Barbara Meyer Link
Chapter One - 1958
The worst thing about babysitting for the O’Malley’s was the dead baby. When the bell rang at their mortuary next door, Bobbi would leave the kids and unlock the door so family and friends could view the deceased.
There she was, the silent baby tucked into a satin lined box like a doll under the Christmas tree. Her tiny hands remained fixed in place, pointing to nothing or maybe to heaven.
For other baby-sitting dangers, Bobbi devised a strategy. After all, in 1958 she was a freshman in high school and knew a few things. So when the dads drove her home, she scooted to the far side of the front seat. If they grabbed her, she’d pull Grandma’s darning needle from her sleeve and jam it into their arm.
You’d be surprised how many husbands tried to feel her up. The men left home in ironed white shirts with clean-shaven cheeks smelling of Old Spice and talking in company voices. But during the evening, they grew stubble, breathed whiskey fumes and pawed at a flat-chested fourteen-year-old girl.
1958. The year in which Bobbi tangled with the adults—Patsy, the beautician, Mary Agnes, the Crow Indian, and Miss Bauer, the new teacher. Bobbi knew she should have obeyed the law and her parents. She never thought it crucial until she stood before the judge.
“Donna,” she’d said to her best friend, “honestly, I wanted to kneel with prayer hands like the picture of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, maybe with the Platters playing 'My Prayer' in the background. Not because it was religious, but because it sounded sad and romantic. Dad said no! No kneeling and no music in Judge Henderson’s chambers.”
“I love the Platters! That would have been so cool,” Donna said.
“No shit,” Bobbi replied.
The trouble started the first week of March when she discovered the car parked behind the high school. A ‘57 black Chevy convertible with red leather seats, slick red steering wheel, acres of polished chrome, and white wall tires like frosted donuts. A black and red shining jewel.
Bobbi rode to school that day with her dad. He looked uncool in his khaki pants and sweatshirt. He was the high school basketball coach, so he didn’t dress up. His clothes looked like they’d been in the ironing basket for a month. Once she even spotted his jockstrap peeking over his grody sweatpants.
From behind the school, they had a clear view of a new business—a beauty shop in an old house trailer. The blonde beautician stood in her doorway, smoking and staring at them like they were something to see.
Bobbi felt like yelling, “Take a picture, it’ll last longer.”
Dad glanced at the blonde, then entered the school through the back door. Bobbi paused by the Black Beauty, smoothed her hand over the hood, inhaled the fragrance of the high gloss wax and felt the sun-soaked shiny metal.
A young woman stepped out of the school’s back door and lit a cig. Her eyes were deep set behind heavy-framed black glasses. Her short, black hair looked more pushed in place than brushed. She wore a rumpled tweed skirt, white Oxford shirt, and penny loafers. Altogether, she gave off a quality of intensity, beyond her lean, muscular build.
Bobbi knew all of the instructors, so she assumed this must be the new English teacher. A huge improvement over old lady Schumann, who reeked of mothballs and had broken her hip.
“My new rag top. Like it?” the woman asked.
Bobbi sucked in a lungful of air. She’d never ridden in a convertible! “Very cool,” she stammered, hoping she wouldn’t pee her pants.
The teacher displayed a faint expression of her lips, something stealthy, a smile that was not a smile. She tossed her cigarette and went back inside the school.
Barbara Meyer Link
Date: March 3, 1998
From: Else Ane
Subj: Blue Shy
It has been foggy this morning, but the wind is putting up so maybe we will see some blue shy today.
Dec. 9, 1987, 7:30 P.M.
It’s chilly tonight, our usual December weather in Merced, California. The tule fog has hung in the cold air all day, and now, when I poke my head out the front door, I can’t even see to the corner. Even though it’s Friday night, I’m satisfied to be cozied in my bedroom with my small electric space heater crackling and glowing like a real fire.
The phone interrupts my gift-wrapping. I pull the twisted phone cord over my bed, scattering the books of poems I’ve written and am wrapping for Christmas gifts. I included a poem for each family member, and two for my daughter, eighteen-year-old Ellie.
