It Can’t Be
A Different Kind Of Tears
I had a lot to think about… I’d spent most of the ride to Jackson furious because as far as I knew Sookie was ‘fine and dandy’ while I’d been franticly making an ass out of myself… If it really just hadn’t worked out, then I would’ve eventually been able to move on, but as it was, I was in a holding pattern. I knew that. Every woman I’d been with since had the same name. ‘Not Sookie’.
I hadn’t even closed my door yet when Eric started in. “You hugged her!?”
“She needed a hug.”
“Psssh. I needed a father. Sometimes you just go without.”
“Sometimes you just have to wait a while for what you need.” 16 years. I’d needed to hug her for 16 years.
“Oh…. God… What did she say?”
“Are you sure you want to know? You said earlier that I was the one that wanted answers.”
He rolled eyes and huffed. “Yeah… I’m just pissed. Did she say anything about why?”
I nodded. “She was raped…”
He turned in his seat to face me as much as his long legs would let him. “WHAT!?”
I nodded again as I fiddled with my keys. “A friend of ours offered her a ride home from work when I was out of town… he drugged her and raped her while she couldn’t fight back. And she didn’t tell me because she knew I’d kill him.”
“Why wouldn’t she want him dead!?”
“She probably did, but she didn’t want me to go to jail… She probably would’ve told me if the police had taken her seriously when she tried to report it. The rape is why she thought about abortion… why she decided on adoption…”
“How did she know I wasn’t his then?”
“Well, baby pictures aside… The guy that did it had an olive complexion, dark eyes and hair… but Sookie had seen my baby pictures… You even looked like me then.”
He was quiet for a few minutes other than fidgeting. “Ok. So that explains why you didn’t cut my cord, but…”
“She was depressed, maybe anxious when she left me, but after a few months of trying to ignore what had happened to her, she went a little crazy. She checked herself into a hospital before you were born. She was seeing things… Me, the guy who raped her… She wasn’t well… and she still isn’t right.”
“She’s normal though…”
“She’s not normal… Her father beat the shit out of his children. Her mother stopped talking to her because she wanted a college education. She’s been flogging herself over this for years. She hates herself enough to let her son call her a ho. She also did her best to make sure you didn’t have the slightest idea of what she was going through. Not only did she take care of you, but she managed to make something of herself in the process…”
“I’m supposed to be fine with the idea that she was going to have an abor…”
I cut him off. “She was. She was going to have an abortion until she found out that there was no way to be sure you weren’t mine. She didn’t want to abort you. She wanted to abort her rapist’s possible baby. She wasn’t going to put you up for adoption, she was going to adopt out her rapist’s possible baby. Try to not think that she resented you. It wasn’t you. It wasn’t ever you or me. She was traumatized. Deeply. I’ve missed my girlfriend, worried about her and searched for her. You didn’t have a father and you wondered and cried over that… Not only has Sookie felt guilty for what we were going through because of what’s happened, but she’s a rape victim that couldn’t just phone it in because she had you to be strong for… So back to your original question… Yes, Eric, your mother deserved a hug. We all do.”
“You’re just going to forgive and forget?”
“Forgive her for what? Not bouncing back from being raped like it was a hangnail?”
“Don’t put it like that. You know what I’m talking about. I just met you.”
“I’ve already missed out on 15 years of your life. Do you want to waste more time by being bitter about not having a time machine?”
“I guess not.”
“This isn’t a small thing. It’s going to take a long time to be alright… but as far as reasons go, Sookie had a good one. I told her I’d find a therapist for you…”
“Oh, the hell…!”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “She told me you’d put up a fight… So I told her I’d find a family counselor. It’ll do us all some good.”
“How the hell are we going to manage that? Find one halfway between Shreveport and Jackson?”
“Your mother is coming to Shreveport on Friday for the week. We have a lot of catching up to do.”
I’d waited in the car for him to apologize and say goodbye to Sookie and when we backed down the long driveway, Sookie stood on the catwalk over the pond and waved. She was crying again, but it was much less heart wrenching. We spent most of the ride talking. He was suffering the delusion that I had anymore idea of what we were dealing with than he did.
