Fly Away Page 47

It helped you, didn’t it? my mom said, and I saw a glimmer of worry in her eyes. They told us you needed help.

I knew I could never tell her the truth—if I could even find it anymore. I’m better, I said dully.

But when I walked into their new house, full of the furniture of my youth, and smelling of my dad’s Old Spice aftershave and Camel cigarettes, I felt so sick I ran to the kitchen sink and threw up.

* * *

When I first saw you again, I started to cry.

Dorothy, don’t upset her, my mother said sharply. She doesn’t know you.

She wouldn’t let me touch you. My mother was sure my poison would infect you somehow, and how could I disagree?

You seemed happy with her, and she smiled around you, even laughed. I couldn’t remember ever making her as happy as you did. You had your own room and lots of toys, and she rocked you to sleep. That first night home, I stood in the doorway of your room and watched her sing “Hush, Little Baby” to you.

I felt my father come up behind me; the air turned cold. He eased up too close, put a hand on my hip, and whispered in my ear, She’s going to be a looker. Your little wetback.

I spun around. Don’t you even look at my daughter.

He smiled. I’ll do what I want. Don’t you know that by now?

I screamed in rage and pushed him away from me. His eyes widened as he lost his balance. He reached out for me and I backed away, watching him tumble down the hardwood stairs—rolling, thumping, cracking, banisters breaking. When he was still, I went down to stand beside him. Blood seeped out from the back of his head.

I felt a pale gray coldness descend around me; it cut me off, separated me. I dropped to my knees in the blood beside him. “I hate you,” I said, hoping these were the last words he’d ever hear. When I heard my mother’s voice, I looked up.

What have you done? my mother screamed. She had you in her arms; you were sleeping. Even her cries didn’t waken you.

He’s dead, I said.

Oh, my Lord. Winston! My mother ran back into the room and I could hear her calling the police.

I ran up after her, caught her as she was hanging up.

She turned. I’ll get you help, she said.


I knew what that meant. Electroshock and ice baths and barred windows and medications that made me forget everything and everyone.

Give her to me, I pleaded.

She’s not safe with you. My mother’s arms tightened around you. I saw how she was fighting for you and it hurt me so much I couldn’t breathe.

Why didn’t you fight him for me?


You know how. You know what he did to me.

She shook her head, saying something I couldn’t hear. Then, very quietly: I’ll protect her.

You didn’t protect me.

No, she said.

I heard the sirens coming. Give her to me, I begged again, but I knew it was too late.


My mother shook her head.

If they found me here, they’d arrest me. I was a murderer now. My own mother had called the police, and God knew she wouldn’t protect me.

I’ll be back for her, I promised, crying now. I’ll find Rafe and we’ll be back.

* * *

I ran out of my parents’ house and crouched behind a giant rhododendron in their yard. I was still there when the police and the ambulance showed up, and the neighbors.

I wanted to hate who I’d become—a murderer—but I couldn’t feel anything but happy about his death. I had saved you from him, at least. I wanted to save you from my mother, too, but really, how could I care for you alone? I was nothing. I had no job, no money, no high school diploma.

We needed Rafe to make us a family.

Rafe. His name became everything—my religion, my mantra, my destination.

I walked down to First Avenue and stuck out my thumb. When a VW bus covered in flower decals pulled over, the driver asked me where I was going.

Salinas, I said. It was all I could think of. The last place I’d seen him.

Get in.

I did. I climbed aboard and stared out the window and listened to the music coming from his scratchy radio: “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

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You get high? he asked me, and I thought: Why not?

* * *

They say pot isn’t addictive. It was for me. Once I smoked my first joint, I couldn’t stop. I needed the calm it gave me. That was when I started to live like a vampire, up all night, high all the time. I slept with men I can’t remember on dirty mattresses. But everywhere I went, I asked about Rafe. In every town in California, I hitchhiked out to the local farms and asked for him in my broken Spanish, showing the only photograph I had to workers who eyed me warily.

I drifted that way for months, until I made it to Los Angeles. Alone, I hitchhiked out to Rancho Flamingo and saw the house I’d grown up in. Then I made my way to Rafe’s old house. I’d never been there before, so it took me a long time to find it. I didn’t expect to find him there, and I wasn’t wrong. Still, someone answered the door.

His uncle. I knew the moment I saw him. He had Rafe’s dark eyes—your eyes, Tully—and the same wavy hair. He looked incredibly old to me, lined and wrinkled and faded by a lifetime of hard work under a hot sun.

I’m Dorothy Hart, I said, wiping my sweaty brow.

He pushed the battered straw cowboy hat back on his head. I know who you are. You got him put in jail. He said it like: Ju got heem.

What could I say to that? Would you tell me where he is?

He looked at me for so long I started to feel sick. Then he made a little follow-me motion with his gnarled hand.

I let hope bloom just a little and lurched forward, up the uneven porch steps. I followed him into the clean, shadow-filled house, which smelled of lemons and something else, cigars, maybe, and roasting meat.

