Table of Contents for the "Hole" Story
|Chapter 1||Chapter 2||Chapter 3|
|Chapter 4||Chapter 5||Chapter 6|
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Keep Me Whole Until Morning
Chapter 25 - What You Pay For Edit
Sunday morning the world was mine again. Not being able to sleep in has its advantages. I took the goodies from Whole Foods and a couple of apples. I dressed, and headed for the Sociology Tower. I swiped in and set up shop in the work room where I finished King John and roughed out of my psychology writeup. Then it was time for two hours of data entry. I was in the middle of a page of messy stats when my cell phone rang.
You are probably wondering why I gave my cell phone number to Ranier and Shasta. The answer is they gave me their numbers. We are supposed to stay in touch, and I could not think of a good excuse to refuse either one of them. Ranier and Shasta ring to the opening bars of Night on Bald Mountain. I feel my heart leap in my throat as I hear the ominous ringtone. I grabbed my cell and heard Shasta's voice on the end of the line.
For Shasta, she sounded surprisingly upbeat. "Can you help me get started with my education paper. I have to find a topic and find articles. You're good in the library, Rimona."
"Where do you want to meet?" I asked.
"Where are you?" Shasta asked back.
"Dale Hall," replied. "There's a philosophy lounge they leave open. Let's meet in front of the library."
Shasta agreed. I finished my data entry, ate the last of my eggplant and olives, and taking my apple, let myself out and cut across the grass toward Boyd and then back toward the gym and library. I wanted to move along the westward perimeter of the campus and go south from there. This would avoid Ranier finding me, I hoped. I needed to appear to come from the south of the library. Fortunately, Ranier was nowhere around. Shasta stood impatiently on the library steps.
"Sorry, I'm late," I stammered. We headed inside and found a group study computer with two monitors and two seats at a special sort of desk. I glanced at the notes Shasta had from a library session and found a databse called ERIC that her professor in her education course told her to use. "OK, what do you want to do this paper on?" I asked her.
Shasta blinked. "I don't know."
"Well what did your professor tell you to do it on?"
"He said anything having to do with education. I don't know what to do it on. Come on, Ree-mona, you're supposed to help me."
"Quid pro quo," I thought.
"You're the one who wants to be a teacher. What interests you about education."
"I want to work with kids," Shasta corrected me, "not write stupid papers."
"OK, how do we keep this paper from being stupid?" I asked.
Shasta snorted. "Can't you help me?" she asked.
"You gotta help yourself," I reminded the beautiful girl from Boisie City. "Now let's see, is there something you want to teach little kids...a subject like math or English."
Shasta shook her head. "OK, what about dealing with bullying in schools, that's education."
Shasta made a small noise. "How about teaching morals or values." Shasta snorted again and then she said, "I know. Do you think there are any articles on cheating?"
"Let's search for them," I suggested, and sure enough we found articles on preventing cheating at a variety of ages and grade levels. Shasta began to email her articles to her favorite web based mailbox, and I went down to the computer lab to work on my writeup for psychology and this week's chemistry lab so I'd be ready to go over it with Biscuit Boy after supper.
Somewhere in all of this, I realized I was quite thirsty and hungry. I told Shasta I was slipping over to the Union for a soda. Shasta said she wanted a break as well before she had to "read all that." We walked to the Union together. Shasta got a muffin and a fancy coffee with whipped cream. I can never keep track of the names of these things that look better than they taste. I got my usual Cherry Coke. We sat in a banquette staring at eachother.
To say that Shasta and I have nothing in common is obvious. "So why'd your family move to Tulsa?" asked Shasta. "It wasn't my family," I informed her. "It was my mother. She and my dad were at the end of their ropes. They fought a lot, and Mom feared it might come to blows." Mom had told me as much and never one to let herself be hurt, she escaped. "Mom secretly lined up a job down here because it was far away from Dad and then she took off one night after a fight. She was gone for more than two weeks before her lawyer got in touch with the rest of us."
"Did your Dad beat your Mom?" asked Shasta.
"No," I answered. "My Mom was good at keeping things under control. She paid a big price for that, but Dad never touched her. It was pretty ugly psychologically though. I don't blame my mom for moving out."
"And why did you go live with your mom?" asked Shasta. "It sounds like she ran off and didn't take you kids with her. Wasn't she worried about you?"
"She worried more about hereslf," I answered. "That's always what should come first. It's survival. I don't blame her."
"So you asked your Dad to send you down here..." Shasta was digging in the wrong place. "Let her dig," I thought. She might just end up paying for each shovel of dirt.
"The court awarded custody of me to my mother," I replied.
"After she ran off!" Shasta hit the bullseye.
"Yes," I answered. "I spent ninth grade in Ardsley -- that's Westchester -- with my math teacher, Mr. Grazielle who was also my homeroom teacher. He offered to keep me until I finished school that year."
"Why?" asked Shasta.
"My family had gotten very dysfunctional. It's a long, involved story," I made it sound so glib. "I think more people have messy pasts than you think. How about you? Weren't you almost raped or something?"
Shasta gasped. "Who told you that bullshit!"
"My roommate, Kerry," I lied. "She heard it from Kendra Wolfe-King."
"Kendra is a BLEEPing slut," snarled Shasta and she nearly got up to run off but then stopped.
"Moses never raped me," Shasta spoke his name.
"Did he beat you?" I asked.
Shasta pretended not to hear. "Moses was a fool," Shasta told me. "His whole family were fools. Small towns where people have lived for generations breed fools like that. Moses was one step above an animal. Yes, he was respectful and we went out on dates, but his wants were animal wants. Go out, eat, have a good time, and have sex. It was all mechanical and simple. We were too young to get married, so Moses took me to OK City to Planned Parenthood. I felt so humiliated. Planned Parenthood is where girls get abortions. I was just going in to get a patch and we waited a whole month until the patch was working.
"Moses used to say he'd never disrespect me for losing my virginity because girls really want it too. They like lots of kissing and cuddling so I got lots of kissing and cuddling. Moses said sex was good because it cost nothing and was fun and there was not much fun to do in our small town. Moses had no vision of the future beyond football, college, and maybe selling cars at the dealership." Shasta sniffed with disgust.
"Ranier is different. He dreams big. He treats me like a princess."
"He buys you stuff."
"Yes, but that's because he cares about me. We're going to get married some day. Moses never talked about marriage. Ranier is special. He's a step up, not just a boy to fool around with. You understand?"
"Kerry said that Kendra said that Moses used to beat you?" I was relentless.
"That was bullshit, but I had to say it in court. Otherwise, I couldn't have gotten the order and I needed it because Moses wouldn't leave me alone. He wasn't stalking me. We were just together a lot because we all went to the same small school." Shasta sighed. "You understand?"
I wanted to hear the rest of the story. "Did Moses obey the order of protection?" Yes, I knew what these were. I know Eben never obeyed his and Dad only really laughed at the thing. It didn't really protect me one bit.
"No," answered Shasta.
"What happened?" I inquired.
"Ranier had to teach Moses a lesson," answered Shasta. "Moses is either dead or he'll never sell cars or play football again. I think his family stuck him in rehab somewhere."
"What happened to Moses?" I wondered if Shasta would tell the whole story.
"Ranier took care of him."
"How?" I asked. "What did he do?"
"They had a fight," Shasta knew the language, the same way I knew it in eighth and ninth grade.
I also knew the next question I could ask, but I all ready knew the answer. Now I was the one with the secret.
"I'm glad nobody beat anybody in your family, Ree-mona," Shasta wanted out of this subject. She had had enough.
Somewhere Ranier's family might find a legal file on my parents' divorce case and custody hearings and Eben's procedure in juvenile court. A lot of the records would be sealed but maybe they could break the seals or find enough publicly available information to figure out my story. I wasn't going to make it any easier for them. That was not part of the quid pro quo.
That Shasta can love Ranier is not surprising. People prefer the strong to the weak and the victors to the vanquished. Most people have very little sympathy for the victims of violence. After all Ranier and Moses just had a fight. A fight is fair. A fight is between equals. If the loser gets hurt, hey he shouldn't have been fighting. Shasta bought into all of this like most people. I did not buy one word of it. I wondered how long Ranier and his family would take to find out that we were very much on opposite sides.
