She never apologized for her rough mouth; for her often too loud voice or for her size. She never made excuses for the food she cooked and the smell of heated grease that filled the trailer. It didn't matter what time of the day it was when you arrived; she'd always offer you something to eat. Would you like some fried chicken? What about some corn bread? Some baked beans? There's some symbolism in Southern cooking; the heavy oil that makes you sleepy and the thick scent of baking that draws you into comfy, old chairs and worn out sofas.
The living room of the trailer, sunroom added on to the front, newly made porch jutting out in the back, welcomed our sleepy forms to a movie or a loud, and often preposterous debate. God was a constant victim in our conversation, catching the brunt of falsehoods or glorified expectation. My grandfather was the most knowing of us Christian sorts, and his words were somehow deemed more worthy than the rest. You can't read the Bible cover to cover and not become some sort of expected expert on the subject of Christianity. It's a title impossible to escape and one he welcomed nightly in that dimly lit room.
But, it was my grandma whose words so often shook that trailer's tin covered roof; caused to quiver the wood paneled walls. When she had something to say, you heard it loud and you heard it clear. No southern drawl marred her voice, but instead added a level of promise to everything she said, even if she was wrong and we all knew it.
We're hardly known for being good listeners. The southern hospitality does not extend so far as that. The women in our family offer stories like bread, heavy and sweet and too quickly gone. Our stories, unlike my grandfathers, are passed back and forth, but never make it anywhere so lofty as the arms of God, or the hands of a historic savior. Our stories are not the sorts to rise up quite that far, and instead surround us and dance and live for only a moment.
We, women, announce stories like tales of large fish, caught up from the deep and found to be this long, or this long, or this long. Everyone has something better to say, or maybe even something worse.
Remember that time when she hit him square across the jaw so hard he bit his lip and busted it all up? Remember back when we first moved out here and that boy went barreling over his bike, head first into the ditch only to wake up covered in grass and dirt and blood? Remember when those girls had to be taken away because their Mama tried to kill herself after catching her husband's hands everywhere they shouldn't be? Remember that?
The stories of our women are not always beautiful. They don't echo of planned babies or pretty trips up North. Not always. The women around here, living in trailers out in the country with deep fried foods and free running chickens, instead offer up tales of truth; of resilience. The women around here sit on Sunday evenings after church discussing God and shouting their beliefs like battle cries. And when their babies come home from school on Monday mornings, the women around here ignore the scarred up knees and bruises and stories, because they have some of their own, and they know full well that anything can be overcome, even if it's never forgotten.
And they never forget. These loud talking, Southern women never forget their place in a house run by men. They take up their stations with smiles and issue authority over everyone else. They aren't unhappy, just accustom to dinners cooked and jobs taken when there's nothing else to do. And they learn to talk loud, because in this house it's always a fight to see who gets the last word in, and who is actually heard over the commotion.
These women tell stories like fish, ones just caught and ready to cook; ready to be weighed and measured and cut apart. They compare tragedies and discuss the world as though they live outside it, instead of deeply, deeply in. And somehow, all the bad things that happen and all the terrible things that are said, are nothing compared to the jokes they can laugh about and the pretty pictures they take and pass around like communion.
These women are full of life, and they know how to laugh. They know how to hug you so that your whole body feels right and warm, and when you leave the dinner table you clean up your own plate. The food, so rich, is like our bigger symbol of life. You can never eat too much and everyone will chide you for not finishing whatever you put on your plate. It's all about waste, and the lack of it, and how you ought to cherish everything even if you are too full up to keep it down. Even at the dinner table, after blessing, no topic is really too much to discuss. If someone gets upset, well, that's their problem; if someone leaves in tears, then perhaps they ought to eat where words are pretend and people walk on eggshells.
Here, we, women walk full and tall and loud. We carry ourselves with a sort of inborn dignity. We do not shy away from telling it like it is, and when it hurts we hold it only closer. Our bad histories are our stories, and there's no shame in telling them over and over again. We sit around after our dinners and we talk and we yell and we remember. There's no going back after you come for the day, until your plate's empty and your stomach's full and your head is weary with homemade wine.
Here, in this trailer off the dirt road, surrounded by brush and old cars, we women tell stories like there's no tomorrow, and debate which one was worse.
“You'll clean the lights every Friday.”
