24 January 1999

I have been upsetting Reba in weird ways almost since I got here. Last night I upset her again.

I had been attempting to draw, and then I had to take a dump. Sean was watching TV and zoning out on the couch so I figured he was okay for a bit. When I came back, Reba barrelled out of her bedroom to tell me I’d left out a sketchbook and some other supplies. I’m not sure which pissed her off more, that I’d left them out or that Sean was still up.

After that she sat out in the living room writing a note, then went and showed it to Rick in their bedroom, then told me about it and said she’d give it to me in the morning (today).

To say I am pissed off at Mike for putting me into this situation would be the understatement of the year.

Reba says I’m reverting to Angry Teenager. Looks to me like she’s reverting to Nagging Nitpicker, and who’d be happy about that? Not me.

I’m really tired of her tattling to Rick, too. I may have Sean calling him “grandpa” but he’s no relation of mine.

Anyway, I had been working on a drawing but after this blowup she asked me if I had started drawing anything — stupid question, she could have seen it when the sketchbook was on the coffee table — and since we were all about the stupid questions I resorted to stupid answers, said No, and then ripped it up when I got it back to the bedroom.

Yesterday we went out driving and passed by the neighborhood where Reba and Dad had bought 1.25 acres of land several years back. In the divorce, Reba got Dad to sign away his share of it. Now she wants to sell it. Depressing. It’s like a piece of our family history and she’s talking about it like it’s a commodity. But it’s her land, not mine. I’m not entitled to inherit anything from her. Nothing I can do.

Another thing from yesterday that pissed me off was a conversation about Mom. Apparently she was living with a cocaine dealer during the time she was fighting Dad for custody of me and then visitation rights. Reba even thought Mom had been snorting coke herself, since she lost a lot of weight around that time. I suppose it’s possible. But it amazes me that whenever Reba has anything to say about Mom, it’s usually negative in some way. Reba says she avoids negativity in that area, but historically she’s used the tactic of talking about how messed up I was as a toddler and how Reba felt the need to “rescue” me.

It’s not like I need or want Reba to lie to me or cover up any bad stuff Mom might have done. But if you go around for years doing all but calling your stepdaughter’s mom a bad mother, it’s very bad form to deny what you did, years later. And it’s not like she never called my mom a bitch. Yep, that too. Late one night when we lived in Mississippi when she thought I was asleep and she and Dad were having one of their late-night discussions.

I’ll say one thing for Dad: he never said anything mean about Mom to me. He has always been something of a realist and recognizes that he and Mom were just kids who had no business getting married, much less having a kid. Didn’t spell it out in so many words, but. And I know enough about young single moms and the stupid shit they do to basically forgive Mom for anything she did.

Speaking of young relationships. One actually pleasant conversation Reba and I had on the road yesterday: She mentioned, in the past, having gone to the hospital on the Navy base at Millington and having been treated by Dr. Moody. In other words, the father of my first boyfriend. He’d look at her last name and tap his forehead and say, “I should know you, shouldn’t I…? Hm. Oh yeah, our kids dated, didn’t they?” The thought that Daniel’s dad remembered me even though Daniel and I were only together a month and I don’t think I ever actually met Dr. Moody in person cheered me up a good bit.

I wonder if Daniel is married now. I’d ask Marc, but Marc hates him.

Last thing for now. Reba keeps gushing on about Rick and how she’s finally found true love. She then turns to me and says she “knows” I still love Mike.

Mike wasn’t my true love. He was a four-year mistake who happened to be good in bed.

If that doesn’t suit her fairy-tale idealism, nothing I can do about it.

19 January 1999

Well, in the last few days I’ve gone over to Marc’s apartment once for a visit. Marc called and invited me over, so I took Sean with me. Wife was at work. I got to meet the little fella (Logan) and spent some time looking through Marc’s wedding photos and catching up, then watching Marc play video games.

It wasn’t as boring as it sounds. Barry also showed up with his brother Charlie. Ah, yes. Charlie of the Tales of Charlie his older brother used to regale us with in art class. Personality-wise they are night and day. Barry is friendly enough but kind of stoic and introverted, while Charlie’s the charmer. He also, according to Barry, spent time in either a mental hospital or in juvie, or possibly both. He also used to hang out with Doug, for whatever that’s worth. I know some characters, apparently.

Marc seems as gloomy as ever. I wonder if it’s a happy marriage. I wonder if I should even be wondering.

When I left, Sean was asleep. Barry carried him out to the car for me.

14 January 1999

Speaking of irritation. It’s wearing on me. Reba is traumatized by the assault on 3 January, I’m traumatized by all the shit with Mike, neither of us is at our best when traumatized, and on top of that her pain meds are scrambling her brains. Needless to say, we’re grating on one another’s nerves.