Over the next few days, Eric went back and forth between resenting Sookie and sympathizing for her. I could only blame his age (hormones). He seemed to understand that his mother had been very good at hiding how broken she was, but admitted that he still felt like he missed out… And I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t faltered in my understanding… It helped us both to look up ‘PTSD rape’ online…
As it turned out, not only did it make us feel like shit to have doubted Sookie, but she’d handled things better than some of the accounts we read. Finding suicide statistics for PTSD sufferers shut us both down. It was staggering.
I learned a lot about PTSD… and Eric learned enough to make fun of me… When he found an article that mentioned surrounding oneself with things that reminded them of happier times was a symptom of grief, he told me the S in PTSD stood for Sookie in my case… and then eyed the old barstool that I used at my drafting table. I threw a pencil at him… but I couldn’t argue.
One of the things Sookie told me had been bothering me… she’d been seeing Barry and me… I couldn’t understand why she’d be seeing both of us… her attacker and her boyfriend. It proved to be one hell of a mindfuck until I found that it was more common in war vets than rape victims, but it wasn’t unheard of for someone with PTSD to visualize who they victimized…
It only drove the point home as to how guilt ridden she was…
Jason and Crystal came over to the house the day after we got back from Jackson. They brought Eric’s things to him when we were on our way to the mall. Even if he didn’t want to stay with me more permanently, he’d still need to make his bedroom more comfortable. I invited them to join us for lunch since Sookie had told her brother that everything was fine, but nothing else… Crystal couldn’t eat after hearing what Sookie had been going through… Jason still looked angry when he told us that he was happy for us to finally get to know one another… There was something more to what he was thinking obviously, but I was watching Eric shamelessly eat Crystal’s unwanted lunch.
Bill turned out to be more amusing than ever… When he saw Eric and me digging the hole that would become a pond (the size of Lake Erie), I explained that Eric was my son, that he’d been right… He thought it was ‘a ruse’. He warned me about Eric’s age because he decided that I was ‘experimenting’ with a boy toy. Her father’s belief that Eric and I were a couple didn’t do anything to discourage Lorena away from the fence. We spent 3 hours digging the hole for the pond and we laughed at her through most of it… Eric suggested that we find a felt hat for Bill’s little orange garden gnomette.
The pond… that was fun. He asked, which surprised me, if I would mind. He wasn’t sure yet if he would stay with me permanently, but he missed his pond because working on it helped him think. I’d have agreed anyway, call it making up for the spoiling that I hadn’t gotten to do, but considering that he would need something to help him think more than ever now, I was more than willing. After I told him to make a plan, he spent an hour at my drafting table and returned with a full color rendering and a well scaled elevation. I was impressed enough to toss him my keys so that we could go to the hardware store…
I’d never dyed Easter eggs or done a school project or helped my son with his Soap Box Derby… but I had the pond… It was the first thing we’d ever done together other than our visit to the DMV first thing that morning. While we worked, he explained why we’d have to wait a few days before going to the pet store and that we’d need to take water samples with us, but it would give us some time to get the landscaping taken care of. He wanted to make sure I wouldn’t kill the fish when he wasn’t there to take care of them so I was being educated…
He seemed truly torn… Life with his mother in Jackson versus staying with me to make the best of the time we had left… Knowing what he’d just learned, he didn’t want to leave Sookie alone. He didn’t want her to feel abandoned. Only an asshole wouldn’t be able to understand. As greedy as I was to hog him, keep him to myself like Gollum’s ring, I didn’t want Sookie to be more hurt.
Over the course of the week, Sookie called him every day to ask how things were… and then he’d hand the phone to me so that she could ask me. We were getting along famously, him and me… I’ll admit that is was because we were living in an ideal. Father. Son. Bonding time. But we were having fun getting to know one another. When Bill had disbelievingly asked why he hadn’t been around before, Eric quickly answered that he’d grown up with his mother in Mississippi. No further details. Not that Bill Compton rated high enough to get more facts, but Eric seemed content enough to reiterate the same Cliff’s Notes to my secretary when we went to my office. He was glossing over how upset he still was… and I didn’t like it.
But still, as much fun as we’d been having, Sookie wasn’t getting more than ‘alright’ when she asked him how he liked being with me. I think the poor kid felt like he’d be rubbing her nose in something if he admitted to enjoying himself.
I might have been living in a dream world, but I was very much hoping that we could spend the weekend together, make it until our Tuesday appointment with Claudia Crane without stepping on each others’ toes.