At a small, soot-stained fireplace, the old man stopped. His shoulders sagged and he turned to me. He loved you.

I saw Rafe in that man’s black, sad eyes, and love tightened like a clamp around my heart. How could I tell this man my shame—that I’d been chained like an animal for years? That I would have cut off my arm to get free? I love him, too. I do. I know he thinks I ran away, but—

Then it sank in.

Loved you. Loved.

I shook my head. I didn’t want to hear what he would say next.

He looked for you. Very long.

I blinked back tears.

Vietnam, he said at last.

That’s when I noticed the flag folded into a small triangle and framed in wood sitting on the mantel.

We couldn’t even bury him in land that he loved. There wasn’t enough of him left.

Vietnam. I couldn’t imagine him going there, my Rafe, with his long hair and flashing smile and tender hands.

He knew you would come looking for him, he tell me give you this.

The old man reached behind the flag and pulled out a piece of ordinary notebook paper—the kind you use in high school. It had been folded into a small square. Time and dust had turned it the color of tobacco.

My hands were shaking as I opened it.

Querida, he’d written, and my heart stopped at that. I swore I heard his voice and smelled the scent of oranges. I love you and will always love you. When I come back, I will find you and Tallulah and we will begin again. Wait for me, querida, as I wait for you.

I looked at the old man and saw my pain reflected in his eyes. I clutched the note—it felt like ash in my hands, impossibly fragile. I stumbled out of his house and walked until it got dark, and even then I kept walking.

The next day, when I went to the protest rally that had brought me to Los Angeles, I was still crying. My tears mixed with the dust and the dirt and turned into a war paint of loss. I stood in the middle of that huge crowd—mostly kids like me, there had to be a thousand of us—and I heard their chanting and protesting about the war, and it hit me. People were dying over there. And the anger that was always inside of me found a place to go.

That day was the first time I was arrested.

* * *

That was the start of me losing time again. Days, weeks, even a month one time. Now I know it was because I was doing so many drugs. Pot and quaaludes and LSD. Everything seemed safe back then, and I was desperate to turn on and tune out.

You haunted me, Tully; you and your daddy. I began to see you both in the hot air rising up from the desert floor at the Mojave commune where I lived. I heard you crying when I washed dishes or got water from the cistern. Sometimes I felt your little hand touch mine and I would scream out in fear and jump. My friends just laughed and warned me about bad trips and thought LSD would help.

When I looked back—finally, when I got sober—I thought, Of course. It was the sixties, I was barely an adult; I’d been molested and abused and I thought it was my fault. No wonder I lost myself so completely to drugs. I became like a piece of string on some cold-water river, just bobbing along. High all the time.

Then one night, when it was so hot I couldn’t get comfortable in my sleeping bag, I dreamed about my father. In my nightmare he was alive and coming for you. Once the nightmare descended into my life, nothing could get rid of it. No drugs or sex or meditation. Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore. I told this guy—Pooh Bear, we called him—that I would blow him all the way to Seattle if he’d take me home. I gave him the address. The next thing I knew, there were five of us in an old VW bus, banging our way north, singing along to the Doors in a cloud of smoke. We camped out along the way, made pot brownies in a cast-iron skillet over an open fire, and dropped acid.

My nightmares turned uglier and more intense. I started seeing Rafe in the daylight, too, started thinking his ghost was following me. I heard his voice calling me a tramp and a terrible mother. I cried in my sleep all the time.

And then one day I woke up, still high, and found that we were parked in front of my mother’s house. The bus was half on the street and half on the sidewalk. I don’t think any of us remember parking. I climbed over the carpeted floor and jumped out of the van and onto the street. I knew I looked bad and smelled bad, but what could I do?

I stumbled across the street and went into the house.

You were right there at the kitchen table, playing with a spoon, when I opened the screen door and went inside. Somewhere upstairs, a bell tinkled.

That’s Grandpa, you said, and I felt rage explode inside of me. How could he be alive? And what had he done to you?

I went up the stairs, banging into the walls, screaming for my mother. She was in her bedroom, with my father, who looked like a cadaver in a twin bed. His face was slack, gray; drool slid down his chin.

He’s alive? I screamed.

Paralyzed, she said, getting to her feet.

I wanted to tell my mother I was taking you; I wanted to see the pain in her eyes. But I was so crazy, I couldn’t think straight. I ran downstairs and I scooped you into my arms.

My mother ran down behind me. He’s paralyzed, Dorothy Jean. I told the police he had a stroke. I swear. You’re safe. No one knows you pushed him. You can stay.

Can your grandpa move? I asked you.

You shook your head and popped your thumb in your mouth.

Still. I had you in my arms and I couldn’t let you go. I imagined redemption for myself, a new beginning for us. I imagined a life with picket fences and bikes with training wheels and Campfire Girl meetings.

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