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Sat.22.Feb.2020 19.29

The Halloween Ball 1973

Chapter I

"I roll the dice. 7-11. You'll either take me down or you'll take me to Heaven, and I'm so-o-o glad... I took a chance on you, baby."(1) "Halloween week-end"! The regular crowd. New crowds. New music. New people. Probably new dance steps. Some folks looked forward to a "cotillion". We looked forward to those "special week-ends" when there was some kind of function. It wasn't much, compared to, oh, let's say, "the big cities", but for a little place tucked-away in what was then, the out-lands of a still rural America, it could certainly draw a diverse crowd from villages, towns, cities, other states and even, from time-to-time, other countries. Holiday parties were, for us, our "cotillion", and in their own respect, they were a cause for a bit of extra excitement. Tonight was just one of those nights, this week-end was just one of those week-ends. Fun! We were going to have fun! And with the the new personalities interjected into the regular crowd, we could get away from our own, usual tedium, talk about other topics, events, places, politics. The world was coming to visit, and they were coming to visit US!

The "Halloween" week-end was also, to an extent, the end-of-season too. Nights started to get cold, and the snows were just up-river, slowly crawling down from the North, over the mountains, into the valley. Any evening now, after a day of sun-shine and cool breezes, things would change, the skies grow grey and some-times with-in mere moments, travel would become just about impossible, with a sudden squall or out-right blizzard effectively locking us into our own places of residence for the duration. Folks wouldn't be out and about as much, and week-end stay-over guests would be fewer and fewer until, when the world around us finally froze, for months on end, the place would become, as it was, to us anyway, for the most part, "home". Friends and neighbours here, were more family, and week-ends at "The Lodge" were when we'd all gather together to up-date one-another on who did what, who met whom, what happened at work, have a drink and "Whoa-oh-oh! Listen to the music"(2). It was mostly the music any-way. Great tunes on the juke-box, from "yesterday", today and, always to amazement, tomorrow too. There was always a soon-to-become hit added with each new installation in the list of red tags selection and that made it all the more interesting and added to the attraction and entertainment. So this evening, getting all things together, preparation for the "night out" had an increased sense of excitement about it.

The 45s, black vinyl discs of sweet melodies and rhythms to keep feet moving and body in motion, were stacked on the Victrola spindle as high as possible and the tunes and lyrics were set to non-stop, save those moments when, at the end of one song-play, the next platter on the stack dropped, the tone-arm swung and gently set-down into the groove of the following number on the "hit parade". "We're on the right track. We're on the right track now-ow-ow..." (3). Step, step, turn, step, shuffle-shuffle, shower, shirt, hair, pants, socks and shoes, all in time with the beat and the lyric. The mood was high, the anticipation was a glory. And there was a little something else that made this particular night even just a bit more exciting... "Graduation". High school was now all in the past. Eight months ago, all the requirements of a "proper education" had been completed, and a mere 2 months ago, life had slid into "home base" on the run toward "legal age" for drinking in the bars, driving at will and... well... registration with the "Selective Service". The "draft" was still in effect and registration was mandatory. The memory of standing at the counter, giving personal particulars to that strange clerk who mechanically recorded the details on a pre-printed form, was quite clear, still fresh, and, in spite of the frivolity of the immediate moment at hand, hung, like an impending death sentence, just over-head like an ominous storm cloud ready to burst with typhoon-like anger. The trip to the "Draft Board" had been a "birthday present" from mother who insisted the matter be settled immediately. It was a requirement, after all, and one that couldn't be ignored. Life, as life is, doled-out elations as well as depressions on the very same day. First steps in essential education completed, now was the "gift" of drinking and smoking in the company of others, driving off into horizons with-out bounds or borders and... the possibility and probability of being "called into service", to be sent off over one particular horizon where, on arrival there-at, the past 18 years of fun... and grooming, as it were, might be snuffed-out, completely and permanently, in one second. "People all over the world, join hands. Start a love train, love train!"(4) This week-end could be the beginning of a super-stupendous dream-come-true future of exploration and grand success! This week-end could be the last... just the last. But right now, out-side the window, the sun had set, the seconds were passing with each beat of the music, "Everybody was dancin' in the moon-light"(5) and there was much more of that to come in a mere couple of hours away. "Ya gotta keep on truckin'"(6). Tonight was for the good times, to put the rest of life to the side where it could wait to be what it would be. What would come, would come, what-ever would come, what-ever was to come. Tonight was for celebrating the accomplishments and the approach into what they called "adult-hood" and the dreams of successful responsibilities, achievements, goals, aspirations as an "individual" and, no longer "somebody's child". Tonight, this week-end it was time to "boogie down"(7) and let the rest attend as it would. The world right now, was an electric billboard, flashing, bright, brilliant, jubilant. Step, step, back, step, forward, turn, turn, turn... and the music played on.