I didn't think to ask why cleaning lights merited such a high priority when the floors were sticky with dirt. Instead, I smiled and accepted the roll of paper towels and the bottle of blue glass cleaner. I climbed the stepstool and steadied myself against the popcorn machine - until I determined the glass top of the candy counter would faithfully hold my weight. It was 1974 and working the concession stand at the local movie theatre was my first real job.
I don't think I caught on that first Friday. It might have taken me a week. Maybe two. I remember the moment when I understood though. Heat still floods my face when I think about it.
But I didn't say a word. I just sprayed and wiped.
And squeezed my thighs together.
“He's a pervert,” I told my friend when our shift was over.
“Tell me something I don't already know,” she answered.
We were barely fifteen.
The owner of the theatre was forty. Or fifty. Or sixty. It was hard to judge. He was old enough that the skin at the edges of his eyes pleated when he stared up my skirt. And though I wasn't mature enough to accurately gauge his years, I was old enough to know that what he did made me feel dirty and used. But I didn't say anything.
After a few light cleaning sessions, I did broach the subject with my twenty-two year old manager. “Why can't we wear pants?” I asked.
“Because you can't,” was his answer.
And that was that.
I found another job a month later. Slinging burgers wasn't as cool as being a candy girl. I went home smelling of grease and pickles each night. My face broke out. I still had to wear a dress. And I still had to listen to lewd comments from the managers (every one of them male).
At least flashing the goodies wasn't a job duty there.
I signed up for Driver's Ed. when I turned sixteen. The instructor made a habit of wearing sweatpants to our class. With a hole in the crotch. Three days a week I tried to avert my eyes while he sat, spread-legged on top of his desk. The other two days we drove.
Driving wasn't bad. I didn't have to deal with a peek-a-boo crotch on driving days. At least not until my car-partner got strep throat.
We were alone in the car when he ordered me to turn at the next cross street. I was still pulling the wheel when he dropped his hand onto my thigh. I almost hit a mailbox. He assured me it was okay. I just needed to relax. He directed me into a neighborhood, then up onto a driveway.
He invited me in for a glass of tea.
A chill runs through me when I think about what might have happened had I followed him inside. I'd learned a thing or two since my days at the theatre though. I stayed in the car and blinked back tears while he begged from his front stoop.
“But why shouldn't I tell?” I asked my friends.
“Because he'll flunk you,” they said.
And that was that.
At eighteen, I was nearly raped by a co-worker. I found my voice and told my boss. He didn't believe me at first. Then he asked what I had done to cause “the misunderstanding”. And suggested everyone might be more comfortable if I resigned.
At nineteen, I fell in love with a man who made me feel safe. At twenty, I married him.
When I was twenty-one, I joined a protest march. I carried a sign that proposed women could have equal rights. I was pelted with taunts of “Butch!” and “Lesbian!”
At twenty-two, my boss thought it would be funny if I drank from the nipple of a breast-shaped cup. In front of the entire office.
At twenty-three, an administrative law judge suggested my career could see a boost if I would just ... oh my!
By twenty-four or twenty-five, I'd started to accept my fate.
But when I was twenty-six, I gave birth to a son. At twenty-eight, we had a daughter.
And that was that.
I made a vow: I would raise my son to respect women. I would raise my daughter to respect herself.
Nineteen years later, things have changed in the world. My son, my daughter, and their friends stare at me blankly when I try to tell them of the olden-days. They can't conceive of a time when girls could only wear pants to school when it snowed - if they wore them under dresses - and took them off in the cloakroom. They can't fathom a time when girls were paid twenty cents less an hour for the same work just BECAUSE THEY WEREN'T BOYS. In their world, Mom has just as much say as Dad in their homes. And women rise in their careers based on ability, not breast size, or a willingness to … oh my!
Do boys (or men) still objectify girls (or women) - pressure them for sexual favors? If you can find a music video on MTV, or happen to catch a conversation about a frat party, you'll have your answer. We've come a long way, baby, but we're not there.
My son and his friends listen to those hip hop songs about poppin' and lockin' and shorties who be droppin', but the girls they really fall for are the ones who are their equals. My daughter and her friends aren't strangers to parties, but they play it smart and travel in groups. And they don't give more than a minute to boys who won't treasure what's in their hearts and minds more than what's hiding up their skirts.
It gives me hope that one day all men will see women as more than a collection of tempting body parts, as complete beings who deserve to live and work and love alongside them without fear.
And that will finally be that.
