone,” Tres said with a grin.
“I know,” Heather said. “I mean, Tanesha told me, you know, when you were together, and then last week. I just … why?”
“Tanesha didn’t tell you?” Tres asked.
“She doesn’t know,” Heather said.
Tres smiled and nodded. He reached one long arm to grab a kitchen towel. He used the towel to carry the small pan of brownies to the table. She went to the table. He’d set out two bowls and spoons. There was an open bottle of wine and two glasses near the wall.
“Please,” Tres said.
He gestured to the table like the maître d’ at an expensive restaurant. Grinning at him, she sat down. He sat down next to her. He scooped out the hot moist brownies into the bowls and she added the ice cream.
“When I was little, I shared a room with my abuela’s mother,” Tres said.
“Your great-grandmother,” Heather said.
Tres nodded and took a bite.
“She was old,” Tres said. “Tough as nails. She’d lived this amazing life. She worked in the factories as a young child during World War I and then again in World War II. She hunted down bandits in the wilds of New Mexico. Her father was a cattle wrestler just outside of Juarez. She spent her entire childhood on the run. At ninety-five, she could shoot and dress an elk. She kept our freezer was full of duck. Year round.”
“She sounds like a hoot,” Heather said.
“A true feminist long before that was even a thing,” Tres said. “She was my favorite person in the world. That’s why we shared a room. Mom used to say that I would just be in with her anyway.”
“Was that true?” Heather asked.
“Probably,” Tres said. “I don’t know. For as long as I remembered, she and I shared a room. So …”
“She used to tell me stories,” Tres said. “She was a great storyteller.”
“Any of it true?” Heather asked.
“Who knows?” Tres asked.
“You probably didn’t care,” Heather said.
“Not in the least,” Tres said. “We’d lie down at night and she’d tell me stories. I’d dream about her adventures all night. She’s asked me about them every morning.”
“My favorite stories were about her father,” Tres said.
“The bandito?” Heather asked.
“Exactly,” Tres said. “And you know about banditos right?”
“They sleep alone?” Heather asked.
“Precisely,” Tres said. “You don’t want to be encumbered by having someone else there when you have to make a quick get-away. Your life and the life of your gang could be in danger if you do.”
“It just stuck,” Tres said. “I never really had someone to sleep with so I didn’t. Now it’s just a thing.”
“Any you won’t care …?” Heather asked.
“I don’t know,” Tres said. “What I do know is that we can stand on the side of this thing and ask ‘what if?’ forever. Or we can jump in and try it. The kids like me. Nelson and I get along well. I love Blane, as you know. Have long before we met. You and I, well, so far so good.”
Heather gave him a sly smile. When Blane was in the hospital, Tres had done everything in his power to help Heather. They’d spent nearly every afternoon together. Most days, they folded laundry or changed diapers or even went to the market. Once or twice, they fell into each other’s arms.
“Nelson likes to sleep alone as well, in case you didn’t know,” Tres said.
“I did,” Heather said.
“He didn’t know about the bandito thing,” Tres said, with a nod. “Turns out, that’s not common knowledge.”
His bowl nearly empty, he took a last bite and looked up at her.
“What do you want?” Tres asked.
Heather reached out her hand to him. He held it.
“I …” Heather said.
Rather than hear her out, he leaned forward and kissed her.
“I only have one short life,” Tres said. “I want to spend what’s left of it with you by my side. I would ask you to marry me, but that’s not possible.”
Heather opened her mouth to say something.
“And I completely understand why that has to be,” Tres said. “I also know that we’re good together — really good. That’s enough to get through anything life dishes out.”
Heather blushed. He held his hand out to her. Smiling, she let him lead her to bed.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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