When the phone rang, Eric bolted into my office to yank it from its dock while I checked my emails… and I was still enjoying the relief of not being tempted to search for Sookie. Fuck you Google.
As ‘instructed’, Sookie was calling as she entered the neighborhood so that Eric could be waiting to take Bob and Fu to their ‘vacation pond’ to meet their new friends. He’d found a white one with a wide black band around the middle that he started calling Po-Po and a smaller, younger fish that looked like Bob… he drove me nuts trying to come up with a name for him until I told him that Bob Marley had kids… he picked Ziggy out of the names I could remember. Apparently, Damian and Julian are stupid names for fish… Of course. Po-po and Ziggy. They make sense. I barely had my mouth open to make fun before he reminded me of his middle name.
He kissed her cheek in the middle of telling her to pop the trunk on the way by her.
She put her hands on her hips and watched him fling the lid open. “Nice to see you too.”
“I talked to you every…” He gave a grunt when he tried to lift the cooler out. “Oh my God… Mom! How did you get this in here?”
She snorted. “Empty. I had to McGuyver the pump for the fountain into the garden hose and… It’s your problem now, kiddo.”
He scowled at her. “That’s not funny. I can’t just carry them to the new pond and dump them in. The shock could kill them. I need to… Damn it… I need to ease the cooler into the pond.”
I rolled my eyes at him and took Sookie’s keys to toss them to him and go open the gate to the back yard.
“He’s not driving my car!”
I shrugged at her. “Why not? He’s had mine on the interstate.”
She looked at my Corvette when she gasped like it was a guilty party. “He hasn’t!”
“No. It’s ok. I keep my eyes closed.”
“Eric! That’s not funny.”
I winked at her. “He’s fine. He’s very careful. His foot will barely leave the brake because if he tears up my lawn, Paolo will skin him alive after the mess we made digging the pond.”
She scrunched up her face in a pensive cringe, folding her arms, tapping her foot… until he slid into the driver’s seat… “OH. MY. GOD! Damn PIGMY! Where’s the controls to move the seat back… I think my spleen got squeezed out of my ears!”
She giggled when she ran over to the car to help him so that the steering wheel wouldn’t bruise his ribs. “You think you’re ready to drive when you can’t…”
“Mom! I haven’t had to move the seat. His is already all the way back!”
His complaining only stopped when she pushed the button for him to get the seat to start sliding back. She looked at me over her shoulder and she couldn’t have been more amused. “He trips over the step I keep in the kitchen all the time too. I’m a pigmy, a midget, a dwarf…”
He grunted… “Don’t forget ‘tiny’.”
Her smile faded when she told him ‘that too’… That’s what I used to call her.
While I helped Eric lift the cooler out of the trunk of Sookie’s car, I noticed that she was staring at the back of the house… specifically, the lanai and the great room beyond it.
Eric had barely let her get out of her car, much less notice the house that I’d changed the facade of slightly to blend with the rest of the houses in the development… I watched her look over to Bill’s yard… then the Dawson’s…
I was stuck holding up the cooler so that Eric could slowly scoop water from the pond into the cooler with his hands so that the fresher water wouldn’t shock the fish… Sookie was starting to cry quietly as she realized that my house was the one in her kitchen.
I had no fucking clue of what to do. I hadn’t even thought about it when I asked her to follow through with her visit or when I insisted that she stay with us because I had more than enough room… The house had been designed with a family of 5 in mind. I hadn’t thought about any of it and for a moment I considered running into the house to hide our barstool, the lighthouse painting she’d done for a class and the ‘pretty’ bowl that used to be where she put quarters for the Laundromat that I’d been using on my dryer for shit I’d left in my pockets…
Shit… the more I thought about it, the longer my list got… tiles she’d painted in a ceramics class were in a drawer in my kitchen because I still used them as trivets. The hall upstairs was gallery to framed pictures we’d taken of places we’d been together; not all of them, maybe half. And our Dollar Store coffee mugs were in my cabinet…
Seeing that she was living in a house I designed was hard enough for me and I wasn’t the one that had PTSD…
I cleared my throat. “Hey Eric, why don’t you run in and grab a bowl or a pitcher to move this along?”
“Your back not holding up, old man?”
“Keep it up and I’ll show you old at the gym again tomorrow.”
He snorted and stood up to start flinging water from his hands on his way in.