LiveJournal user Aurorasong left this comment on a recent post I wrote about feeling good about yourself regardless of your weight, “I'm 55 and your post embodies what we thought we would achieve with the original 'Women's Lib' movement. That didn't turn out quite the way we thought it would, but it's great to see that the spirit lives on in a younger generation.” The statement gave me pause and I had to stop and smile because it was only a few years ago that I was quite vocally against the idea of feminism. To me, feminism was hairy armpits, bad haircuts, and shrill, man-hating harridans who weren't interested in being women at all. I wanted to disassociate myself from anything remotely resembling that, and threw the baby out with the bathwater.
I scoffed at Women's History month. Why was it so important to separate women's achievements from men's? They all go into the same community pot anyway, don't they? I turned up my nose at the idea that women were considered a minority group. There are still more of us in the world than men, aren't there? I even tried to ignore that there was a great need for women's advocacy around the world. It was only after taking a long hard look at the life I have, compared to the life my mother, grandmothers and great-grandmothers had that I was able to look in the mirror and realize that I had to be a feminist. I had to be behind Women's Lib. I needed to learn Women's History. In all of my waxed, coiffed, ladylike glory, I had no choice other than to add my voice to the song, or I was slapping my own mother in the face.
I am one of the lucky ones. I am a smart, attractive, well-educated woman with a good career, a supportive, cooperative husband, a remarkably easy baby, a clean bill of mental health, and a closet full of fabulous shoes. Life has come easily to me. That is why I was able to dismiss the struggles of the women who came before me. I haven't had to struggle, so the idea of striving against the machine of a crushing patriarchy is entirely foreign to me.
If I have ever needed money, I have gone and gotten a job. I have never had trouble finding a job, or in moving up through the ranks of a company quickly. I have had issues regarding equal pay for equal work, but I have never had to worry about finding a paycheck. I have never had to depend on anyone other than myself. I have never wanted to.
Because my family was very tight-lipped about our history, I always assumed that my grandmother and great-grandmothers had lived just as easily. I knew they were poor. I knew they lived on dirt floors. I knew that they struggled to survive in Reconstruction Era Alabama, and that they barely lived through the Depression, but I never considered how they were affected specifically as women. A few years ago, all of that began to change when my aunt opened up those dusty vaults and started researching our genealogy.
One of the first things she found was my great-grandmother's, on my grandmother's side, receipt of sale. My great-grandmother cost $38, and her husband bought her before he married her. She was a Cherokee Indian. Birth and census records lead us to believe that her owner had used her for recreational purposes before my great-grandfather came to find her. Once they married, she went on to raise seven children through the Depression. None of her children were educated beyond elementary school, but her four daughters all grew up to raise children who graduated from college.
Education was not an option for my grandmother, who left school before the sixth grade. She and her sisters worked, and they worked hard, but each of them-and I remember this so clearly-were determined that their children and their grandchildren would go to school and learn, and would make something of themselves. My grandmother did not let her lack of education stop her. She was a voracious reader, loved politics, and could out strategize any man I've ever met. If she had been a man, then like her brothers and her husband, she would have made an amazing career in the military. But the military wasn't an option for a woman then, either.
My aunt also began to unravel my grandfather's knotty history. He rarely spoke of his mother, save to glorify her mind. She was a brilliant mathematician, he said, and could add five rows of number, six columns deep in her head. I knew that she had taught school in a logging community, and that she had raised her two sons alone, but beyond that, I only knew her name.
What I did not know was that after her husband had died in 1913, leaving her with one child to raise in the rurals of war ravaged Alabama, she had not been able to find work, and had only been able to provide for herself and her son one way. And that was how my grandfather came to be. And when it was apparent to the community that my grandfather was on the way, they rode her out of town on a literal rail, pregnant, her young son with her, and banned her from entering again.
Somehow that woman picked herself up, dusted herself off, found work, got an education, and became a schoolteacher. She never made enough doing that to survive, so she drove mule teams and took in work as well. But she raised those boys well, and my grandfather grew up to become a decorated veteran of both World War II and Korea. She did that without government aid, without minority rights, and without a husband. Sadly, she went insane and died tragically when she backed into an open furnace.
Both of my grandmothers worked savagely hard jobs, one on the assembly line and the other in a cotton mill. They didn't complain. They both worked, kept a house and a husband, raised children, and did it all alone while their spouses were overseas at war. They lived at poverty level or just above, but they were determined to see their children through high school, and wanted desperately for them to go to college.