We returned to the library and around 4:15pm made our way to the long dinner line. Ranier was there to meet us. He asked Shasta if I had helped her. She did not speak of the conversation in the Union. She said she hoped the food would be edible. "I hear they're serving marinated roast eggplant and shriveled olives on the salad bar," Ranier replied. "I wish they would," I said back catching on to the light hearted ribbing. Ranier complained that economics bored him to tears. I saw Kerry and Minah in the line and waved to them. Then we figured out where to set up a table. The family of choice would gather for its Sunday dinner as another week began.
Chapter 26 - Hopelessly Stuck to You Edit
I could not get away from Ranier, and I knew now that that was what I had to do. An order of protection which did not work fully, but at least said that someone else cared, and moving 1,500 miles away to Oklahoma protected me from Eben. Also, there is more to the story. Isn't there always more to the story? No, I'm not telling it now.
For starters, Ranier and I were in calculus together. We were also part of a very small group of freshpeople in the honors program who also were on fourteen meals plus points (think twenty meals per week, Cornellian parents!) and who ate breakfast in Couch every morning. Also not eating meals with Ranier and the family of choice meant coming up with a plausible reason, and I hate lying. I could also have told the truth, but no one would have believed or had sympathy for me. Besides, I wanted to continue to eat with Aaron, Biscuit Boy, Nils, and even Ghost, not to mention Kerry, Minah, Hannah, and whomever else they brought to the table. Cutting myself off from Ranier meant destroying whatever social life I had.
My mother would say this was teaching me an invaluable lesson. I'd "just have to learn to watch myself." Well, I wasn't going to watch myself. I was not sure what I would do. On Wednesday, I got my assignment for a psychology term paper. I sort of had a topic half picked out, the reasons behind resilience in abused children. I also got back an excellent grade on my lab report. Thankyou Biscuit Boy.
"Aren't you going to get something to celebrate?" Biscuit Boy asked me as he arrived at our table with a soup bowl full of three flavors of ice cream.
I shrugged. They were serving polenta with spinach for supper, and for me that was enough of a treat. Shasta toyed with her tuna sandwich. She said it tasted like iodine. She sipped her coffee and whipped cream drink despairingly.
"Shasta, what's the matter?" Ranier finally caught on to his girlfriend's mood which was uglier than usual. Aaron rolled his eyes at Biscuit Boy. Nils stared at his food. Kerry and Hannah exchanged knowing looks.
Shasta gazed up at the rest of us trying to determine if she was among friends. She did look scaird though none of us would do anything but laugh at her mildly. Getting laughed at was an occupational hazard of being a class one drama queen.
Shasta sighed, looked at Ranier, and said: "I saw him today."
"Oh shit!" was all Ranier could reply. "Are you sure it was him? I mean..." Ranier looked around the table. "There's not much chance he could be here."
"There's a big hospital here. They do rehab," Shasta told all of us.
"Well that explains it then," Ranier smiled.
"But he wasn't at the hospital. He was going into one of the buildings near the Union," Shasta told us.
"Which building?" Ranier asked.
"I don't know. How the fuck am I supposed to know all the buildings on this campus?"
"If Rimona takes you around, can you point it out to her?" Ranier asked.
I wondered how I could explain that I had a meeting tonight. The meeting of course was at 9pm in a quiet corner of the Union, and that meeting was no longer safe.
"I guess...." Shasta sighed. "I just...no longer feel safe. I mean if he's back here, he's up to no good, and he's so ugly Ranier, like something out of a horror movie. He gave me the creeps. He doesn't even cover up the place where one of his eyes used to be."
"Please," Nils interrupted. "We're eating."
I took a bite of my food, though I was no longer hungry.
"Did he approach you or try to talk to you?" Ranier asked.
"No, he just went into the building. That's why I think he's a student here."
"He can't be a student here Shas. It's probably your imagination. I'll call my parents. Maybe they can find something out. Want to see if you can point out where you saw him?"
"I've got to go drop something off at Dale Hall right after supper," I interrupted. "Can I meet you around seven?" I asked Shasta. Shasta agreed, and I finished my supper while the conversation drifted to other topics.
I don't have to tell you that neither Moses Wolf nor I were safe any longer. There was only one thing I had left to do and it was not disappear on poor Moses. I checked the computer room in Cate after going the long way around to Dale and back again and then ran switchboard. There were two Wolf families and six King families in Norman. I started calling them one after another and eventually on the second try with the Wolfs, connected with a gruff sounding man with a rural accent. "What you want?" he asked.
"This is Rimona Hektor. Does a Moses Wolf who used to live in Boisie City live in your house?" I asked.
"Now why should I tell some telemarketer shee-ut like that?" asked gruff voice.
"Because I'm a good friend of Moses' and Ranier Ciari is going to be looking for him."
"And how do you know Ranier Ciari?" asked gruff voice.
"He lives in my building, Cate Hall. We're both in the Honors Program."
"If you're smart enough to be in the Honors Program, you should be smart enough not to mess in other people's business."
A voice in the background said something. Gruff voice replied. I held for several seconds, and then the voice on my cell phone changed. "Yes, this is Moses here," said Moses Wolf. "How did you get this number?"
"Trial and error. I guessed you lived off campus which is why it took almost two weeks for Shasta Godwin to find you."
"Yeah, I saw her. It was by accident. I don't think they are going to enforce that stupid paper from Boisie. I mean it wasn't like I was chasing her or anything."
"Did you say anything to her?"
"No, she just walked on by. I'm not sure what to say. I don't want to scare her and I want to make sure he's nowhere around if you know what I mean."
"Moses," I said. "We can't meet in the Union tonight. It's not safe. We need to find a new place."
"Wal-Mart. They have a McDonalds. We'll meet there. Can you walk there?"
"My uncle will drive me," Moses answered.
"Nine thirty pm," I told Moses. "I have some business to take care of first."
Suffice it to say that Shasta got her tour and pinpointed the Physical Sciences Building as the one which Moses Wolf had hobbled into this afternoon. "You don't know how much all this scares me," Shasta confessed.
"He may not even be living on campus," I told her.
"You haven't seen him in the dining halls and you and he are not in any of the same classes."
"Shit, you're right, but he's here in Norman and that's bad enough. You don't know how he stuck to me like glue last year...until Ranier took care of him."
"Do you want him to finish the job?" I asked of Shasta.
"It would be nice to get rid of Moses," Shasta sighed. "He's like a bad dream, you know?"
I reminded myself that very few people sympathize with the victims of physical violence. I walked Shasta back as far as the Union and said I needed to go to the library. Shasta made her way back to Cate or Walker which was her dormitory and I headed in the opposite direction. At 9:27pm I sat with a medium Coke on a hard plastic bench in a fast food emporium that smelled of grease and meat.
Moses got a bag of french fries and offered me some. He also had an ersatz milk shake. I refused all of his food. "Heh...thanks for the tip. You sure gave Uncle Juval a scare though. Everyone's scaird for me since Ranier beat me up last spring. I'm the only one who's learned not to be scaird. Ain't life funny that way?"
I toyed with my Coke. The water on the cup made my fingers cold, and that made the rest of me want to shiver.
"I talked with Shasta Sunday afternoon," I began. "Moses, you have to forget about Shasta. She's a no good fucking bitch."
"How can you say that?"
"She told me about you and Ranier back in Boisie City. She gave you up for Ranier because he was rich. Then when you tried to get her back, she lied about you in court and got an order of protection."
"Damn straight," sighed Moses.
"Then when you wouldn't obey the order of protection, Ranier nearly killed you."
"So I'm just supposed to give up?" asked Moses.
"Yes, go find another girl, someone better than Shasta."
"Like who?" asked Moses.
"I don't know, but if you get a glass eye and use more deoderant and remember to wear a clean shirt, you aren't so bad. If any one asks, say you got into a fight. That's the language everyone uses for this. You can tell her the truth when you know eachother better."
"And what about Ranier and what he did to me?"
"Maybe there's a way to go after the judge and county attorney who took the bribes."
"That costs money and my family doesn't have money no more." Moses got up, took his food, and threw it in a garbage pail. "Come on," he told me. "Uncle Juval's outside. He'll give you a ride home."
"No," I replied. "Ranier could see the truck and take down the license plate."
"Shee-ut," sighed Moses. "You do really want to be my friend."
