Roosevelt Island Daily Exclusive

"Is It Always A Love Story?" Chapter 4

In Chapter 4 from Is It Always A Love Story?, in a late night conversation with his best friend, in the unsafe quiet of a Vietnamese jungle, Peter recalls the most painful turning point in his young life.


Chapter Four

 

Unlike most guys, my moment was so precise I can tell you exactly when I went from kid to man, the instant when nothing boyish breathed in my atmosphere any longer, all possible oxygen swept away as scientists now suspect it happened to Mars. A solar storm roared across every surface and left the planet looking the same but, in the new air, very different.

That moment is when Ginny rushed across the room and into my arms, shaking with fear and sorrow. In the familiar hug, I felt her full body tremble, not just between my arms, but from head to toe. She might have fallen down if I wasn’t holding her.

“Take me with you,” she pleaded, squeezing my shoulders.

The room and everything in it swelled. Too much to absorb, for a nanosecond, Earth paused in its orbit.

On that Saturday evening in the early spring in the Year of Our Lord, 1966, I was seventeen years old, and I wasn’t going anywhere.

I looked over Ginny’s shoulder, through tangles of dark brown hair, and caught Dan straight in the eye. His jacket was on, and he was edging toward the door.

“I’m staying,” I said and felt Ginny’s breasts press against my chest.

“I can’t,” Dan answered. “I can’t,” he repeated silently.

He shrugged, looking helplessly eager to evacuate the stalled pandemonium immediately.

“I know. You go.” I nodded at him. “I’ll stay. I’m not leaving her like this.”

Dan was nineteen and determined to run before being caught with an underage girl. He hadn’t gotten past kissing Ginny’s sister, but panic melts common sense like a blow torch on cheese. The girls’ parents were drunks, at least once a week, and scary.

A minute or two after he closed the door behind him, Dan’s glasspack mufflers popped open the night. By then, Ginny had already asked me if I was sure. She looked up at me, damp eyes darting.

“As sure as I’m ever going to be. I want to keep us together. No fucking around, this time, even if your father wants to shoot me.”

I sat on the arm of a chair and waited, Ginny behind me, standing, her fingers dancing on my shoulders. On that remote hilltop, every disturbance was out loud. Like an effect dragged along behind the fading of Dan’s mufflers, the twin halos of headlights increased above a rise in the road, followed by the hiss of tires, the metallic hum of their car.

“I’ll take the kids upstairs,” Gayle volunteered.

We listened to the car doors slamming shut and estimated the time between that and their wobbling drunkenly up to the concrete block they called a porch. When the front door opened, it was just them, us and the gust of night air.

“I’m not running away,” I said before I realized nobody was listening.

Both sets of their eyes looked crazy, even a little panicked. Neither prepared for an invader hanging behind. I thought about standing up but hung back with Ginny instead.

Saturated with alcohol, neither of Ginny’s parents had much fight in them. Hell, it occurred to me later on, it was one in the morning. Both spent the day catching up on grocery shopping and housework, before breaking for dinner and heading out for a drunk expected to carry them into Sunday. The storm I expected blew over without any lightning at all and very little thunder. Here, I was, ready to be brave, and it was unnecessary. The enemy was soaked, and there was no battle over Ginny, not yet.

When they saw me half-standing, my butt on the arm of their over-stuffed chair, Ginny right behind me, the fight in their faces lessened without relenting entirely.

“I’m sorry,” I blurted quickly. “I know you told us not to, but I was worried about her. You probably don’t like that either, but I can’t just make it go away to keep you from being mad at us. I love her. I’ll aways love her. I had to come back,” I added after a pause because they seemed too pushed back already.

A few hours earlier, still sober enough to be in command, Ginny’s had mother pulled into the driveway, trapping Dan and me between her short, chubby torso and the house. It was too damned late to flee.

Our timing couldn’t have been worse. My only hope was that, in the dusk, a few feet apart, she would not recognize me.

“Can you help us with directions to Glen Aubry?” Dan asked, playing doofus.

“I’m sure Peter can tell you,” she responded, hugging a bag of groceries as if we might try to steal them.