There wasn't enough money for anyone to seek out higher education, but my uncle had a shot at the Citadel, so my mother took on that responsibility. She worked three jobs and helped pay the lion's share of his tuition, forgoing her own education and an opportunity she had for nursing school. Then she married my father, a Marine, and followed him around the country, starting her career from scratch every two years, facing discrimination, harassment, and glass ceilings with each new turn. In the meantime, she raised me.
Once my parents were solvent enough for her to quit work, she chose to stay with it to keep me in private school. I had the best education she could afford. (I say she because my father was against private education, and it was her salary that paid the tuition.) I went to college without ever wondering how my tuition was paid, or where money for books, housing, food or clothing was coming from. Both of my grandmothers were so proud of that. Only one lived to see me graduate, and she was there for both of my degrees.
Women's History, my mother's, grandmothers', and great-grandmothers' history, my history, is about so much more than honoring the memories of Susan B. Anthony, Marie Curie, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Flannery O'Connor, Elizabeth I, Branwen of Ireland, Mary Magdalene, Lilith or Eve. Women's History is about each generation making the way a little smoother for the next, just by living life and refusing to bow down and quit. Women's History is about survival. It is about courage. It is about love. It is important to celebrate it and shout it from the rooftops so that women like me, who grew up ignorant of the sacrifices, or who were just too much into the appearance of someone else's armpits to hear what they were saying, women who could just as easily tear up a century's work, can stop and realize that we've come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.
I am a feminist. I am the spirit of Women's Lib. And I am making Women's History.
Feminism: A Lifesaver in a Sea of Maleness
I've traveled to over 30 countries and lived in four. At no time in my life has my feminism been stronger. Since embarking on this particular trip four years ago, I have seen first-hand the status of women in the world. It makes me realize how now, more than ever, we need feminism. It will be our life preserver. So when I come across women's issues, I rejoice.
Before I even came to Korea, I was warned it was no place for a feminist. They were right. It's a male-dominated society. And for those of you who don't consider your nation to be male-dominated, it can be described like this: swimming in a sea of maleness.
You wake up in the morning and read the newspaper. Pictures of males greet you on the front page. Eighty to ninety per cent of the news is about men. Perhaps photos of models will be interspersed throughout; women selling cars or cell phones. Then, they'll disappear in the business section. “Sales of cell phones up,” read the headlines. Not a word about women, though.
We're just wading into the sea.
Perhaps on page ten or twenty, there will be a story, about two inches of a column, indicating an assault or rape of a woman. Since the stories are scattered here and there, it's hard to put the pieces together. Pieces, that when added up, indicate that two to three million women lose their lives to gender-based violence each year.
Be careful of the next wave.
Perhaps a war correspondent will write about the conflicts happening around the globe. Oh, look, there's a story about the conflict in Congo or the one in Sudan. Funny, it doesn't even mention the mass rape that's been taking place. Oh, no, wait, this one mentions, “women raped.” That hardly does it justice, does it? In Congo, soldiers used glass, wood and rifles to rape women and girls. These women were ripped open so badly, they suffer from fistulas, tears between their vagina and anus. They walk into clinics leaking feces because they've lost the ability to control their bowels. Funny how the phrase “women raped” just doesn't seem to capture the atrocities afflicted upon women these days in conflict zones. Conflicts that they've had no part in starting and will have no role in ending.
We're going further into the sea.
Well, I close the paper and off to work I go. There, I drown. I edit high school text books. I edit passages about all the great men from ancient history to modern times. Even Hitler sounds good. I am like a grain of salt in the ocean, overwhelmed by the salinity in the sea of maleness. Where are the women? How can they be so systematically overlooked?
Here's a life saver.
I check my email. I've received feminist digest or women's e-news. There, I can read about women. I can read about what's happening to the other fifty per cent of the population. I can savor the fifteen minutes of my day that offers me insights into the lives of women around the world, insights that are treated with respect and dignity.
Returning to the safety of the harbor.
I finish work and head home. I dart around the intrusive motorcycles on the sidewalk. I pass men drinking alcohol with colleagues. I step on advertisements selling women's bodies. I get home and breathe a sigh of relief. I have survived another day.
What's on the shore.
I turn on the TV and watch the news. It's not much different from the newspapers. I flick the channel. As the channels flash before my eyes, I see violent scene after violent scene. I can't flick fast enough. How can societies live on such a diet of violence? How much have we progressed since the Roman days of the coliseum? On an average night, I think, sadly, not much. If it's not violence, it's sex. I pass channels with women in bikinis. I pass teen movies about growing up, flashing women's breasts for the young males. I pass a wrestling match with women in skimpy, provocative clothing. The gender stereotypes are force fed to us daily: men as dangerous and destructive and women as one-dimensional sex objects. Can we ever break free?