Talked to the Navy judge advocate general (JAG) officer and found out some interesting stuff. Apparently, conviction for a felony crime is grounds for divorce in Tennessee. Unfortunately, JAG doesn’t do family-court stuff, including divorce. So I’ll have to wait until I’ve got a decent job and, of course, until Mike’s convicted.

I’ve been making lists of what I want from the house with Mike and what I don’t want. Basically I want my stuff and Sean’s stuff. They can burn down Mike’s stuff for all I care. Once ours is not there anymore. I’ve also been apartment-hunting. I think I want to go with Flag Manor in Millington. Their move-in costs are not insane.

Storm Bear, one of my internet friends (no really, just a friend — he’s happily married and monogamous and I’m not even interested), called today but I wasn’t around. I’ll have to call him back.

11 January 1999

Big jump of nine days.

After the previous entry, still no joy from the victim-assistance people. I had gotten about $200 more out of the ATM, but after that my card was locked down. I knew I would have to leave the state before I ran out of money, which would have soundly fucked me.

I remember Reba calling me while I was still at the motel to tell me she and Rick had been assaulted by four young men in a robbery attempt and gotten beaten up pretty badly.

I remember going to Kroger to pick up some Immodium (when I get highly stressed like that there’s a really good chance I will get the shits… no good on a long drive) and spied a large blank journal with roses all over the cover. Ah ha, I thought, I can journal this whole mess, so I bought it too.

I remember driving overnight from eastern North Carolina to western Tennessee. Let me tell you how much fun it is to take a piss break in a gas station with nothing to lay your sleeping son on so you have both hands free, and you sure as hell were not going to leave him in the car. It is not fun at all. He didn’t think it was very fun either.

I remember getting to Memphis, specifically to a trailer park in Bartlett, and being set up in Reba’s and her boyfriend Rick’s front bedroom facing the street. There was a bunch of stuff stored in there, some of which I recognized from our last house as a family before she and Dad split, but there was also room enough to get around and the bed had more than enough space for me and the kiddo.

I remember a neighbor coming over with a box of hand-me-down clothes… for me, not Sean, because other than my new underwear I didn’t have squat.

I remember talking to Dad on the phone at some point, telling him the story, and him telling me he would send me money to help out.

Reba threw me a low-key birthday celebration on either the ninth or the tenth (I turned 25 on the tenth). Doug came over after I hadn’t seen him in four years. Not far into the conversation he came out with, “So, you gonna look up Guerrero?”

He was talking about Marc, who was my second to last boyfriend in high school with whom I reconciled for a while when I was in the Army. I hadn’t behaved myself, he hadn’t wanted to move near me (at least, he never brought it up, and I didn’t think to suggest it), and so we had broken up again. After I’d found out Mike and I were expecting Sean, I told my family we were married (we’d been hoping to have a wedding after the elopement but were afraid no one would show if they knew we were already married), and I guess someone had told him, because he called me soon after. That had been 1995 and the last time I’d talked to him. Over these past several months I’ve been thinking about him a lot, though, and had already made up my mind since getting back to Memphis that he was the one person I’d known there who I’d most wanted to find again.

So Doug bringing him up was weird. I said, “Marc? What made you say ‘Marc’?”

Doug kind of smiled. I said, “What happened?”

He said, “Well, last time I saw him, he told me he would have married you if things worked out differently.”

That floored me. So, of course I’ve been thinking about Marc almost nonstop since then. Finally I caved in and looked him up in the phone book today. Apparently he lives in Raleigh, so I called him and left a message on his machine.

He called back, and… he’s married. With a nine-month-old son named Logan.

Yeah. Logan. The name of one of Marc’s favorite comic-book heroes, also known as Wolverine. I still know that about Marc. The baby’s name was his wife’s idea, though.

Marc and I talked for a while and he told me he’s seen Barry from art class and that T.C., Maria, James, Daniel, and Damien are all still around. Just about all of them are married and just about all have kids.

I wasn’t particularly interested in them. I’d been interested in him, and now I was crushed and wishing I’d left well enough alone.

Reba returning home from seeing her lawyer did nothing to raise my spirits. In just a little over a week I’m being reminded of why I hadn’t wanted to stay in the house in Atoka in the first place, seven years ago. It’s a weird place, being irritated by a person you are grateful to, but here I am.

02 January 1999

I had become an Avon lady before I became a Kroger deli clerk and was finally picking up some steam with it. Not huge money, but better than I’d been doing. Saturday was ordering day and I had a decent order to drop off.