"We're on the same side, Moses," I told him. "When I was fourteen my brother threw me into a coffee table. I got a black eye and a fat lip. He had been beating on me though we both called it fighting for several weeks. I went to school the day after the fight, and my homeroom teacher reported my injuries to social services. My parents wanted me to lie to cover up the fighting. I didn't lie, and the court protected me. I thought I'd lost my family for a long while after that. I almost did lose them, but Mom wanted me down in Oklahoma or she couldn't stand it that I was living with the teacher who rescued me. Well, it got better after a while, but we're on the same side."
"Well sort of," answered Moses who set himself on the edge of a plastic bench. "You got to go to court. I never had my day. And now the bastard's looking for me again. Well, I can't shoot straight but Uncle Juval and Aunt Kate can. He comes into the apartment and he's dead. Breaking and entering and we'll say it's self defense. Come on I'll give you the ride."
"No Moses," I answered, "but I'll walk you out to the car."
I watched Moses get into a battered van with what once was the logo for some bakery in Kansas on it. I watched Moses get driven away and then I went back into Wal-Mart and bought some toothpaste and a new soap box. I didn't really need the soap box, but I'd need to say why I'd gone out to Wal-Mart. Next Wednesday Moses and I would meet somewhere else.
Chapter 27 -- One in the Life BoatEdit
I was glad to finally be alone to study Thursday night. I helped Ranier with calculus. This was not as awful as it sounded since we studied together after. Ranier, I have learned has no study skills. No one has ever made him work the way I worked in eighth and ninth grade, which gave me the work habits I brought to Oklahoma from New York. I also studied chemistry with Biscuit Boy. We went over the lecture together and even quizzed each other. We compared notes. I am not used to group study, but it was productive.
Thursday night was lecture night at Cate and the topic for our Honors Seminar was Study Abroad. I really wasn't that interested. My dad would have to pay for study abroad and I did not want to have my "grand tour" micromanaged and I did not need a "grand tour." I planned to major in the sciences, work for a while, and be on my own, free of both of my parents who at times did way more harm than good.
So I was glad to find a corner of the computer room where I could print off articles I had emailed myself earlier in the day. The articles were for my psychology paper. I liked to print them out on scrap paper in the Cate computer room because it was cheaper. In fact it was free. It was quiet in the lounge, and I went in there to read in solitude. My roommate usually went to bed early unless she has an exam the next day, in which case she dutifully studied well into the wee hours of the morning. I imagined she'd pull an all nighter for midterms in a few weeks.
While I was studying the phone rang with a string of music from the softer parts of Carl Orff's Carmina Burrana. That meant Dad. I winced. I was not up for this. I should have gone to bed and turned the ringer off on the stupid cell phone. I answered.
He asked how I was doing. He hoped I had fucked up. I haven't. I can keep afloat academically anywhere and fate intervened in tenth grade and that and the academics have pretty much protected me ever since. Sorry.... Then he got down to the real meat of the conversation.
"I have news about your brother, Eben," Dad began.
He had news. I was ignorant. I was not sure I cared. If Dad wanted to crow, he really couldn't. I was in an honors program. I had Pizza Shuttle and Subway for weekend food and there were always apples from Native Roots. No, I wasn't even starving.
Actually Dad wished Eben had triumphed and I had languised in a "trailer in Oklahoma," but that was not the story line reality followed. Eben periodically got in terrible trouble. Sometimes it was fighting. Other times it was vandalism. At fifteen Eben was not old enough to drive so there were no DUIs or driving accidents.
"Your brother, Eben was caught smoking pot," Dad spat out the word "pot."
"What was I supposed to do about this?" I wondered.
"I had to take him out of school so he's living in my apartment."
I did not answer. I did not say I was sorry. "I'm going to have to find a new school for your brother," Dad continued. He's not my brother though he really is. He's also your son, your and Mom's son, and neither you nor Mom were home enough and cared enough to keep him from beating on me when I was in ninth grade. Nothing much has changed and now there is no more sister to beat up on. Eben has to find some other way to screw up. Fine, he hangs out with the wrong crowd too. Oh that peer pressure!
Dad let the topic drift away from Eben and talked a bit about work and the vacation he had planned from October. He even asked if I was free. I reminded him that it was the middle of the semester and we said goodbye. I felt relieved and a bit slimed.
I dreamed I was back in Ardsley Thursday night. I dreamed I was on Wildwood Place though I wasn't in ninth grade any more. I was in bed early in the morning worried about Eben, worried he was awake all ready and in a bad mood about the dishes in the sink and maybe the fact that some girl snubbed him now that I thought about it. I awoke in my own bed. It was before dawn...
"You're safe," I replayed an old loop in my mind or maybe it replayed itself. "You're at the Grazielle's now," and I remembered the smell of the guest room that became the odor of my bedroom, well sort of anyway. I remembered waking up on winter mornings in a house that was always too cold or maybe I was too cold. I remembered Ms. Grazielle teaching me how to cook or more precisely letting me cook for myself. She believed that if I cooked the foods I remembered, I would not suffer so miserably from being homesick.
The only problem was I wasn't homesick. Home had vanished. My parents had disowned me, though eventually my mom took me back. It was too unseemly to disown a fifteen year old who was a good student and stayed out of trouble. I had "made a mistake" in court.
I wondered what day of the week it was. If it was Saturday, Ms. Grazielle would prod me to get dressed. I refused. I had never gotten dressed at home until I did my studying. In the late afternoon, too close to sundown, I'd let myself out. Negotiating a time to return was hard. I said that as long as I gave a time I could come back in the early evening. Seven or eight o'clock was really not too late to be out. Somehow I negotiated all this, but not always. Often the Grazielles took me to the supermarket late in the day or to the Galleria because they felt that even though I'd blown half the day, it was not safe to be out after dark. They had that funny phobia about early evening hours.
Sometimes I'd win a little bit and we'd go walking down Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains. I needed those walks. I'd made them with my mom and sometimes with Eben too. Dad was always too busy for walks like that. We never said much. I thought the big shopping street looked prettiest at twilight or soon afterwards all lit up either at Christmas or even in January or February with just the street lights and everyone out, everyone restless with the need to at least window shop, kids and teens cut loose for a day and on the move.
It wasn't cold this morning though and it was Friday. It was midSeptember in Oklahoma. I thought: "My time at the Grazielles was not horrible. There are not that many horrible places if you don't let them be." The Grazielles were decent, gentle people. They kept wondering when I would crack in some way. They were sure I would die of loneliness, but it didn't work out that way. I did not miss my parents, the past, or even my brother, well especially Eben.
Living with Eben at 13 Wildwood had not been horrible either, just dangerous because we were fighting and it ended up with him beating on me. Mom and Dad weren't protecting me. Maybe I was angry at them, but I don't believe it. I was too busy taking care of me. When a ship sinks you don't curse the captain for screwing up, even if he or she did. Well maybe you call the captain an asshole, but then you swim out to the life raft and haul yourself on and paddle for safety. That's how it was with me. You look out for yourself because you are all you have.
"Eben hasn't realized this yet," I thought as I washed, up, through on clothes and raced down to Couch to join the boys at the "Training Table" for breakfast. Did the Grazielles serve me Shredded Tweat with honey and raisins? The answer is of course yet. Such a breakfast is not like truffles and caviar. "Eben doesn't realize that if he screws up, there is nobody who will put his interests first and help him put the pieces back together. Dad does not want to embarass the family. That's different from wanting to help a kid who may need help, because that help is messy.
"And no, I can't help you Eben. First, I live 1,500 miles away. Second, when we could have pulled together, you were interested in trying to dominate you by pushing, shoving, and punching or maybe you were angry at the parents. Who wouldn't be, but you took it on me! No, Eben, swim to the fucking life boat, climb in, and paddle it just like I did. It's not that hard. Yeah, the ship is going down. Yeah, the water is cold. So fucking what. You have no choice."
"Rimona," asked Ranier. "Are you OK?"
I nodded. I sure wasn't going to tell Ranier the latest news about Eben.
Keep Me Whole Until Morning
I can go
I can still walk.
Up the distance from Hamilton to Mamaroneck
Past the hotels full of business travelers and rich, smug Japanese.
The buses run.
The stores are open.
The lights in the trees on Mamaroneck
Glow and beckon under saphire skies.
It is the best time of the day.
Please don't hold me down
Or keep me away.
I know you mean right
But I need the lights at night
To keep me whole until morning.
Rimona Hektor January 7, 2006.