I turn off the TV to get a good night's sleep. Tomorrow, as the saying goes, is another day.
On the horizon.
Here in Seoul, I have, fortunately, witnessed changes in just three short years. While more men come to Korea to work than women, women are coming…and, for the first time, they're staying. They're forming groups and volunteering. Men are joining these groups and working side by side with women to raise funds for women's shelters. It is inspiring, to say the least. It offers a beacon of light.
Korea, more than any other country, has brought out my feminism. I have been overwhelmed by prostitution, sex-selected abortions, violence and engrained gender roles. I cling to every piece of positive news here, I actively seek out information about women, and I celebrate every gain, whether it's here in Korea or elsewhere in the world. I have learned how important it is to be aware of women's issues and how, in the world, we need more feminist-minded women. We still have so much more to do to gain equality, dignity and respect in this world.
As a result, I have started to write articles about women's issues. I have submitted these articles to local newspapers and online publications. Moreover, I am determined to do more volunteer work, make more donations and start a career fighting gender-based violence.
I can thank my experience in Korea for showing me my true passion in life. I can thank women's studies for finally highlighting women's contributions to society. It has been my life saver, offering hope, security and comfort--because otherwise, I would have drowned.
It can offer me hope for surviving in a sea that can appear calm one day and tempestuous the next. It can offer me the feeling of security, the feeling that my life is worth it. I have value. I am human. I am equal.
I am still fully immersed in the sea, my legs dangling in the cold salty water, but I feel better prepared to meet the waves head on.
“It is no less true mentally and physically, than morally, that a parent's sins are visited upon their children to the third and fourth generation. Every man lives again in the race. His successors are but modified editions of himself. To judge how much our acts will influence the future, we must look back and see what influence the past has had upon us.”
“Neither shall we who carry on the fight, reap the great reward. We are battling for the good of those who shall come after us; they, not ourselves, shall enter into the harvest.”
-Matilda Joslyn Gage (1826-1898)
. . . Four little, five little, six little Indians . . . seven little, eight little, nine little Indians . . . ten little Indian boys.
A silly ditty, but nine-year-old Samantha was desperate to keep silent, to keep her mind off the teeming ant hill beneath her, off the red terrors swarming her patent leather Thom McAnn shoes and under the skirt of her yellow-and-white sundress, inside her panties, across her stinging bottom and crotch.
Natural morning sounds rippled through the woods near Samantha's house. Gurgling creek water. Wind through leaves. The occasional soft snap of something. Felisha Mattox, her seventeen-year-old babysitter, stood in front of Samantha, willow-like, legs apart in a defiant stance, arms crossed, close-lipped.
Only woodsy sounds were allowed for five more minutes, or the test was over.
I'm . . . bringing home a baby bumble bee-
Were hornet stings like this? Hurts. It hurts.
She had to pass this final test. Only the most loyal in Hannibal could be Felisha's Finest. Pass, and the hurting of the past year would be at an end. Only ice cream and wifely duties when they were alone would remain.
Felisha touched her in the oddest ways. Kisses funny. Learned from her dad. Mr. Mattox hits her. Plays man-and-wife with her. She's his best girl. I didn't know daddies did that. She promised not to tell we play too, 'cause mommy will hate me. Mommy and daddy will send me to jail. My fault, because I didn't tell her no. Why couldn't she just stop? Because Felisha was sweet and loved by everyone. Because clever Felisha had chosen her.
Because I'm bad. Because she was scared. No one could know.
“You're my best girl, Sammy.” Felisha's pale face lingered over her with its dainty nose and chin. Approval glowed in her flame-blue eyes. Her teeth were so pretty, pearls against pink lips. The jagged hem of her white T-shirt fluttered in the breeze like seraphim's wings. An angel . . . that was what Felisha looked like. A protective angel with golden curls-except for the washed-out bruise beneath her jaw.
Beyond the girl's white jeans, through a gap in the summer foliage, the soccer field behind Hannibal High shimmered. The ground rumbled as a freight train passed through downtown. A big kids' band marched across the field to the theme song from Star Wars.
The stinging turned scalding. Samantha squinted, and rocked back and forth. Water thickened in her eyes. She gnawed the new hole inside her bottom lip. Mommy. Mommy.
