A Different Blue Page 20

“Of course, she was found guilty, and she was sentenced to burn at the stake. It is said that as she was tied to the stake she forgave her accusers and asked them to pray for her. Many Englishmen wept at her death, convinced that they had burned a saint. We have a great deal of documentation from the life of Joan of Arc. But I think one thing she said is particularly telling about her character and her convictions. She said 'life is all we have, and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.'

“The last time we worked on our personal history we wrote about what false beliefs we may have – beliefs that might be myths. Today I want you to write about the other side of the coin. What beliefs keep you moving forward? What beliefs define you?”

“Once upon a time there was a little blackbird who was pushed out of the nest, unwanted. Discarded. Then a Hawk found her and swooped her up and carried her away, giving her a home in his nest, teaching her to fly. But one day the Hawk didn't come home, and the bird was alone again, unwanted. She wanted to fly away. But as she rose to the edge of the nest and looked out across the sky, she noticed how small her wings were, how weak. The sky was so big. Somewhere else was so far away. She felt trapped. She could fly away, but where would she go?”

I had stopped trying to throw my paper away. But I hated it more every time I saw it. I'm nobody! Who are you? And my mind traveled right back to that awful day. The day I had become nobody.

I had been weak, and I had been small. The memory rose up like a black cloud. I guess I had fallen asleep wedged between the sink and the toilet because the next thing I knew, Donnie was back. He had yanked at my legs, pulling me out from my hiding spot with little effort. I had shrieked and kicked and scrambled for the door. The floor was wet and I slipped, and Donnie slid, his arms pinwheeling as he tried to step back from me. I raced to my room with Donnie at my heels. Terror choked me, and I couldn't scream. I slammed the door and locked it and tried to shimmy under my bed, but it was too close to the ground and my head wouldn't fit. There was no place to hide. Donnie was shoving at the door. I scrambled to my drawers and yanked a big t-shirt over my head and grabbed the wooden snake that sat atop my dresser.

“I just want to make sure you're okay, Blue,” Donnie lied. I had seen his face when he looked at me, and I knew he was lying. Then door crashed against the adjacent wall, and Donnie was framed in the doorway. The boom made me jump, and I dropped the snake.

“Are you crazy?” Donnie yelled. He held out his hands in front of him as if he had cornered a wild animal. He moved toward me slowly, his palms up.

“I talked to Cheryl. She said you had some bad news today. That's gotta be tough, kid. I'm gonna stay with you until she gets home, all right? Just go on and climb in bed. Your lips are all blue.”

I leaned down and picked up my snake, holding onto the edge of my t-shirt so it didn't ride up and reveal the bareness beneath. The smooth heft of wood felt good in my hands. Donnie stopped moving.

“I'm not going to hurt you, Blue. I'm just here to make sure you're okay, okay?”

I turned and raced to my bed, diving in and pulling the covers up to my chin. I clutched the snake under the covers. I watched Donnie approach. He eased himself down on the edge of my bed. He leaned toward my nightstand and switched off the lamp. I screamed. The lamp immediately came back on.

“Stop that!” he barked.

“Leave the light on,” I panted.

“Okay, okay,” he rushed. “I'm just gonna sit here with you until you fall asleep.”

I turned onto my side toward the wall, my back to Donnie, squeezing my eyes shut and wrapping myself around the long, twisting snake that was growing warm in my grip. Wood was like that, warm and smooth. Jimmy said it was because wood was once a living thing. I felt a hand in my hair and stiffened, my eyes snapping open.

“When I was little, my mom used to rub my back sometimes to help me fall asleep.” Donnie's voice was soft. “I could rub your back, like this.” His moved his hand to my shoulder. He carefully moved it in little circles across my upper back. It felt nice. I said nothing, my attention focused on those circles and the hand that traveled back and forth.

I eventually fell asleep to the gentle ministrations against my back. Donnie had comforted me and soothed me with his touch. And I had so badly needed comfort. When Cheryl came home she awakened both of us. Donnie had fallen asleep in the chair by my bed. Cheryl kicked him out and took his place on the chair, lighting a cigarette in shaking hands.

“Donnie told me he thinks you tried to kill yourself tonight. Why would you do somethin' like that?”

I didn't answer. I hadn't wanted to die. Not exactly. I just wanted to see Jimmy again.

“I want to see my dad again.”

Cheryl eyed me, her mouth puckered around her cigarette. She seemed to be considering what I had said, weighing it out in her mind. She finally sighed and stubbed her cigarette out on the base of my lamp, scattering ashes over my nightstand.

“You know he ain't your dad, right? I mean. He was like a dad. But he wasn't your dad.”

I sat up in my bed and stared at her, hating her, loathing her, wondering why she would be saying such awful things to me, especially today, of all days.

“Don't look at me like that. I'm not tryin' to hurt you. You just gotta know what's what. Jimmy told me he ate at a truck stop in Reno, a place where he sold some of his carvings. He said you'd been asleep, just a little thing, barely more than a baby, all huddled in a corner booth, waiting for your mother who was playing the slots. He said he didn't know who you belonged to. You remember Jimmy. Wouldn't yell help if his clothes were on fire. He sat there with you, gave you some of his dinner. He said you didn't cry, and you didn't seem afraid of him. He sat with you for quite a while, even whittled a doll for you.” Cheryl lit another cigarette and inhaled deeply. She nodded toward my dresser. “It's that one. The one you have there.”

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