By early Friday evening, I had the presence of mind to find my way to a bathroom and phone Moses Wolfe. This time I must have gotten Aunt Kate who was even more surly and sullen than Uncle Juval. I gave my name, rank, and serial number. Moses managed to take the phone on the cordless model away from unhappy guardians. I wondered if living with Aunt Kate and Uncle Juval was like my stint with the Grazielles. How much did Moses yearn for Boisie City or was he too busy trying to live with his injuries and get on in college?
"What are you calling me for?" Moses asked.
"I was just thinking, you need to join a support group."
"A support group for other victims of violence. There must be some who take males."
"Yeah but I got in a fight. That's the official story, you know."
"If you lose a fight badly enough and you did, it counts as making you a victim."
"Look, Moses, you got to take care of you. No one else is going to do it."
Moses promised to try and find a support group. I went to services. Ranier and Shasta were waiting when I came out of Dale with the kids who needed to buy supper via meal exchange. I walked us up to Cate and met up with Kerry who was organizing her group. Like the "training table" the Friday night trips to Pizza Shuttle were getting to be routine.
Shasta trod quietly along side Ranier. They were not fighting which was good. "...And Mason wanted me to go to a party with him. Yes, he invited me. Fat chance I would go..."
"He bothers you and I'll take care of him," Ranier assured Shasta.
I looked at the traffic lights up the road. Shasta had exhausted the mild sort of pass, the freshman football star from Edna had made at her. We had our big table at Pizza Shuttle, and I ordered a personal Thai curry sauce pizza with mozzerella, Tuscan vegetables, and onions. Biscuit Boy gave me pizza a suspicious look. I offered to cut off a piece for him to try. He shook his head. Shasta snorted at my pizza and began to dissect her plain as can be chicken sandwich. "The food here is so awful," she moaned.
"Well this is the weekend and we don't get much choice," complained Minah.
"It's not that bad," Biscuit Boy spoke up.
"I hear that football players get whatever they want to eat," said Hanna. "I run cross country and they don't do that for us, but the football players...."
"How about the cheerleaders?" asked Kerry.
"Who knows," said a Christian boy, "But I bet they know about the secret dining room. Of course they'd throw us out if we barged in."
"Maybe not," Ranier suggested. "But you know," he said to Shasta. "I don't think the food there would be any better than Couch."
"Couch food isn't half bad," I spoke up.
"You eat weird stuff," Shasta declared.
I felt like telling Ranier's beautiful girl friend two words that weren't happy birthday, but Ranier interrupted. "Rimona would get her apples and not have to buy a supply with her own money."
I winced. "The question is will they let us in to eat the athletes' food?" asked Aaron.
"They feed us on the weekend anyway," Ranier replied.
"We ought to go for it," Biscuit Boy spoke up. "I'd like to just find the place, and breakfasts in the Union suck."
"I'm up for crashing the place just to see what it's like," said Hannah.
"As long as we don't get in trouble," added Minah.
"We'll be careful," Ranier assured the shy girl. We never took a vote, but Kerry decided to find Kendra who was a cheer leader who purported to know the secret football player dining room in question. We left it at that.
Saturday I made my usual run to Native Roots and Ranier rendez voused with me in the parking lot. I had bought some Finn Crisps along with my apples so I'd have something to eat during the ride to Oklahoma City. I sat in the little den of a half size seat in the back of Ranier's red sports car. Ranier found the convenience store where I could buy a cold soda. I offered him one of my apples and some Finn Crisps. I also offered food to Shasta but she had something greasey on a bunn that she fought with as we rode up the highway.
"Tomorrow, we need to study calculus together," Ranier told me as we found the mall with the Penney's in it. I needed to pick up my blanket in the catalog bunk. Ranier watched me pay for it with cash. "You look like an old farmer. How come you don't use a credit card?" he asked.
"I don't want to get stuck with a bunch of bills at the end of the month," I responded.
Ranier shook his head. He suggested we stroll through jewelry. "I don't want to look in Penney's for a ring. Their jewelry is all junkie" wailed Shasta.
"Try fine jewelry instead of the costume stuff. I'm sure they have something pretty," Ranier tried to placate Shasta.
Shasta stared glumly into a case of rings nestled in black velvet. "Who wears this crap. Those rings look so fake," she whinged.
"They're colored stones that's all. That's a citrine and that's a blue topaz. I like the black ones. I think they are onyx."
"Those are mens' rings," Shasta corrected me.
"Not all of them." I pointed out a few feminine models.
"They're not the kind of ring I want," Shasta told us all.
"What kind of a ring do you want?" I took the bait.
"You should know," Shasta bounded back the drama. "What kind of ring does any decent girl want?"
"Do you think you're old enough to be engaged. I mean we just graduated from high school in May?"
"How about a bracelet with diamond chips in it?" suggested Ranier.
Shasta smiled. "Are they real?" she asked. The bracelet indeed came with a certificate of authenticity. Ranier had an ever ready credit card and did not mind getting bills at the end of the month, or maybe the bills got sent to loving parents in Boisie City. A rich boy has to pay up or there is a cute football player waiting in the wings.
After Penney's, we stopped at Whole Foods where Ranier bought me several containers of olive bar treats. "Pick out a couple pounds of that stuff. I'm paying for it Rimona."
We went out for Italian food after that. Shasta ate a third of her chicken francese, leaving most of it on her plate. Ranier ordered spahgetti and meatballs. I had pasta putanesca and invited my table mates to try it. "All olives all the time," sighed Ranier who tasted it and then asked: "What was that?"
"Good sauce," I said.
"No the salty fish thing I just ate?" He seemed genuinely nonplussed.
"It's got anchovies in it."
"Good lord. You should have warned me."
"Didn't you ever eat anchovies when you went to Montreal or California?" I asked Ranier who blinked. I remembered he had relatives in those cities, and people do travel to visit relatives. It was a good guess, an educated guess.
"No, I guess I just never tried them."
"Well do you like them?"
"Not really. Did you grow up eating them Rimona?"
"I grew up eating all kinds of fish. My family eats any thing from the oceans that doesn't move."
Shasta made a noise. She didn't like being upstaged by an anchovy. "Shas," declared Ranier. "I'm going to take you to Starbucks after supper." Shasta didn't answer.
I realized we weren't going to see any movies. Shasta and Ranier talked about the future. An engagement would upset his parents, first because he was too young and second because they did not really accept Shasta...yet. "I need to give this time," Ranier told his almost fiancee. I toyed with my peppermint tea. Oklahoma City's streets became utterly silent after dark. The highway though was busy.
Shasta's words echoed through my head. "I just want to know when. I'm a good girl. I am serious about you and this relationship." Shasta knew what to say. She was the princess. I was the gourmand, sometimes tutor, and useful good female friend, but always just a friend. I thought about a sign board: "Will work for olives and anchovies." Something about that sign made me awfully sad. I then wondered if Eben would bbe like Ranier several years from now. I had no answer to that question either.
Chapter 29 -- Measuring Their WorthEdit
Kerry stayed up late the Saturday that Ranier bought Shasta a bracelet in Oklahoma City. She had switched back from studying her Bible in its zippered case to psychology, economics, English, and mathematics. She stopped studying altogether so I could tell her what had happened that evening. I showed her my two pounds of olives plus my Finn Crisp and apples. "You want anything you can have it," I ended my story.
"That's all he bought you!" Kerry all but screamed.
"It's ten dollars worth of goodies," I commented. It really was quite a splash.
"Ree-mon-a," Kerry grabbed a container of lemon peel olive mix and thumped it for emphasis. "Don't you know when you're being treated like garbage?"
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Do I have to spell it out?"
"Yeah....but I think it's bullshit."
"Then you know. Shasta gets a diamond chip bracelet and all you get is some olives. Don't you feel like trash?"
"No, I'm just the friend. I also got a ride up to Oklahoma City and a free dinner. I'm just a friend along for the ride. Shasta is the girlfriend and almost the fiancee. That's the way it is."
"And you can live with that?"
"Yes," I answered. "I don't care for Ranier as a boyfriend. I'm glad he has Shasta."
"Are you serious?"
"Yes," I snapped back.
"You can't be..."
"Do you like Ranier?"
"Ranier doesn't know I exist," Kerry informed me.
"I didn't ask that."
"Isn't it obvious? He's gorgeous, smart, gracious. He knows how to treat a girl like a lady."
"I can't believe you're so shallow," I wanted to tell my roommate, but I didn't. She was just being honest. She did not carry my baggage. "Don't you remember what Ranier did? Doesn't that change things?"
"I wish it did..." Kerry sighed, "but he's so darn attractive. Can't you feel it?"
