Just One Night

December 20, 2006

My Aunt Melissa had two kids and two divorces by the time she was 18 years old. Around the time she turned 20, she met another man who wanted to marry her. At this point, I can only assume that she thought she was running out of options, so she said yes. Or maybe I am way off base and she really did love him. He seemed to to be everything she was looking for. He worked, he wanted to care for her children and he was a good provider for them. The way I always heard it, neither of her children’s biological fathers wanted much to do with her or the kids. My cousins, Dale and Josie, were adopted by him. His name was Jim. They never saw their biological fathers again.

When Dale and Josie were about eight and nine years old, respectively, my mom woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me that they would be coming over to spend the night with us, and we needed to find Josie some pajamas and make room for her in my bed. She told my brothers the same thing. Jim and Aunt Melissa’s house burned down. Everything they had was lost. I have no idea where they stayed, but Dale and Josie ended up staying with us for a whole week. I used to sneak out of my bed at night and listen to my parents talk through the vent in my bedroom floor. One night, Josie and I were doing this and we heard a discussion that made me feel horrible.

“Ann, the kids can stay here as long as they need to. Melissa can stay here if she needs to or if she wants to. That son of a bitch is not coming into my house. We have a daughter. I will not put my daughter in his path, and I will not put myself in the position of killing the piece of shit if anything happens. Your sister may think it’s okay or turn an blind eye, but we all know what goes on there. This isn’t even something we’re going to discuss. The answer is no. Don’t ever bring it up again.”

Mom didn’t reply to this, and I looked at Josie.

“What’s he talking about?”

“I don’t know. I’m sleepy. We’re not supposed to be awake anymore. I’m going to sleep before we get in trouble.”

Josie turned toward the wall and wouldn’t say anything else to me for the rest of the night, and the next morning she didn’t talk at breakfast. When we caught the school bus she sat by herself. They stayed with us for a couple days after that, and then they went to my Aunt Charlotte’s house.

By that time, the cause of the fire was known. It was arson. I don’t remember the specifics of it, but most of the town was fairly certain Jim had set the fire himself. He tried to suggest a few people who might have reason to roast him, his wife and their children, but no one was ever arrested. Despite being able to prove he had set the fire, the insurance company still refused to pay. He had a history of unfortunate fires. Two cars he owned had caught fire previously. A pool hall he owned also burned to the ground, but I can’t remember if that was before or after their home was destroyed.

They ended up moving to the next town over and living in a really old trailer after the insurance refused to pay for the house. They stayed there for several years. Josie never spent the night with me at my mom and dad’s again, but we did spend the night together at my grandmother’s. When I was twelve, I begged and pleaded with my parents to let me spend the night at her house. They finally said yes. I had never spent the night with my cousin Josie before, so I was kind of psyched. It was Easter. I was 12 years old.

That night, as we sat around watching McGuyver, Jim told Josie that he needed her in the bedroom to scratch his back. She sat their for a few minutes and didn’t respond.

“You better get off your ass and go do what your dad tells you to,” Melissa said. Everything she said always sounded harsh. Especially when she was going to bat for Jim.

Carrie came out of her parent’s bedroom about 20 minutes later.

“Dad wants you to go in there,” she said to me.

“Why? I’m watching McGuyver.”

“Just do it,” Melissa said. She didn’t saound as harsh with me. Just tired. Jim’s mom was there and she never looked up from the television. Dale got up and went to his own bedroom.

“Whatever.” I went into the bedroom.

“Let me see your fingernails,” Jim said. I held out my hands. “Perfect. I want you to sit on my lower back and scratch my upper back and shoulders.

I felt really weird doing that. I also didn’t know what else to do, so I did it. The room was dark except for the black and white static of a small tv. He had a sheet on. I didn’t think he had any clothes under the sheet.

“Hold on, I’m going to roll over and I want you to scratch my chest.” He held me on top of him. The sheet was still on him, but it felt so strange. It wasn’t like when my dad and I wrestled around on our living room floor and I ended up on top. He was moving my hips and telling me to keep scratching his chest.

I couldn’t breathe. Finally, I managed to get off of him.

“Where are you going?’

“McGuyver’s on. I want to finish watching it.” I left them room, but felt like I left the world. I couldn’t think, I didn’t even know what happened or why I felt the way I did.

Josie sat on one end of the couch and I sat on the other for awhile. Finally, I told my aunt I wanted to go home. She didn’t want me to. I cried and cried and told her I was sick and I missed my mom and dad. She finally called my mom.

“You need to come get this little brat of yours. Don’t ever expect me to keep her all night again. This spoiled brat bullshit is just that. She’ll be ready. Get over here now.”

Mom and dad came and got me and I just told them I didn’t like Jim’s mom and Melissa was being mean. They never mentioned it again.

The following week, in school, I told my best friend Sara what happened. Sara was a pretty street smart kid. Spent a great deal of her childhood living in foster homes, group homes and with whatever family would take her in. I told her I didn’t think it was a big deal, but I just wanted to tell someone. The very next day, I got a note in my math class to go to the guidance office. Sara told our guidance counselor what I had told her in confidence. The guidance counslor, in turn, notified Social Services.

Within a day’s time, my mother’s family literally blew apart. Lines were drawn and sides were chosen. My parents were horrified and have not, to this day, gotten over the guilt the felt at having allowed me to spend the night there to begin with. Melissa had to move out or face losing her children. My grandmother let her move a trailer into a lot next to her house. Dale and Josie spent every night there. Melissa divided her time between there and Jim’s home. My grandmother asked my cousin Leigh, whom I have always been extrememly close to, why I would lie about something like that. Leigh told my grandmother I didn’t lie.

“Gran, why do think none of us were ever allowed to spend the night over there? My mom and dad told me they were always afraid that would happen.”

Gran believed none of it. My mom’s half sister, Maya, who lived in Florida but spent most of her summers here, came forward and said he tried to touch her breasts when she was 14. Gran didn’t put any stock in the word of her first husband’s child with the woman he left her and her own children for, though. Mom’s sister Charlotte believed me when my parents and I were around, but when Melissa and Gran were around, she thought I was a wicked little liar, too. Charlotte’s husband believed me, though, and managed to get Dale and Josie to move in with them.

Melissa did divorce Jim, although it was 13 years later. One night, over a bottle of Jack Daniels and some Christmas cookies, between just her and I, she apologized and told me she knew about it all along. She also told me about the beatings she endured. She told me about the shotgun that was held to Josie’s head as she slept one night when Melissa was thinking about leaving. She told me that Dale was not immune from the sexual abuse either. She showed me scars on her body from cigarettes he put out on her. Even though she and Jim had been divorced for 3 years at this point, he would call her often, begging for “his Melissa” back.

Melissa found love again, with a man who was 25 years older than her, but a very nice person. One night, he had gone out hunting. He came back, and his home was in flames. Everything he had was gone. It was arson. The insurance paid out, but no one ever knew who started the fire. Not officially, at any rate. Surprisingly, he married Melissa anyway.

My gran and I have made up and are on good terms now, although we don’t talk about what happened. It really hurts me that she still speaks to Jim all the time, though.

My mom called me a couple of months ago and told me that Jim had lung cancer and was dying.

I hung up the phone and smiled. And then I sobbed.

At what point does forgiveness make sense?

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One Response to “Just One Night”

  1. Willow Says:

    You probably haven’t totally forgiven him. He stole a piece of innocence from you that you were never able to get back, and he also tore your family apart.

    Not to mention the trama Josie and Dale had to go through.

    (Also, FYI, I think you unintentionally used a real name in one of your sentences. Begins with C.)

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