Since her back was too me, I approached Sookie slowly. “Sookie?”
“I can’t believe you built it.” It was barely a whisper.
“I told you I would. Are you alright?”
“I don’t know.”
I put my hands on her shoulders gently since she still hadn’t turned around. “Sookie, I want you here, but not if this is going to upset you.”
“I’m too happy that you’re willing to talk to me to be upset… this is just… a lot.”
“You’ll let me know if ‘a lot’ gets to be ‘too much’ though, right?”
She nodded slowly. “Promise… The scary part is over.”
“Have you been talking to Octavia this week?”
“Yeah… She says she wants to talk to you.”
“Uh-oh. Am I in trouble?”
“No. She just wants to talk about me behind my back. I told her I’m fine with it. She’s already talked to Miss Crane to give her my history.”
“Eric needs it… the counseling.”
She turned around. “How bad off is he?”
“Well, we’ve been having a great time. Really. I’ve loved having him here. He’s a great kid and everything’s going really well, but when he talks to you, he says ‘alright’ like he’s afraid being honest will hurt you. I don’t have enough of a relationship with him yet to risk pushing him and you’re who he’s protecting by hiding his feelings… I think the counselor might be able to help him realize we need to be honest with one another.”
“How much does he hate me?”
“He doesn’t. He’s bitter without a doubt. I am too. We missed out on a lot, but we understand why. We’re coping. He has his moments when he’ll say something shitty or sideways, a couple of times he’s gone quiet on me like he wanted to say something, but let it pass instead. We’ve been researching PTSD so that we don’t waste the whole session on Tuesday with questions. We aren’t really confused about anything anymore… After some of the information we found, he mentioned that we were lucky to still have you to be mad at.”
She grimaced. “I don’t know how the hell I’m supposed to take that.”
I smiled and gave her a hug. “Take it that we’ll knock the rough edges off eventually and get our shit together.”
She mumbled into my chest, “You’ve always been the optimistic one.”
“And you’ve always been tiny. Did you get shorter?”
She giggled and let me go. “I’m wearing heels.”
“Yeah well, you need stilts.”
“Why? Do you still put your cereal on the top shelf?”
“What cereal? You should’ve warned me about how much he eats. We’ve been to the grocery store 3 times this week. I thought he was eating because he was bored. I upgraded my cable channels and bought him a cell phone. Now he does all three at once.”
She started laughing. “Wait ‘til school starts… a couple of months ago I was putting away laundry… he was at his computer with his homework and IMs, one hand was typing, one had a triple something with cheese, he had 2 friends on speaker phone and his stereo on… He still pulls honor roll though.” Just like her. I had the attention span of a gnat… she used to chair-dance through studying.
“He isn’t sure about staying here for school though.”
“Yes he is. He just doesn’t want to hurt my feelings.”
“I’m not sure I feel comfortable with you being alone either.”
She smiled at me and I wasn’t sure what it meant. That smile used to mean she was up to something. “Where are y’all taking me for dinner?”
She grumbled my name and told me that she wanted to talk over dinner…
The tour of the house made her cry again. Quiet tears that didn’t really seem much more than melancholy. She wouldn’t explain, but she promised that she was ‘fine’… And again, she wanted to hurry to dinner so that we could sit down together and talk… She mentioned that we’d all been waiting too long to have a ‘family dinner’… and she didn’t get any arguments from me or Eric… well, until she teased Eric that she was suddenly in the mood for fish.
After much debate, Sookie sat in the backseat of her car with her eyes covered so that Eric could drive the three miles to the restaurant.
The restaurant was busy since it was Friday night, but we were lucky enough to at least get a booth so that we could have a little privacy.
By the time the waitress took our orders, Eric and I were on pins and needles waiting for what Sookie wanted to talk about since she insisted on sitting across from us.
Eric wasn’t nearly as patient as I was. “You’re killing me. What are we talking about?”
“Well… I can’t tell y’all enough how guilty I feel about all the time my problems has kept y’all apart…” Her chin started to quiver.
“Sookie, I told you…”
“You’ve got to let me finish… K?”
I reluctantly gave her a nod. I didn’t want her to feel like she needed to rehash anything. That’s what the therapy session was for. “Sorry. Go ahead.”
She nodded and pulled some papers out of her purse.
She handed them to me and before I had the chance to look at them, she said, “I need to make things right.”