"No," I replied.
"What I can't figure out, is why he likes to trail you around and why you put up with it?"
"We're in a lot of classes together," I replied. "Also he likes to study calculus with me. He has no study skills."
"Success means a lot," I reminded her. We let it go at that. I read some psychology articles and decided they were good enough for notes. I threw on my coverup and went down to the computer lab to take notes. Early Sunday morning, I roughed out my King John paper and then went back to psychology.
That was how Ranier found me in the computer room. "Oh there you are," he greeted me. "Want to study calculus with me?"
"In a while, I'm going to work on psychology for a bit more."
"We have the big paper remember?" I showed him my notes for the paper. "I want to start outlining it on Monday."
"The paper's not due until Thursday," sighed Ranier. "Boy you're good...." Ranier licked his lips.
"Can you guys quiet down?" asked Aaron who was doing some sort of computer programming. Biscuit Boy was also hard at work.
"I can smell the industry whenever I walk in this door," Ranier went on.
I pressed my fingers to my lips. Then I got up. "I'll be with you in an hour and a half," I told Ranier. He wasn't thrilled, but he agreed.
I joined him in the study room with Shasta. It was one of the smaller rooms. Shasta had a paper cup of fancy coffee that was mostly gone. Sweet coffee and flavoring perfumed the study room air. We started attacking a whole page of calculus problems. Shasta who had college algebra groaned. Ranier showed her my technique. "Just do them all, Shas. Start with the easy ones and keep working...and don't worry about answers. Check your work backwards and forwards. There's lots of scrap paper."
We had worked for about an hour, when church must have let out. Kerry, Kendra, and half a dozen other students invaded the warren of study rooms below the main lounge in Cate. Nothing is ever called a basement in Oklahoma. The study rooms and computer lab were on the ground floor. Shasta peered up through the door of our room which had glass on it and then did a double take. I realized I was hungry and wondered if I could get a group to follow me to either Pizza Shuttle or Subway for lunch or whether it was better just to eat my snacks and wait in the 4:30pm dinner line. I did not want to wait on the line and I wanted a swim this afternoon. I needed a swim, some time to myself in the lap pool. I mused on all of this as a burly boy knocked on the study room door.
It was Mason Brody, the Sherman Tank who shared my English class and who sat "on his ass" with a partner on the other side of the lab bench in chemistry. I thought about Moses. I thought about Shasta. I thought about Ranier. "Hello Shasta," Mason was going to sack the quarterback. Fullbacks are basically a wall into which Quarterbacks charge or a snare that bring them down. They are also a wall that protects the quarterback, but Ranier and Mason did not play on the same team.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" answered Shasta.
"How did you get inside?" I asked though part of me all ready knew. "One of the other kids let me in," Mason replied.
"How did you find me?" Shasta asked.
"Easy," Mason smiled. "I know who you hang out with. It's hard to forget a guy who calls me a snake."
"If you're looking for trouble, you've found it," Ranier told Mason.
"What's that supposed to mean. I'm in here to study."
"Bullshit," I thought.
"It means you're going to leave now."
"And what if I don't?"
"You know what the fuck is going to happen," Ranier replied.
"No, I don't because there are witnesses," Mason glanced around. The door to the study room was still open and Kerry and two other girls were out in the hall. "And I'm not going to let you get me alone. I can't fight you Ranier. I'm in training."
"Oh really," Ranier sneered.
"Fuck yeah...I have something to work for. I know enough to know I didn't own my high school girlfriend and had better things to do than fight over girls. You haven't learned that yet..."
Ranier glanced around the room. Shasta got up and closed the door between the four of us and Kerry, Kendra, and company who stayed in the hall to watch the fight through the glass panel in the door.
"I guess I'm just more mature than you," Mason kept pounding it in. "It's up to Miss Shasta who her friends are. You know..."
Ranier folded his arms. He took a step away from Shasta. "If Shasta were really your friend," Ranier began. "You'd invite her to the secret dining hall to have cereal and coffee drinks and pastries and not leave her to grub around with meal exchange and pay out of her own pocket on the weekends," Ranier began.
I thought of the olives upstairs and then of Shasta's diamond chip bracelet which she was not even wearing that morning.
"That dining hall is reservation only," Mason explained.
"In other words, it's off limits for athletes only while the rest of us scramble around."
"I did not say that. I just said you have to sign up and have your orders for meals in by noon on Thursday. Any one can eat there who's on the full meal plan. They just don't publicize it. Are you on full meals?"
"Yes, a lot of kids here are," I explained.
"You want me to give you a tour of the dining hall so you'll know where it is and how to set yourselves up for next weekend?" asked Mason.
"I'd love it," answered Ranier who started gathering up his books. Shasta blinked and groaned. I gathered up my books. I wanted a break. I also wanted to see the secret dining hall. I then went and found Hanna, Kerry, and all the rest. A few minutes later, the entire family of choice, and the Pizza Shuttle on Friday night crew all trailed behind team captain for the day and Sherman Tank, Mason Brody as we made the jouney from Cate to Couch and in a small door at the side of the building.
We passed what looked like the service entrance of the dining hall. There was an employee time clock on the wall and then a set of double wooden doors that led to a Seventies decore room with avacado walls and lots of tables, an unused salad bar and a pass through window. "You can't eat here unless you order your food in advance?" Mason explained. "You have to order your meals Thursday by noon." Mason led us back toward the door.
Near the door was a table stolen from a seminar room. On that table was a looseleaf with meal sign ups. You signed for the meals you would eat everything from dinner Friday night to lunch on Sunday. Mason showed me his sign up. Then there were the reservation slips. On these you filled out what you wanted to eat. "Where's the menu for the weekends?" asked Ranier.
"There's no menu," Ranier explained. "You just order what you want and they make it."
"So if I wanted pasta putanesca they'd make it for me," I said.
"What's that?" asked Mason.
"Pasta with olive, tomato, and anchovy sauce."
"Yeah...I guess. Most of us guys get steaks or fried chicken. One likes brisket all the time and another had prime rib on Friday, sound good..."
"Rimona is a fish eating vegetarian," replied Ranier.
"I never thought about that..." Mason shook his head.
We'd seen enough, so we headed back outside. I asked if any one wanted to continue on to Subway for lunch. I was in the mood to complete my break with a big meal. Thoughts of food had made me hungry. "I'm going to have to tell all my cross country team mates. A lot of us are here over the weekend," Hannah announced. She trailed along to Subway along with Kerry and Kendra.
"Do you think Ranier is going to beat the shit out of Mason?" Kendra speculated.
"It didn't look like it was turning into a fight. That's weird though. I didn't think Ranier would work together with Mason," Kerry observed.
"Mason," I pointed out. "Had something Ranier wanted. Also he wasn't going to fight no matter what. It takes two to fight."
"I still think we protected him somehow," Kendra mused.
"Every girl in the world would like to protect Ranier," sighed Kerry.
I, however, knew one girl who had no desire to protect Ranier Ciari. That girl ordered a veggi-patty sub on oatmeal roll with everything but jalapenos and chipotle mayo on it. I saved my Doritos for later.
Chapter 30 -- Living in Almost PublicEdit
Monday I knew I needed to get in touch with Moses. I had a good idea where I wanted to schedule this week's meeting. I remembered the hospital from visits to the Eye Clinic. I did not go to the Low Vision Clinic because I see pretty well so they referred me to the Developmental Opthalmology Clinic, since I'd had amblyopia since I was four. The eye doctors and nurses were rather nice though they did introduce me to families with little kids who had patches on their eyes. I was the successful outcome and the model patient even though I'd been treated back in New York and the doctors couldn't do anything for me. They didn't tell the families that what had brought me to the clinic was my stepfather's horror at the fact that I seemed and was unable to drive.
The Eye Clinics were in a building across from the Children's Hospital. The waiting room at Children's was open twenty-four/seven more or less. I knew this because last summer my bus did not leave Norman until 7:15pm and I hung out in the waiting room and read a book until about five thirty pm and then walked into downtown Norman. Moses would know the Eye Clinics too though for different reasons. The waiting room at Children's made a good point for a rendez vous. I doubted that Ranier would even think of it. Staying off Ranier's map was of course my number one priority.
