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My mother loved me.
From my first memory she was always there, pulling me out of harm’s way. I was a curious child, and was constantly reaching for the hot stove or wandering outside unsupervised.
Sometimes the harm she protected me from was my own father. Everything I said and did seemed to irritate him and any loud noise or even a single word he perceived as disrespectful could earn a back hand across the face, or a swift kick in the back to send you flying down the steps. I clung to her tightly in those years, as she was the only constant, never angry or impatient with me, but full of love and hope. She stood in between his hand and my fragile body, and I’m ashamed to say that I ran and hid more than once, as he took his anger out on my dear mother.
My grandparents lived across town and were anxious for me to get of an age where I could spend the weekend or the summer. Most little boys would be excited about a weekend at his grandparents, but I feared the time when I would be forced to endure the hard back breaking summers my older cousins had seen.
The grandparents thought that hard labor was the only way a boy would grow into a strong man. As they had a large farm to tend to, they made use of their grandsons by “raising “them for the better part of their childhood, usually starting around 5 or 6, depending on the constitution of the boy. My cousins slept in the leaky barn out back, and existed on whatever scraps were thrown out at the end of the day. By the end of the summer they permeated an odor that may never wash off, an odor of sadness and pain. My female cousins lived inside the house, and would never speak of the horrors they endured. Women weren’t valued much in my family, except for one thing.
When I was barely five my mother woke me up in the middle of the night, covering her hand across my mouth and signaling for me to keep quiet. Her bruised face was wet from tears, and her hand shook as she silently begged me not to do anything to attract the attention of my sleeping father. Without a sound we snuck out of the house, taking only my stuffed teddy bear, leaving behind everything I had ever known.
My mother and I kept to the back roads as we made our journey across several states, to the house on the river where her brother lived. Her brother made his living as a teacher at the small schoolhouse in town, and was a widow with no children of his own. By the time we arrived at his door we were weak from hunger and exhaustion. My mother hadn’t stopped to sleep the whole way, too afraid that my father or his family would catch up with her unaware. My uncle hadn’t always lived here, had arrived here only a few short months before, and as my mother had not been permitted to keep contact with her family, she knew of his location only by the chance meeting of a distant relative while selling some items in town.
Even at my young age, I was able to understand that this meant we were safe. They couldn’t find us here! Suddenly my world didn’t look so bleak and depressing. I would no longer suffer my father’s wrath for playing too loudly in the backyard, or getting up to get a drink of water after I was supposed to be asleep. I suppose that given my history I should have been wary of this new man, but he exuded a calm demeanor, and my natural instincts told me that he would never hurt me.
For two years my mother and I lived in peace in my uncle’s house by the river. My mother started working at a small shop in town, and I went to school with my uncle. At night we would eat dinner in the small kitchen and talk about our day. I spent my summers down by the river, fishing or watching the grass grow. I developed a fast friendship with a boy down the road, and we never spent a weekend apart, riding bikes and playing in the woods. It was a sweet time, the best of my childhood memories.
But nothing good lasts forever. My mother took ill in the winter I was 7. I was looking forward to Christmas and the break from school, and sleepovers and late night marshmallow roasting. But then my mother was sick and everyone got very sad. It seemed only a week passed where she went from happy and rosy to pale and withdrawn in her bed. On the morning of the parade in town I begged her to take me. My young mind didn’t understand real sickness, I had recovered nicely from the years spent with my father, and was now blessed once again with the innocence and selfishness of youth.
Mother pulled herself together and off we went. She held my hand and bought me caramel popcorn at the stand. We laughed and giggled for a few minutes she appeared healthy and whole again.
Then she fell. Right there at the parade in front of everyone my sweet wonderful mother who always protected me fell to the pavement, and I only stared in confusion.
My mother was rushed to the hospital in the next town, and I squeezed into a corner and cried silently. When the nurses came to me and asked me who my father was, what possessed me to utter his name? Why wouldn’t I say the name of my quiet uncle, at home at his house on the river? Shock, perhaps and confusion. I didn’t understand that they were asking WHO TO CALL, no I answered honestly and off they went.
The nurse pulled me into my mother’s room and quietly told me my father and my grandparents were both on the way to claim me, my father to comfort me and my grandparents to take me back to their farm to stay. “What a lucky boy you are, to have so many people who love you. You’ll be just fine. But now you should stay with your mother for a few minutes, and say your goodbyes, they will be here shortly.”
Inside I screamed in terror, wanting to run and hide, get away, get away from the miseries that were soon to come. But I couldn’t leave my mother; I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye.
As I held my mother‘s hand a let a silent tear fall, she opened her eyes. She smiled so sweetly at me and said two words before she passed from this world. “You’re safe.”
My mother passed at the stroke of midnight December 18, the year I was 7. I curled up next to her body and didn’t wake when my uncle scooped me in his arms and carried me home. I didn’t know that day what had happened to the two different cars traveling towards me in the night, to take me away to a terrible place. But I knew I was safe, because my mother had told me so.
I grew up in that house by the river with my sweet sweet uncle. When I was 10 he met a nice lady from town, and they married and had two children of their own. I was raised as another son, and I was always loved and cared for. Although my new aunt could never replace my darling mother, she took care of me throughout my childhood, and never was a word spoken in anger. Never did I sleep in the barn or live on scraps. Never did I have to duck to avoid the fist coming at me in the dark.
My first year in college, I became curious about what had happened to change the events that were unfolding in my life on that awful night. I did some research and this is what I learned:
At midnight, on December 18, the year I was 7, my father was traveling from one place in his old blue pickup. He had been working out of town when he received the message that his only son had been found. The pickup was old and in disrepair, still it was a surprise that at the stroke of midnight his truck suddenly swerved into the path of an oncoming semi, killing him instantly. The driver of the semi walked away with barely a scratch.
At midnight, on December 18, the year I was 7, my grandparents were traveling from their farm across town in their new car, purchased in the last year with proceeds from the farm, and apparently the prostitution of several of their own granddaughters. They were at home when they received word that their grand son had been found. The car was new and not the cheapest model, therefore it was a mystery why at the stroke of midnight the car suddenly pulled to the right while on a mountain road, causing the car to go through the weak fence, and down into the ravine. My grandparents were killed instantly.
There were investigations, even into my sweet calm uncle, as it was found to be a little odd that both of these events should happen at the exact time my mother passed from this world. My uncle never worried me with it, and the investigators finally gave up, as no one could ever prove how it happened.
I know how it happened. My mother told me when she uttered those two words. “You’re safe.”
Credit: RACHEL CHENEL