Plus I had a paycheck from Kroger that I had to deposit.

So I had two very good reasons to leave the house.

Getting the nerve up was a nightmare. I got a phone call from Kroger as I was percolating around to making my move and they wanted to know if I could come in. Mike was standing right there, I don’t even remember why, and I said sure, I can do that. I felt terrible because I knew I wouldn’t be going in. He knew where I worked and if I’d tried keeping Sean at the weekend daycare while I worked those hours, he knew where that was too and all kinds of unpleasantness might have happened. So the same man who had angrily insisted I get a job, any fucking job at all, had now lost me one that had taken me months to find. Thanks?

Back in the front room, I looked around at all the stolen equipment and Mike looked at me and said to Scott, “Look at her. She’s excited about it.” I smiled, knowing that if I didn’t I was likely to put myself into immediate danger. Meanwhile I was thinking things like, Almost four fucking years of marriage and he still doesn’t know me.

As I was about to leave for the bank I asked Sean if he wanted to come along. Sean ran to the front door and started chanting, “Outside! Outside!” I got him dressed and we left.

I dropped off my Avon order and then kiddo and I went to the bank. Even on January 2, it was closed. Fine. I didn’t want to deposit my paycheck anyway. I took $200 out of the bank and we went to Fort Bragg. I called Reba from one of the pay phones. As soon as she answered I burst into tears.

I had been thinking up to this point that maybe there was some third way in between going to the cops and doing nothing that would get the stolen equipment returned but not send Mike to jail. No, Reba said, you have to go to the police. She tried to call Mike at home and the line was busy; could have been Mike calling his mother, could have been one of them on the internet. Reba called me back and we talked about how to do things. I did not have to go back home, she pointed out. She’s an old hand at hotel and motel admin because she worked for a lot of years as a night auditor. We’ll get you checked into a room under an assumed name, she said. That made me feel a lot better and I promised to keep her posted. We got off the phone and I headed for the military police (MP) station.

As I walked in, it was this hallway with a checkin window on the right side just past the front doors. There were a couple guys milling around in the office beyond the window. I said to them, “You know the rigger shop on Gruber Road? There’s been a burglary.”

“We just found out about that this morning,” one of them said. “How did you know about it?”

“I know who did it,” I replied.

His face went very solemn (though not angry) and he immediately hopped to and invited me to come in.

I gave them the particulars and they said well, with the stolen property being stored off-post, the MPs would not have jurisdiction to make an arrest — but Criminal Investigation Division (CID) did have jurisdiction, so they would have to call a guy in. It wouldn’t take long. They invited me and Sean to sit in a little side office and wait for him.

He came through the door in civvies and the first question out of his mouth was, “Why are you doing this?”

I told him I knew that if I didn’t, I’d be an accessory after the fact and that would make an already bad situation even worse. I thought afterwards that another good reason for me to report it was that if Mike and Scott had never been caught, someone at the rigger shop or at their parent company might have taken the fall for it — every Army unit has a unit fuckup. So either way, Mike had to go down.

We talked a good while and after he got the particulars of the crime, he started giving me all this information and material about victim assistance because, as the witness to two felony crimes (breaking-and-entering and grand larceny), I was entitled to it. While we were having this conversation Sean, who was still in diapers, not only went Number Two but leaked up his back. So we got done as quickly as we could because the CID guy needed to arrange the arrest before Mike got suspicious and tried to hide the stolen property anyway.

I went back to the post exchange and as I was walking into the department store itself (kind of like Walmart or Kmart or Target), this guy walking out felt the need to tell me my son had had an accident. Thanks, dude, I thought I was about to have a seizure or something. I don’t know why I had walked out of our house without Sean’s diaper bag. Panicked, I think. It would have been reasonable to take it with me but I hadn’t been reasonable anymore except for my basic drive to deal with the problem Mike had caused. Must have used up all my reasonable points. I was afraid he’d suspect something, I think. But I got Sean some diapers and wipes and clothes and I think I got myself some underwear and we were good to go.

After that, Reba helped me check into a local motel under an assumed name.

Everything’s kind of a blur. I know she and I talked about Mike being royally pissed off and calling her to scream at her, “Where is my wife???” and I must have hidden the car from view away from the main road, because apparently he’d driven around searching. I know I talked with the CID guy again and he told me they’d made the arrest and recovered everything, and also that the victim-assistance people were all stranded in a blizzard in Oklahoma. (Great.) I know I called Kroger at some point, told them what was going on, and apologized because I was going to have to resign as it was no longer safe for me to go to work.

But Sean and I were safe from his father so I was taking things a day at a time.