Ant hills had been curious beds to be studied before she'd been required to sit on them. Now they were heaps of suffering to be destroyed until none remained. Muscles inside her skinny brown thighs twitched. Samantha stretched her lips into the required smile, and willed herself into a cotton Candy Land with chocolate bars in the trees and lollipops in the clouds. She splashed about in a grape Kool-Aid creek with ice cubes that soothed the fire. Everything had a red JELL-O smell.
The Candy Man can. The Candy Man can 'cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good.
The band launched into a new tune the grownups called Disco.
The aroma of nearby honeysuckles sharpened, then faded. The woods melted into sunless haze, then nothing.
She came to in her babysitter's arms, half-submerged in the cool creek, a bitterness in her mouth.
Several months after my promotion in Felisha's ranks, my father returned from Guam and we left Hannibal for an Air Force base up north. I was numb during the move, but sobbed afterwards. No more fear of jail. No more wifely duties, tests, or slaps. I could be a normal kid, whatever that was.
When we returned to Georgia four years later, the Mattoxes were gone.
For twenty years, Felisha was only a burr in my mind.
Then I saw her getting off the mini-bus she drove, clutching the shoulder of a little black girl with red-ribbon pigtails, a child who looked just like me at that age.
I slammed on brakes, nearly got rear-ended, pulled over across the street from the center and stared from my car window. Watched them walk inside the red-roofed KinderCare. Then vomited my lunch into my lap.
She had no business being around kids.
Returning to work was out. I called my boss on my cell. The malaise in my voice left little doubt I was sick. Then it was back to the bar-and-grille, to wash the gunk off my pants with restaurant soap and . . . do what?
“A shot of something strong, please. Anything.”
The slick-headed bartender filled the tiny glass in front of me. I gulped the golden liquor down. It was like inhaling fuel. The man grinned at my expression and offered more. I begged off, pushed away from the padded edge of the bar and slumped into the nearest booth, my insides runny.
Memories are supposed to fade. These were crisp, as if someone had outlined them in black fine-line. Felisha entering my pink room. Honey, I'm home! Me, in her favorite scarlet jumper, a pillow-baby under my dress. Her wet kiss of approval, or a slap. My vagina, always sore to the touch, though I never saw what she used-
Children were at risk.
I had to do something. All I wanted to do was hide.
I ordered chips and dip to appease the hovering waitress.
If I confronted her and it went badly, others would be pulled into the dispute-her employer, my parents, everyone we both knew and people we didn't. I'd have to relive everything. They'd all hear what I'd let her do, and see me differently. She'd probably blink those slanted blue eyes and deny everything, then I'd be a liar as well. Undoing the damage my year of molestation caused had taken a lot of work, yet there I sat, humiliated, riding the guilt horse again. The iron knot in my stomach had me in a stupor. My chips came. I dipped, but couldn't eat.
Then I thought of the little girl with red-ribbon pigtails, and got angry.
Had I learned nothing? It wasn't my fault. No child consents to being touched, much less understands it. I wasn't unclean. Shame had no place in my life, unless I turned my back on other girls going through what I had. Had anyone ever helped Felisha? Made her father atone for what he'd done to her? And what about Mr. Mattox? Had someone abused him, too? Just how far back did the links in this chain really go?
I had a responsibility, as a human being and as a woman, to break those links.
I would tell her to get away from girls, and see that she found another occupation. No matter what it took.
A good hour had passed. The last buses were probably arriving now.
I wiped my tears. “Check, please.”
The daycare center's empty parking lot greeted me. I backed into a space near the side of the building. Was I too late? A lone mini-bus crept in, stopped at the center doors, and unloaded. The driver, in white sweatshirt and slacks, stood with her back to me, fingers tapping the crown of each little head that passed. Her golden curls were longer, but still so perfect.
I don't remember getting out or bringing the car keys, just walking up behind her, expecting her outrage when she saw me, ready to respond in kind. Expecting her to call me Sammy. “Excuse me,” I said, my tone hard-edged.
She turned around.
It wasn't her.
Round amber eyes. Pug nose. Cleft chin. Fresh freckles. A face that had yet to see a line, when Felisha Mattox would be sitting on forty. “Can I help you with something?” A front tooth slanted over its neighbor.
“Terrell Road?” I managed.
“Sure. Go right out of the parking lot. It's the next traffic light.”
The young woman gave me a friendly nod and followed the kids in before I could thank her.
I sat in my car for a while. Chilly relief warmed into something else-satisfaction. Self-respect. I hadn't found Felisha. I had found the strength to protect others.
Battle for the good of those who follow you.