I nodded. We walked out through the living room, past Jeff and the Reapers, and out the front door.
Aug. 13—Six weeks earlier
I didn’t expect to see Horse again after the abrupt end I’d called to our lovemaking. Picnic, Max and another guy called Bam Bam had been to visit a couple of times. Jeff seemed happy enough to see them, and they all loved the food I cooked. After they’d leave though, Jeff would always get real quiet and touchy. He’d also started going to the casino more often, which worried me.
He never came home acting like a man who’d won.
But even though I sensed something was wrong, I had come to enjoy their visits. I wasn’t sure if I wanted Horse to come back or not. Every time I saw bikes in the driveway, I was terrified I’d see him and disappointed when I didn’t. I dreamed about him all the time, and more than once I’d re-lived our incredible morning together with my vibrator.
Apparently he’d forgotten about me though. I wasn’t about to ask any of the other guys about him. I couldn’t stand pity, and that was about the best I could hope for from them. During this time, Jeff seemed more and more detached, smoking out constantly and barely talking to me or eating. I worried about him, of course, and today I was particularly frustrated because he’d promised me he’d stay sober.
You see, today I planned to go pick up my stuff from my old house.
Yesterday had been my day off, and I’d driven to the Women’s Center in Kennewick to try to figure out how to divorce Gary. I couldn’t afford a lawyer but I didn’t want anything from him, so I figured it would be quick and easy. If I got lucky, I wouldn’t even have to see him. I could just send over the papers for him to sign.
But the super-sweet woman who met with me, Ginger, shared some hard truths. For example, when I left, I’d grabbed my purse and a bag full of clothing. But I hadn’t gotten my social security card, my birth certificate, the title to my car or my pictures or keepsakes or anything. And she was right when she pointed out that while I might not care about any of that stuff now, I might need it down the line. I certainly shouldn’t trust Gary with it.
She made a good point.
She also wanted me to file for a restraining order against him, but I knew Gary. A restraining order would piss him off in a big way. Right now he wasn’t messing with me. If I provoked him like that he might find me and hurt me again, so I came up with a plan to go to the house and get my stuff when I knew he’d be gone.
Every Monday he played poker with his buddies. He didn’t even skip out when his mom died. If I went on a Monday I’d be safe, unless I ran into Misty, who was not only his new whore, but who’d worked at the grocery store with me for two years. Last time I checked, she had a regular Monday night shift. Even if I ran into her, I figured she’d stay out of my way—it wasn’t like I was a threat to her, and I wasn’t afraid of her. She might be taller than me, but she was a frighteningly skinny thing who took her manicure way too seriously to get in a cat fight. In fact, the longer I was free from Gary, the more pity I felt for her. I’d already slipped out of the noose, but her?
She’d been stupid enough to take it from me, put it around her own neck and tighten it up.
Still, just in case, I wanted Jeff to make the two-hour drive back home with me to Ellensburg, where I’d lived with Gary for the past three years. I wasn’t in any real danger, but I still had nightmares about him hitting me. I felt ashamed and embarrassed too. I hadn’t even given notice at Safeway. Even if I didn’t see Jeff, what if I ran into my old boss?
I didn’t want to face anyone.
When I pulled up to the trailer after work, I found Jeff passed out on the couch with his pipe on the floor next to an empty baggie and four beer bottles. I tried waking him up but he was completely faded. Even if I managed to take him with me, he wouldn’t be any help.
So I decided to go by myself.
And yes, I realize now how incredibly stupid that was.
Pulling up to my old house was surreal.
Everything looked the same, but somehow smaller and dirtier. Same ratty lawn, same faded and peeling paint, same battered Mustang up on blocks in the driveway. All in all, it made me feel pretty good about my decision to leave.
Our trailer might be crap, but at least it was in the middle of an orchard. My dad had worked for the owner, John Benson, and part of his compensation included use of the old trailer. When he’d left, John had taken pity on us and let us stay for very low rent, seeing as he didn’t really need it for anything else anyway. I think at some point he and my mom had a thing, but I didn’t know the details and I didn’t want to know them. We did our own repairs, kept a low profile and things worked out okay.
I parked my car in the street, pleased to note Misty’s car wasn’t there and I couldn’t see any lights. None of the neighbors were outside so I didn’t have to make awkward small talk with anyone. It wasn’t that kind of neighborhood anyway—you know, where people look out for each other or have a neighborhood watch.
I had a moment of worry when the door wouldn’t open. I thought maybe he’d changed the locks, but then it popped loose. Everything looked the same inside, but messier. Apparently Misty wasn’t much of a house cleaner. I giggled, figuring that had to drive Gary crazy.
I found my papers easily enough, everything except the car title. I kept a shoebox of keepsakes and photos in the closet in our spare bedroom. It hadn’t been disturbed, so I carried it out to the car and put it in the hatchback, then gave in to temptation and went back inside. I figured while I was there I might as well see if any of my clothes were around, or if Misty had thrown them out.
Surprisingly, she hadn’t. I found them neatly bagged and labeled on the back porch. Convenient. It took four trips to get it all in the car, and then I went in one last time. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for… Maybe some kind of closure? He still had our wedding picture up on the wall, right next to the one from our senior prom. I studied myself in them, wishing I could go back in time and give myself some friendly advice, something along the lines of run away and never, ever look back!
For some reason I couldn’t explain, I pulled the wedding picture off the wall, snapped off the back of the frame and took it out. It wasn’t anything special, just a five-by-seven snapshot. We didn’t have a real photographer at the wedding.
Still, it was a good picture.
Gary looked young and handsome, and I looked fresh and pretty and full of excitement for the future. I don’t know how long I stood there, lost in my thoughts, but I didn’t notice when Gary walked into the house, reeking of beer and smoke, until he threw his keys down on the coffee table.