Actually, school and work for Dr. DaSilva were my number one and two priorities, and the week started fast on Monday morning. Shasta was not at the breakfast Training Table, but she usually slept in. She did arrive at lunch after a tiring English class discussing Richard III and going over MLA citation style. I read Richard III in the library and then slipped over to Couch for lunch. Ranier had all ready selected a table. He sent Aaron to tell me where it was as I made my way through the salad bar and then to get my peanut butter and honey sandwich. I needed a honey fix badly on that Monday morning that was fast turning to afternoon.
Shasta had Apple Jacks and her favorite sort of coffee and whipped cream concoction for lunch. At least she did not complain about the food. "Look," she told Ranier. "You said you'd help me put up the shades. Well I checked at Walker and they're here."
"I have ec-on-om-ics this afternoon," Ranier reminded his girlfriend.
"Can't you just skip class?"
Biscuit Boy rolled his eyes.
"Positively not," answered Ranier. "I'm not going to fall behind. Your shades can wait."
"But you promised," Shasta weedled.
"I promised but I didn't promise to skip class for a box of fucking Roman shades. Now, I'll put up your window treatment after dinner."
That settled matters or so I thought. I was glad to get over to the library before chemistry class to go over chemistry for the lecture. Biscuit Boy and I had a group study table. Biscuit Boy took notes when he read the text. I just read the text and worked the problems. This made us sort of compliment eachother.
After class, I went to work for a couple of hours in the sociology tower. I did not want to think of Shasta, Ranier, or even jealous Kerry. I did not especially want to think of Kerry. I wanted to put diamond chip bracelets, blue quartz rings, and all the other gifts that signified appreciation and affection as far from my mind as possible.
Before supper, I sat in the work room on the fourth floor of the sociology tower and called Moses. I had his cell phone number by now so could avoid grumpy Aunt Kate and Uncle Juval. "You want to meet me where?" asked Moses Wolfe.
"Children's Clinic waiting room at the Medical Center," I replied. "It's across from where you go for your eyes."
Moses made a sniffing noise. "How'd you know about my eyes?" he asked.
"I go to one of the Eye Clinics once a year and I know the area around there."
We made our arrangements and I went to supper. Moses still hadn't found a support group that would take a young, male victim of violence. I felt bad about that and wondered if Moses was not really trying. I made a mental note to get in touch with the Grazielles and my old Guardian ad Litem on the off chance that she had some kind of connections in Oklahoma even if all she could do was tell me where to look for a phone number or web page.
Ranier looked harried at Monday night dinner. "Yes, I'll put up your fucking shades," he growled at Shasta. I had a long evening of studying ahead of me and felt almost too tired to start. I had spinach with fried peppers and ranch dressing in my salad bowl and a pinto bean and scented rice dish on my plate. I drank my Cherry Coke and thought of the long night ahead. I hardly heard Shasta inviting me to see she and Ranier put up her window treatment that I had helped her order in the Catalog bunk at Penny's in Oklahoma City ten days ago.
Shasta's room which was part of a quad suite that included a private bathroom and that she shared with one roommate and two other women in the room opposite the private bathroom was close and smelly with too many posessions and a kind of sweet, talcum powder smell. I realized I had not been in Shasta's room since I saw her unpack. Actually it was not Shasta's bedroom any more than I had a bedroom to myself.
I helped Ranier cut open the boxes of Shasta's window treatment with my keys and then we sorted all the little parts into cups. Ranier and I worked silently. Making the holes for the screws required a drill which Ranier had in the back of his car. Ranier had asked his parents to send it. He did think ahead and did so while making it look easy, I reminded myself. Ranier went down to get his drill. The rest of us waited for him.
While we were waiting, a tall African American girl returned to Shasta's room. I'd never seen her before, but she was clearly Shasta's roommate. The girl looked at the open boxes and the mess that blocked everytihing. She tossed her glossy, straightened hair and gave all of us a dirty look. I felt like telling her: "Look I don't live here. I'm just visiting," but instead I said we'd have the new shades up in less than an hour. She did not look impressed. She shook her head and then let herself down slowly on long legs to sit on her bed. She took off a shoe and scratched the bottom of a foot with long, red, manicured finger nails. I realized that this girl put Shasta to shame in terms of looks.
"So are you Shasta's friend?" she asked me.
"I'm Shasta and Ranier's friend," I answered. "I don't believe we've met. I'm Rimona."
"I'm Octavia from Tulsa. Where'd you go to high school?"
"Eastern but I got bused out for classes at Midland in the afternoons. Where'd you go?"
"Health Science Magnet. I'm studying occupational therapy. It's a five year program." Octavia drew up both her legs. She curled a long arm around them. "What's your major?"
"Undecided but thinking of chemistry," I replied.
Octavia sniffed. "Are you in the Honors Program?" she asked.
"Yeah, how'd you know?" I asked back. I was curious now.
"I was just guessing. The boyfriend, er uh...Ranier is in Honors and I figured you might be too when you said 'chemistry.'" Octavia threw a glance at her roommate who was staring into space and pretending she was not there. "How'd you meet Shasta?"
"Through Ranier," I answered. Octavia hopped off the bed and took off her grey sweat shirt. Underneath she wore an ivory camisole and underneath that a white bra. She needed all the underware because she had a lot to hold up on top. She examined her breasts in the mirror. Shasta pretended not to see. Octavia glanced down at a charcoal colored nipple which may have itched or bothered her. Breasts can feel weird sometimes. Then she dug through the top drawer of her dresser which was packed too tight with camies, wife beaters, and tank tops. She was still digging when Ranier knocked at the door.
"My roommate's getting dressed," complained Shasta in a tone of irritation. I said nothing. Octavia scrambled into a rose colored cammie and opened the door. Ranier armed with the drill gave Octavia a quick once over. She stared past Ranier and gathered up her backpack. "I'm going out to the lounge," she announced.
She tromped off down the hall and Shasta sighed. "What's with that girl?" Shasta asked.
"She thinks she's one of the elect," Ranier replied. "That happens with successful people."
"She scares me," Shasta continued.
"Come on let's get this window treatment done." Shasta, Ranier, and I worked in silence helping to mount rods and let the blinds down and test their pulleys and pull cords. They worked. They were lovely. I wondered what Shasta would do with them in May. I tried not to think about that.
I walked down the hall to take the remains of the boxes to the trash room. The lounge was quiet with two or three kids studying, including Octavia who was hunched over a textbook. I glanced at her and decided it was best to leave her undisturbed, when she looked up. She closed the book and hid it in her backpack. She came out in the hall.
I did not want to talk about Shasta or Ranier with her. Let Octavia draw her own conclusions. "What's with that boy?" she finally asked. That boy was Ranier.
"He's very observant," I told Shasta's roommate.
"I felt like he was getting me undressed but he's not the type for black girls," Octavia sighed. "He's a small town boy but he acts like a character on some TV show about the rich and famous. If he were really rich and famous he'd be back east or in California, you know that?"
I didn't know any such thing, but I knew something that might placate the unhappy Octavia who felt crowded out and half appreciated and upstaged by an undeserving roommate. "Octavia are you on the full meal plan, you know fourteen meals?" I asked. I figured she went home to Tulsa on the weekends, but it was worth a shot.
"Yeah...what about it?"
"How would you like to do more than just eat in restaurants?" I offered.
"I don't eat in restaurants. I get my meals in the Union when Couch is closed."
"You don't use your meal exchange to go to Subway or Pizza Shuttle?" I asked.
"If you're free for late supper on Fridays you can come to Pizza Shuttle with us, and Ranier found a special place for lunches and dinners on the weekend. More variety than the Union and much better food..."
Octavia listened while I told her about the secret dining hall and the reservations. I invited her to come eat lunch or dinner with us any time in Couch and then she could join the group, "and bring any of your friends too..." I added. It felt good in an odd way to expand the family of choice.
Chapter 31 - Big Man on Campus Edit
I planned to skip dinner Wednesday night because I needed to get some studying done and the trip to the hospital was a long one. Moses, who relied on his relatives for transportation, insisted that our meeting fall at eight instead of nine pm. That meant I had to cut it close and decided why bother.
I wasn't sure I liked our dining arrangements at Couch any more any way. By lunch on Wednesday there were four tables of us. I helped move tables with Aaron, Ranier, Nils (Aaron's roommate), and Biscuit Boy. Octavia brought not only her allied health student friends but also Frances and Nadine who shared the room in the other half of Shasta and Octavia's suite in Walker. They in turn each brought several friends or classmates. Meanwhile Mason Brody was welcome at our table and he brought a girl named Maria from his Spanish class plus several other football players and cheerleaders and in general hangers on.