Her unhesitating path up the concrete steps and through the door left Dan and me awkward and alone in the dark.

All is lost, I was thinking, from a bright spring awakening to a disaster.

About two miles down the road, images of the confrontation Ginny must be fighting her way through came flipping into my head.

“I am a pussy, running away,” I said, “running away like that. I should’ve taken the bastards on.”

“Good at dodging bullets, are you? These fuckers out here in the sticks, Petey Boy, they all have rifles. You’re not going to look so good, going through the life with your nuts shot off or with holes in you like a Swiss cheese.” He turned mimmic. “‘He was an intruder. He  was wagging his dick at my daughter. I had to defend her. Boom!’”

“He’s just a little piss pot, you know, her father. I could kick his ass in a minute.”

“That would really help you out at the trial,” Dan said, making the right turn past the darkened church and onto Route 11.

Somehow, maybe by moping like I was on death row, I eventually got Dan to drive back, confident that Ginny’s parents were such determined booze hounds, nothing would keep them from their Saturday night binge.

Now, the sketchy plan I had for jiggling things back to normal, back to walking the line as we had been, fell apart. Ginny’s mother, hands on her hips like a double-handled mug, pudgy and short, and her thin, wiry father were staring at us, trying to get the unexpected clutter in their overheated living room in focus.

Be careful with Mom, I thought to myself. She’s tricky. She landed on me once already. Dad had no choice but to defend his home, and I believed he was scarred shitless of her, as well. That was my quick calculus.

“Where are the kids?” her mother asked.

“Upstairs,” Ginny said. “Gayle took them up.”

She looked to the side, curling, it seemed, around her stuck husband.

“Give us a second, then, to get settled. You and Peter sit right here and wait. We have to air this out. Paul, I think we need a fresh pack of cigarettes. I’m putting on some coffee…”

Then, Ginny and I were alone. We shared a discrete smile. We’d survived.

Later, Ginny said that my being there kept them from exploding the minute they walked in the door. Screaming was frequent, but private. Alcohol, I figured, was a factor too. How can you shoot someone when you’re too whacked to stand without wobbling? There are angry drunks and happy drunks. Ginny’s parents were safely in the middle, and for now, neither had enough functioning gray matter to make much out of the shock of finding me parked in their living room, separating them from their daughter.

With daylight creeping over the horizon, a set of rules were laid down for Ginny and me in return for letting us stay together. Chief among them, we were not to sneak around their backs anymore. Ginny and I agreed to let them know exactly when and where we were at all times and what we were doing. I agreed, of course, certain it would sooner or later make a liar out of me. Although I’d drop my utterly idiotic plan to get Ginny pregnant as a way to force them let us be together, I’d still find ways to let the juices flow, at least once in a while.

“Pretty stupid,” I told Cal one night while listening to the uneven silence, not ready to sleep yet.

“Hormones speaking,” he surmised. “What did you expect from being seventeen, genius? It’s what boys do, and you know, we don’t tell the whole truth about it. Why would we?”

“I think it was more than that. I wanted to fuck her, of course. I’m not queer. But I also wanted to be with her forever. I was so sure I wanted to marry her. You know that first time you fall in love and it just knocks you on your ass?”

“Been there…”

“It felt like I’d always love her, her and nobody else. I remember standing outside her door, watching for her parents’ headlights to break the horizon, and fumbling with the words. I guess everybody gets that at least once. ‘Love’ just ain’t big enough, but there is no other word.”

“All right, in answer to your previous question, then,” Cal interrupted. “Yes, stupid, stupid to want to get married when you’re seventeen, your girlfriend knocked up, and you, a high school drop out with a lousy job at Monkey Wards. That just about defines stupid.”

“God, it seems like another lifetime…”

“It was,” Cal confirmed. “We’re all fools for love sometimes…”

“Cal, don’t go all country and western on me, now. I can’t take it.”

“Fuck you, McCarthy. Let’s get some sleep.”

“A good idea, if ever there was one. Who wants to kill without a good night’s sleep?”

“Absolutely.”

A complete chapter list can be found here.

Find Is It Always A Love Story and all of my other books on my Amazon Author Page.

 


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