At the bridge Rowan Billiet takes hold of my wrist to lead me down the steep path to the creek. His forefinger and thumb gripping my wrist hard enough to leave a red mark.
It is just a playful gesture, I am thinking. The way my grandfather runs his callused fingers through my hair and I am not supposed to flinch or whimper or cry for that will hurt Grandpa’s feelings.
Beneath the bridge there is a large dark rectangular shadow in the water that is the shadow of the bridge rippling like something alive and breathing. The shallow water near shore is heaped with rocks but also concrete rubble and rusted iron rods and it is here that Rowan pulls me toward to see something that looks at first like slow-bobbing clothes or rags or something woolly. Unless I shut my eyes (as Rowan would not allow me to do) there is nowhere else to look.
See? That’s something ain’t it, lookit the size of that.
Rowan makes a thin whistling sound.
I don’t understand what I am seeing. My eyes blink and swell with moisture. And the strong smell of it, that comes up in hot wafts like heat from a vent in the floor, that makes me feel faint.
I had “issues” at school so they sent me to the school psychologist who kept pretending to be sympathetic with me, encouraged me to cry if I needed to cry, pushed a box of Kleenex at me, and tried to get me to admit that I “hated” my parents for breaking up our home; I had to hate my mother for sending my father away, and I had to hate my father for leaving. But none of this was true. The only person I hated was the psychologist.
I did not hate my parents at all. I felt sorry for Mom, and all I wanted was for Dad to come back, we would all forgive him.
Then one day some older kids were pushing me in the cafeteria line, and I pushed back, and a kind of flame ran through me–I hate you. Hate hate hate you.
Seeing the look in my face and feeling how strong I was, so suddenly, they were frightened of me. They backed off fast.
From then onward, I did not cry. Not even when I was alone in my bed. After a while Dad become someone I saw at a distance, his face was small and blurred and no longer had the power to make me cry like a pathetic little baby.