This was supposed to be like high school, or an idealized version. I'd had no place at the big table or at most tables in either high school or middle school. Our conglomeration of big tables in Couch drove the painful memory home. I wasn't used to so many people so different from me eating together, and wasn't sure I wanted to forgive the folks back at Eastern who shunned me the kind of forgiveness that comes with pretending the past never happened.
There was also a second problem. I did not want to eat with this huge group, about half of whom needed Friday night supper in the foot balll players' not so secret dining room. Dinner was early and I wanted to work and go to services at Hillel. I also liked the idea of going to Pizza Shuttle on Friday nights. I realized I was an adult and should not even have to plead my case, but Kerry pleaded hers. She had Campus Crusade meetings also on Friday. "OK, you have a schedule conflict," Ranier defanged our cases in one fell and bloodless swoop. He was proving himself to be one pragmatic leader.
It was Shasta of course who complained. She did not complain about the secret dining room which by now was not nearly such a secret. Instead, she showed her usual bad grace in true drama queen style. "Are we going to eat with all these people regularly?" she asked Ranier as we headed out of Couch and back to class. I had chemistry lab and needed to be racing back with Biscuit Boy so we could debrief one another early. It was time to be the best lab partner in the world not a whiney gossip-head. Still, I had to listen.
"What do you mean 'all these people?'" Ranier dodged Shasta's whinge arrow.
"I mean...it's just a big crowd. We didn't do that in high school."
"Nobody ate lunch that way in high school unless they were very popular or very gregarious." Shasta despite her good looks had been neither.
"Well we get to do it now," Ranier smiled. I stared at the floor and remembered Biscuit Boy and chemistry lab. I escaped into an afternoon sticky with early autumn heat.
I ate the last of my snacks in the quantitative sociology work room, trashed the containers, and let myself drift toward the hospital complex in the early evening. The sun hung how as I walked and was completely down by the time I reached the waiting room at Children's.
Moses Wolfe sat on a low, square hassock in the middle of a room with huge fish tanks, old parenting magazines, and a flat screen TV playing muted cartoons. He seemed more out of place than the unhappy huddle of parents near the door. This was a place no parent ever wanted to be unless his or her kid was in the outpatient clinic and even then it was probably nerve wracking. "Hello," I called out to him. I had enjoyed the walk to Children's in spite of myself. I needed to get away from the same old faces even if I could think of nothing constructive on the way to my rendezvous.
Moses barely answered. I sat down glad to be away from prying eyes and ready to spill. I regaled Moses with trips to Oklahoma City, with the saga of Shasta's window treatment that I had helped her order from the catalog bunk at Penny's, and of course with the huge combination of no fewer than four dining tables at lunch and three at supper, and of course the discovery of the secret football player weekend dining hall.
Moses snorted. He shifted position in his seat. "You're really enjoying this aren't you," he growled.
"No," I answered. Ranier scared me. Well maybe he didn't scare me, but Moses was proof that Ranier and I could never be romantic. We were friends because Ranier had not yet given me the slightest reason to be his enemy. That reason would come eventually. That reason sat on a hassock right now.
"Well you sure sound like it. He takes you out. He lets you tag along. He's big man on campus. You know he never was like that back in Boisie City High..." Moses tried to stand. Was he going somewhere?
"I know. I knew that from day one."
"Well he can't be big man on campus because people will find out about him. Meanwhile, you're jealous of Shasta you stupid fuck."
I laughed. "Shasta is dumb as a box of rocks," I answered. "She's a drama queen."
"Shut the fuck up!" Moses all but screamed.
"You don't know how jealous you sound every time you open your mouth about her."
"And you don't know how pathetic you sound to still be in love with her," I countered.
"I know, but I can't do shit about it, but you're supposed to be one of the smart ones."
"If I were one of the smart ones, I'd have figured out a way not to eat with Ranier or avoid him in my classes. Maybe I'd even think of transferring, but it's not in me to run, just like it wasn't in you."
"I loved Shasta and I won't let Ranier take her away, but you're just hanging on with Ranier. What's in it for you?"
"I'm trapped, Moses."
"Bullshit! Come on, let me give you a ride?"
"Are you driving these days?" I asked.
Moses shook his head. "What the fuck are we going to do?" he asked.
"Ranier's not really looking for you," I replied. "He's not. I watched him back down from a fight right before he found out about the football player dining room. Mason Brody said he was in training but that was just an excuse. The big table is what Ranier wants, status a kind of thing he never had in high school. That's more important even than Shasta maybe. If he goes after you where he can't bribe the judges and the county attorney," I kept rattling away. "He won't be able to sweep it under the rug and legal trouble blows his other dreams out of the water."
"Would you bet your life on that bullshit?" Moses asked me. He slumped down again.
"I'm not sure about my life..."
"It's speculation, but I would be a thousand dollars on it. My life is just worth more than a thousand bucks."
Moses smiled. "OK smartie, what do we do now?"
"If I were you," I smiled. "If I were you, I'd call that judge in Boisie City and find out if the order of protection has expired."
"That never counted for shit or if it is effective here in Norman."
"It counts if Ranier doesn't want to get his hands dirty and if he wants to get rid of you. If he wants to fight you, there's a way not to give him a chance."
"Don't let him get you off alone," I responded. I'd learned that much from fighting with Eben. We always fought in private and I would bet my very life that Ranier had nearly killed Moses on some old country road far away from any sort of help or any one who could call the State Police or Simmeron County Sherriff.
"Go to meet Shasta but do it in a public place. If Shasta's order of protection expires or doesn't work here, have cash lunch in Couch or meet us at Pizza Shuttle on Friday night. You can find the big table. Just have a seat. I'll even say I invited you. Then say you can't stay. Hand Shasta a letter. I won't tell you what to write. Ranier will have too many witnesses. He won't be able to make a move."
I swallowed. My throat was dry. I was making things worse, but I was tired of spying and Moses needed Shasta to dump him once and for all so he could get on with his life. I did not think Ranier would apologize but if he did and accepted Moses back into the big family of choice...I did not think that would happen, but if it did, I would not have to hide any more. Anyway, it had to be over one way or another.
I told myself all of this as I walked back to campus. It was late. I had studying to do. I hoped there would be space in one of the study rooms. All I wanted was a corner of a table. The opening bars of Philip Glass' overture to the movie Candy Man rung on my cell phone. That meant my mother was calling and calling late at that.
"Mom, what's the matter?" I asked across the hundred some odd miles between Norman and Pendemonium Central in Tulsa.
"It's your brother," Mom began. Eben was also her son, but lately neither of my parents wanted to associate with him.
"What happened to Eben now?" I asked. "Please don't let him get in trouble for assault," I thought. He had come close enough to that with me when I was in ninth grade.
"You know he got thrown out of his old school," Mom began again.
"Yeah, he got caught for pot," I replied.
"Well your father sent him to a private prison. They call it a behavior modification school, but it's not a school. I found out about it on the net and I tried to visit and they wouldn't let me see Eben. They said not to bother to come. He wasn't allowed visitors and I was not allowed to have a facility tour. Rimona, something is very wrong with a place that doesn't let parents see their children."
"What are you going to do about it, Mom?" I asked. I felt numb. I felt cold. I tried to imagine the study room in Cate. Cate was home now. Mom did not exist. Dad did not exist. Eben did not exist.
"I'm going to have to go to court, and try to get custody or partial custody, whatever it takes. Pot is a nonviolent crime, Rimona. Your brother doesn't deserve to be in jail for that."
"You want me to rescind my order of protection against Eben," I said softly.
"That would be very helpful. Can you do that?"
I leaned against a hedge. I was on Jenkins heading west. I'd need to cross the empty campus. I was not afraid. It takes a lot to make me afraid. I thought of being home with Eben in the house during those first few months of ninth grade when I still lived at 13 Wildwood Place in Ardsley, New York.
"Yes," I told Mom. "But it will take a few days." Mom and Zeke worked days. Eben back in Pandemonium Central was likely to be at loose ends, very angry, and home alone with me. I remembered what I had learned in my support group for victims of violence four years ago.
Chapter 32 - Salad Days Edit
The plan materialized right before my eyes as I walked back the rest of the way to campus Wednesday evening. It was not going to be easy, and it surely was not going to be pretty. I put it out of my mind so I could study Wednesday evening and only late at night when I was hungry and thirsty did I begin the first phase of action. It was nothing special. I emailed the Grazielle's. I'd need a place to stay for winter break if my mom got custody of Eben. A stint in a private prison would probably just work wonders on my younger brother's character to put it mildly.