On the phone it's my ex-husband, Gary. He’s shouting. "Someone tried to kill Ellie."
"What? What are you talking about?"
"He attacked her.” He yells again. “The sheriff from Colorado just called. She'll be calling back with more details."
"Oh, my God. I'll be right over."
I grab my car keys and purse. I back out of the garage without checking for traffic. The engine roars down the street because I forget to shift out of second gear. In my rear view mirror the yellow light from the open garage door fades into the fog. I’m not going back.
Earlier that day, I sent Ellie a Christmas package. A red turtleneck shirt, a Norwegian wool sweater, and heavy wool socks. Fiercely independent, she was camping out on the side of Kendal in the San Juan Mountain Range near Cimarron, Colorado, that summer. In the fall, she built a shack about a half-mile from the abandoned Kittimac Mill. Then, in late October, she moved to a rented room because of the cold and, as she told me, “Mom, last night a porcupine ate my tennis shoes!”
For the first time since the divorce five years ago, I enter Gary’s house. Not the house we lived in but a new one in a better neighborhood. The living room looks like Breuner’s showroom: beige leather sectionals, giant stereo speakers, and leopard print pillows, a plastic palm. In the dining room rests the only familiar thing, the antique table and chairs that I lovingly refinished. The house smells like stale pizza.
I grab a phone in the family room and collapse into the beanbag chair to wait for the Cimarron call. The woman sheriff’s tone is matter-of-fact and I don’t even know what to ask; the attack is so hard to believe. In fact, I don’t believe it. Ellie was a Tae Kwon Do fanatic. Who in a town of 515 people would hurt her? When she left for Colorado, I felt she had a new start working in a small town with two interesting jobs: a cook at the Silver King Bakery and a part time DJ at the local radio station.
Soon my sixteen year old son, Lars, joins us as well as Andy, my boyfriend.
“Gary, you remember Andy?” I ask.
“Yes.” Gary shakes Andy’s hand stiffly. “Why don’t you all have a seat?”
“Okay, thanks.“ Andy sits close and holds my hand. Andy and I are engaged and he's spent lots of time with both my children.
“Ellie can’t be badly hurt,” Lars says. “She’s too strong. I’m going to call Cimarron, I know the EMTs.” Lars and his girlfriend Josie were in Cimarron for the last two summers. His friend tells him that she fought hard when placed in the ambulance. We take this as a positive sign, although it was probably only a reflexive action. Toward morning, he sobs in my arms (the one and only time I can remember). He keeps repeating, “She’s so good, who’d want to hurt her?”
Date: March 5, 1998
From: Else Ane
Subj: Hospice volunteer
When I called my new Hospice person she thought I was too yung.“What can you do for me?” she asked. I told her I was a good lisner, could wash her dishes and clear her house.
Keith and I saw Kolya yesterday, it is a good movie, but the people were talking too fast for me to see the subtitles.
The phone rings again. It’s the call we’ve been waiting for: Dr. Henson, a neurosurgeon at San Juan Medical Center, Farmington, New Mexico. Earlier, we had given permission for emergency surgery.
Gary and I each have phones, cords stretched from another room as we crouch on opposite sides of the beanbag chair. “Will she be okay?” I ask, my mouth pressed to the cold phone.
“She’s been in coma since the debriding procedure to relieve the pressure on the
brain. I want you both here as soon as you can make it. Fifty percent of the people with the injuries she's sustained die in the first six hours.”
“Drive or fly,” I ask Gary in the three-way conversation. He fingers his clipped mustache.
“The flights are unreliable because of the winter weather. If you drive, take the Southern route through Arizona.” Dr. Henson sounds like a travel agent.
"Let's get off the phone and leave right now," I say.
"It's too late." Gary rubs his eyes. "I'll pick you up in the morning, early."
Back in my own house, in the garage, I locate the green suitcase with the broken handle in the garage and throw in sweaters, jeans, a ski parka, and hiking boots.
By four in the morning I’m packed, and it’s too early to call my parents or make arrangements to leave my job or cancel my tennis game that afternoon. Dizzy tiredness forces me to lie down, fully clothed, on my bed. The breath is knocked out of me.