Write On!

Twisted Sister, part 3

In Responses on June 29, 2012 at 4:11 pm

by Tara Wiley

Gillian. Joan. Jenny.

Now I know why I insisted on naming my first child Jenny. It was once my first name. I had forgotten, until now: I had five years of life before I became Joan, and my brother became Darian, and my parents… Who were they, really? What started all of this running and hiding and renaming? Would I ever know?

I drive North, working my way along state highways and country roads with no real destination in mind. Thirteen moves in the eighteen years of my childhood, followed by marriage to a military man, meant no place to call home. I think through each of these moves as the miles stretch behind me. Many of them came unannounced when I was growing up. A family member would come to the school in the middle of the day, check me out, and my first inclination of change would be the station wagon loaded to the gills with our belongings. I whispered most of my goodbyes into my pillow as we drove away.

But this is a goodbye I cannot whisper. I cannot even scream. Heartstrings tie me to a dusty Texas town where my lifeblood courses through the veins of two teenage girls. As the miles pull me farther away, I wish the tether would break and set me free. I learned as a little girl to quickly bond and just as quickly let go. I learned to love loosely. But then… When a woman gives birth and holds the squirming flesh that was knit in her womb, there is no such thing as measured love.

It is that same unmeasured love that makes me fight to place more miles between us, to keep them safe.

Hours and miles seep by, punctuated by gas stops and convenience store meals. I wonder what the credit limit is on this card, and who will pay its bill. I wonder what I am to do next. The well dressed American said I would know what to do. Why did he think I would know? Because I watched my parents do this time and again?

My denial runs so deep I cannot think of it all, just little blurs, and so I trust my instinct to take over. The clash of past and present exhausts me. I wait until I cannot bear to keep my eyes open and sleep at a roach motel reminiscent of my childhood. I leave before I even fully register what I see.

More miles. More memories pouring over me. I see myself, a little girl standing in a landfill, these stinking memories heaped onto me by dump trucks and bulldozers until I am suffocating in the stench and weight of it all. The second day’s drive is not as long. I stop in a small town – “Bellevue, the Oldest Town in Nebraska,” announces the sign. I feel old, much older than my forty-odd years.

My stomach rumbles at the thought of real food, and on a whim I stop at a barbecue joint along the way. The sign reads “Swine Dining,” with two pigs caricatured as a farmer and his wife sitting down for a meal. A glass of wine accompanies their meal. The place doesn’t serve wine.

The brisket and beans with apples taste comforting. I try to slow myself down to enjoy each bite, but then I am aware of the truths and lies banging around in my head and can no longer eat. I quickly wash everything down with tea.

That’s when it happens.

I exit the small building just in time to see my dusty white Camry careen from its curbside parking spot. Instinctively I yell – “That’s my car! My car was just stolen!” and even as I yell it, I recognize the foolish mistake I made back in Brownsville. Whenever we hit a new town, my parents also traded in one clunker for another. I still had my car, Joan’s car, and I just tied myself to it for all the local bystanders to hear.

I turn to flee and bump right into a red plaid barricade.

“Easy there, missy, just tryin’ to help. My brother’s on duty right now, I’ll just call this in right quick -”
The chivalrous gentleman in plaid reaches into his Wranglers’ hip pocket for a cell phone and dials before he finishes his sentence. “White Camry?” he asks me, and I yield a quick nod while trying to find the right mix of emotions to outwardly display while my insides scream run! He’s still talking to his brother when the police car races past us; he must have been just around the corner. I feel sick.

“I need – I just-” I stammer and he pauses to look me over after putting the cell back in his pocket. I watch his kind brown eyes widen for a moment, then knit together with a furrowed brow.

“You don’t look so hot. You’re not going to faint are you? There’s a bathroom right inside -” He takes my elbow and directs me towards the restaurant.

“Thank you for your kindness, sir,” I manage as I stumble towards the door. He ushers me in and I stagger for the bathroom while he fills my ears with commentary.

“Big John’s a great cop, been on the force for 22 years now. He’ll get your car back. You just take your time. He’ll send someone for a statement I’m sure. Meantime, you need anything, you ask ’em up at the counter. I’ll let them know what’s going on. I didn’t catch your name -” I put my hand over my mouth, making the universal “I’m about to lose my lunch” lurch and he says no more as I rush into the bathroom.

I take off Jenny’s worn ball cap; I had hidden my dirty hair in it this morning, grateful for once that my daughter was constantly leaving stuff like this in my car. Quickly, I send scoopfuls of water over my inverted head, wetting it all down just enough to bring back the natural curl I usually tamed with blowdryer and flatiron. I take off the long sleeved, wrinkly blouse, revealing the plain white tank top I had layered underneath. I shove the blouse and cap in the cheap satchel I had bought at a convenience store stop earlier, and peek out the door.

Big John’s brother is chatting it up with the people at the counter, his back turned to me and to the exit door. Perhaps if I time it just right – I bolt for the door and take off running, not looking back to see if any of them noticed my flight. I run away from the little downtown strip, into a neighborhood of crackerjack houses surrounded by big trees. I thought Nebraska was farm country, but this stretch of land is hilly and covered in real estate that’s obviously been here for a while.

After working my way south for several blocks, I head west and find myself on a road lined with small businesses. I can see a motel in the distance and work my way to it, ducking behind buildings and through parking lots just in case Big John’s Brother is looking for me. But what do I really know about evasion? I probably look like an idiot.

In spite of myself, I make it to the motel and check in, blushing at the clerk’s offering hourly or nightly rates. My husband Peter’s face is suddenly near, whispering, “I don’t want to go out to eat. Let’s find a hotel and act like sneaky teenagers for a few hours.” Was that only days ago? Suddenly the sobs threaten to unleash before I make it to the privacy of my room. Eyes brimming, I take the room key and rush down the walkway.

Once the tears begin, I wonder if they will ever stop. I sob until I wretch, then take a long shower and sob some more until the water runs cold. Once out of the shower, I realize I have no clothes other than the ones I have lived in, scrubbed in a sink, lived in some more for the past two days, the ones that began in Dallas and went over the border into a Mexican prison and met a strange man who took me back to my car… My car! I layer the tiny motel towels around me, eventually giving up and wrapping myself in a sheet from the bed as I turn on the TV. I land on the local news, reporting live from in front of the gate to a military facility.

I gasp as I hear the reporter detail the story:

An auto theft proved deadly when the driver led police onto Offut Air Force Base today. Local sheriff John Brown stated that he received a phone call reporting a stolen car and began pursuit just outside of the base. The driver forced his way onto base through an exit. He was then stopped at a barricade at the main gate entrance. When he continued to make erratic maneuvers, an official from the base shot and eventually killed the man.

But it is the next few lines that make me drop to my knees.

In an astonishing twist on this already shocking story, the authorities now report that the stolen vehicle belonged to a woman who has been missing from Texas for over two days. The woman’s name is Joan Gillespie. If you have any information on her whereabouts, please contact the local sheriff’s department. We now share with you a statement from the missing woman’s husband, courtesy of KWCO TV in Dallas:

And then, on the fuzzy screen of an old tube-style TV in a dark motel room in Nebraska, my husband, my Peter, looks right into my eyes.

Baby, the kids and I love and miss you. If you see this, please come home.

His face darkens.

And if instead I am saying this to some sick man who has my wife hostage, listen carefully. We have the full force of the police and the military working to find Joan. We will find her, and you. Please, make the right choice and contact us first.


As per the prompt, here is the local news story that inspired the above fiction:



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