Fleeing Gerald (NON-FICTION)

I dedicate the following to my mother, whose love has guided me throughout my life. The following is a true incident, one that strengthened our relationship while tearing apart our lives. I only hope that I can be half the mother to my daughter as Mom was to me.

The sun sank over the horizon, bathing the sky in a reddish haze. Tomorrow, the heat would return. The rippling sound of the river that flowed through our backyard carried far on the soft autumn breeze. Mom’s geese restlessly tried to settle on their haystack. Gerald’s chickens lay peacefully in their coop.

Mom and Gerald should have been home hours ago.

I shuffled over to the wood stove. As I opened the metal door, a blast of hot air hit my face. I dropped a log onto the glowing coals and watched the flames lick and then start to devour it.

Headlights flickered across the wall.

Slamming the stove door shut, I scurried to the table. I tried hard not to look afraid. Although I was only 13 years old and alone in a beat-up mobile home on a reservation, I did not want to appear scared.

Mom came in and hurried to the back of the trailer. Gerald sat down in his chair at the table. We carried on a conversation, but the words went largely unheard. I did not want to talk to this man.

What was Mom doing, I wondered. Awkwardly, I excused myself and walked toward my room.

Mom stirred and muttered, “Stay there.” I went outside and paced in the backyard. The tepid, dust-filled air wrapped its hands around me, suffocating me. My throat was dry. The nearest phone was a fifteen-minute walk, and I could have made it there and back without being noticed. I did not, however, want to leave her alone with this man. Besides, whom would I call? What would I tell them? I did not really know what was wrong.

After what seemed an eternity, I came in again, quietly shutting the door behind me. I peeked around the corner. Mom was holding her eye. When I stepped into the kerosene lamp-lit room, she jumped. I gazed in disbelief at the blood dripping from a cut beneath her glasses. Her eyes were purple and starting to swell shut.

His hands were clean.

I veered back towards the door, the wooden floor creaking with each step. I strode across the yard, but could go no further than the property boundary. I had to do something. I went back and asked Mom to come outside, but Gerald would not let her leave the room.

I loaded the .22, just for practice. Click, click.

I think now how easy it would have been to put a bullet through that bastard’s head; never to have the memories haunt us; never to have him standing behind me in line at Zellers, calmly whistling a tune; never to have him show up on the doorstep when I was home alone; never to have my mother experience the nightmares and the seizures that were a result of too many shots to the head.

If I had known what this man would do to us over the next two years, I would have done it! I would have suffered the consequences.

But I didn’t.

That night I went to bed with Mom and cried. I told her about what he had been doing to me for the last month. I told her about the touching, kissing, and fondling. We fell asleep holding one another, awash in tears.

Two days later, I went to school as if nothing had happened. I told a teacher whom I trusted about what had been going on. That day, I did not return home. When the police brought Mom to my school she was still wearing her pyjamas.

We stayed at a shelter called Interval House for the next six weeks. It felt safe there. There were other women staying at the shelter too. These women, who had all suffered so much, were the victims of a war. It is a war waged by husbands, by men – no, by monsters – against the very ones they were supposed to love and protect.

When the court proceedings began, I was informed of the questions I would be asked. I was told not to let the defendant’s lawyer make me feel that it was my fault, that I had invited it.

In the end, I never went court. The lawyers plea-bargained with the judge and the charges were dropped. Gerald received two years of probation for destroying our lives. It hardly seems fair.

It also hardly seems fair that, because of what I went through, I am now afraid to trust any man totally. And it hardly seems fair that my mom has to see a doctor every month to try to combat her migraines; or that she has seizures in which she forgets part of her life; or that she has flashbacks, and sometimes thinks that her new husband is the old one, and that he is going to kill her.

All I can do now is to hope for the best, to hope that everything will be all right. In the meantime, I will try to put my life back together, fragment by shattered fragment. And I will continue to support my mother while she does the same.

Yes, it will be difficult, for we have lost some of these pieces forever. And some pieces can never be replaced. Or forgotten.