Biscuit Boy slipped into the computer room while I was composing the letter. It took a while because it was a delicate matter, and my brain felt a little fried. I wondered if Biscuit Boy would walk with me to the Union for a Cherry Coke or Dr. Pepper. I needed a break, but you can't really have a break from yourself.
"You're still up," my favorite chemistry lab partner observed.
"Yeah," I sighed. "I'm taking a break. You up for a walk to the Union."
"It's two o'clock in the morning."
"It's 1:40 am and my parents are at least a hundred miles away? You up for a walk?"
Biscuit Boy shrugged. He followed me into the night. The air was heavy with impending rain. We needed rain. Oklahoma could get by turns sticky and dry. It had been dry of late. There were no stars. Light pollution and clouds blotted them out. "You do your food slips yet?" asked Biscuit Boy.
"Yeah," I answered. "I want to eat at Pizza Shuttle Friday though."
"So do I," my lab partner confessed.
"Too much Ray-neer," Biscuit Boy sneered. "He thinks cause he comes from a small town that he can be school President all over again. It doesn't work that way. Just because your daddy has the Honda dealership in podunk doesn't mean you're the BIG MAN ON CAMPUS..." Biscuit Boy sniffed in disgust.
"I can whip half these kids asses in chemistry or calculus any day of the week and you would come in second right behind me."
"No Nils would have me beat," I replied.
"Not really, you're smarter in an all around way than he is. It's people like us, not people like Ranier who should be on top."
"Ranier only thinks he's on top," I clued my lab partner in.
"Yeah, but he sure acts like it," Biscuit Boy sighed. We ran out of conversation and walked the rest of the way to the union in silence. The air in the union was frozen with the smell of air conditioning and stale food. Biscuit Boy ordered steak fries which he smothered in ketchup and a big Coke. I had my usual Cherry Coke and we staked out a bankette.
"Ben is doing me a favor this weekend," Biscuit Boy smiled as he tried to foist overgrown French fries on me.
"Who's Ben?" I asked.
"Our TA in the lab. He likes me," Biscuit Boy smiled. "He also wants to see what that cue ball I broke open is made of."
"He offered to put a piece of it in the NMR so they can find out the kind of polymer. Isn't that sweet?"
"Want to come along?" asked Biscuit Boy.
I agreed. "When are you going to test the cue ball?" I asked.
"Saturday night, eight pm. Sweet huh?"
"Very sweet," I replied.
"You get your food cards done?" Biscuit Boy asked me.
"Yeah," I told him. It had been a fun exercise. I'd done it before writing to the Grazielle's back in Ardsley, New York.
"Can I see 'em?" Biscuit Boy asked.
"Only if I see yours," I told him.
Biscuit Boy slipped a black looseleaf with a grainy black and white of Richard Feynman glued to the cover out of his backpack and found his slips in the pocket. He had ordered lunch and dinner on Saturday and lunch on Sunday the same as I had done, but of course, he earned his name. For dinner he had ordered chicken fried steak and steak fries and for lunch he had asked for a bacon burger on Saturday with mashed potatoes and gravy (One can't have fried potatoes all the time) and sausage and biscuits with white gravy for lunch on Sunday because it was half breakfast. You know I don't eat like that!
Biscuit Boy wrinkled up his nose at my food cards. "What is brocc-oli rabe or rap-in-i?" he sounded out the name carefully.
"It's like very tender collard greens," I explained. "Only people usually eat it sauteed with onions. You can eat it steamed too. My mother even puts thousand island dressing on it and eats it raw. She eats raw escarole too."
"What's es-ka-role?" asked Biscuit Boy.
"Italian cooking lettuce something like raddicchio."
"Rimona," Biscuit Boy got my name right though it had taken him a while. "What would you do if you had to eat normal food?"
"I'd be quite fine," I answered. "You'd be the one to suffer. Imagine having to eat a green leafy vegetable and maybe some rice with that hamburger and honey or fruit preserves on your biscuits."
"OK, I get the joke," sighed Biscuit Boy, "But how did you learn to eat that way. You're not a girl on a diet if you know what I mean. You really like this shit."
"I was raised that way. My mom likes to cook and we try new things," I smile. Then I remember something very sad. It's not really sad. My Mom started cooking escarole because we'd all been eating Progresso escarole in chicken broth also known as escarole soup. Well if the canned product was good, home made escarole soup was even better. Mom made hers with chicken backs, wings, and gizzards. I made mine with white beans and then with lima beans, which taste even better, and of course carrots, onions, a cubanelle pepper or even a fresh chili if you can find the right sort. The Grazielle's let me experiment. Ms. Grazielle felt sorry for me and thought if I made the foods that comforted me, I'd be less homesick. I learned to cook in the Grazielle's kitchen, not that I was very good, but I wouldn't poison you and the vegetables were clean. I always washed vegetables for Mom back at 13 Wildwood Place.
You can get escarole in any large or fancy supermarket. Down here in Oklahoma it meant a trip to downtown Tulsa where there was a Whole Foods and a large Kroger's and a local chain called Teeters. A few days to weeks after I arrived in Tulsa, Mom had me cooking dinner. Shopping, getting around, and getting out would be good for me, she reasoned. She was right. I spent the morning reading and cooking the large, lima beans and the orzo. Soup pasta is hard to find outside New York. Zeke was working and so was Mom that summer. They both taught classes at the GED center. Mom preferred teaching adults. She had "enough of teenagers."
I left messages for Mom and Zeke on their cell phones that I would be home before 9pm to make the soup which was half done and walked out to the edge of the trailer park and down to the main road to the bus stop which was a broken down bench bleaching in the hot summer sun. After ten minutes the bus came and dropped me near the Greyhound Station. I walked uptown to the big Kroger's and then to Teeters. Whole Foods was more expensive though they had weird bargains. I got two heads of escarole, carrots, the right kind of peppers and scallions which are milder than onions, and yes, they are scallions not green onions. I did not buy parsnips because they were out of season.
I put the groceries in my backpack and caught the bus around 7pm. A bit before eight the bus dropped me and around eight thirty I came through the door at Pandemonium Central. Mom was grading papers. Zeke greeted me with horror and relief. "Where have you been?" he asked.
"Shopping. I needed to get the vegetables for the soup remember."
"It's nine o'clock at night!"
"It's 8:25pm Central Daylight Time," I sing songed.
Poor Zeke started to go red in the face.
"We're going to eat late remember," Mom added.
"It's getting dark and you let this child run around, Zoe, it's not safe."
"It's early still and it's too hot to bring home food without a car."
"Then why don't you drive your daughter?"
"We've been over this before. There's public transportation and Rimona's able bodied. Why not let her get herself around a bit..."
I ducked into the kitchen to avoid the argument and started washing the escarole. The fight simmered down and Zeke poked his nose in to see what the long trip to town was about. As far as Zeke was concerned the supermarkets in our neighborhood were fine. As far as Mom and I were both concerned, the local supermarkets were disgusting and not stocked with foods we routinely ate.
"That looks like you're making salad. I thoght you were making your ma's special soup."
"It's escarole soup. This is a bitter lettuce." I gave Zeke a small piece to try, and he nearly gagged on it. "It's better cooked," I told him. He did try the escarole soup. The greens were fine, but lima beans were never his favorite. Zeke in time resigned himself to living in a house with vegetable eating, "prissy ladies from back east."
"How're you gals ever going to get along out here?" he asked. He stopped asking that after a while. Sometimes he ate soup with us or salad meals or fancy dinner meals as he called them or Saturday or "Sunday lunchun dinners." We got along. I remembered the small, white ceramic bowls my mom bought for serving home made soups, including escarole soup with lima beans, green pea soup, lentil soup, dahl, and a host of others. For pasta salads we had flatter, bowls that were almost like plates. We'd set the table and eat late at night. Mom fixed up Pandemonium Central to look like a New York Penthouse. There were big, abstract art prints on the walls and modern furniture, nothing plastic or tacky in Pandemonium Central
I thought of Eben now in Pandemonium Central's sacred precincts. I tried to imagine Zeke trying to talk to my brother. I tried not to go to the dark places where my imagination led me. I'd written to the Grazielle's and that was good enough.