Had to leave a bit early. Drive into town, roll through the park. Maybe some-body would be there who'd want to head out to The Lodge too and was in need of a lift. It's what we did: catch-as-catch-can. The park was where we'd gather, at "The Top", with the great view of the river valley vista and the mountain on the opposite side, most often on sultry Summer nights. Hours would pass on the breezes as we sat on the grass, or on the hood of a car, chatting, laughing, singing into the night. It was also the place where we'd meet, especially on week-ends, and if, by chance, some-body would drive by on the way out, most often to The Lodge, transport was a word away. Into the car, off and away, out of "the city", along naturally dark country roads to the escape from any and all cares and woes. Street lights and the din of traffic left behind, a turn-off the pavement onto the old dirt road, and about a mile along, acres of open meadow, and the welcome of the glorious (in its own right) "Main House", set up on the hill, detached from the rest of the world as we knew it, where familiar and strange, resident and sojourner were friend and family or about to become either and/or both. No one with a need and desire to get out of town was denied. The destination was common amongst, and, besides, the company was always a delight as the car rolled along through the night, the radio playing, conversations interrupted by spontaneous choir of sing-along. The "party" began then, the drive was the "opening act" and extended a night's reveries "pre-show". And who might be at the park waiting was always a little mystery of its own. One never knew who'd be there, not that it mattered. One had the vehicle, one was on one's way, one drove through, one extended the thoughtful courtesy. "One" was looking forward to it. "It's a family affai-ai-air. It's a family affai-air."(8)

And the music played on... record after record, duplicating some of what would be heard on tonight's juke-box titles.

A resounding "BOOM!" such as thunder that heralded the arrival of a massive storm! The air in the room reverberated waves of the cannonade and the vibrations rumbled in the gut.

What the.....?

"CRACK"! and the wood of the door to the room, closed at this point, to keep the music in and provide for civil privacy during clothing change, gave way, splitting and splintering. Turning to look at the source of the commotion, there, in the door, a hole... and in the hole... a FIST!

The fist retreated, the door had been thrust opened by the force of the punch, and now, more cracking as it was being torn from its hinges and the crash as it was tossed to the floor.

Frozen in place, in dread and disbelief of the reality, the shock of the violence that had burst in with-out notice and for no immediate reason, obvious or apparent, the only thought that would congeal and repeat as if bouncing about against the inner skull... "What the....?" indeed! Just WHAT the.....?

Heavy-footed, "he" advanced, and with-out provocation or words, eyes glazed and glaring in absolute rage, reached out, grabbed the Victrola, and with one sweep, lifted it and ripping the electric cord from the socket on the wall into which it was plugged, sent it flying through the air and into the opposite wall. The music stopped and for the briefest of moments, the room went dead-silent. The records lay scattered on the floor, the Victrola, in pieces, there as well.

He moved to the shelves along the wall, where books of hard-cover and paper-back were neatly placed. He pulled a handful from the collection and in a rage-rasping voice demanded: "WHOSE ARE THESE?!?!?"

"Mine." was the only fright-choked almost whispered reply.

Swinging his arm, the books took to the air like ammunition forced from the barrel of a heavy-gauge piece of artillery aimed with perfect site. Some volumes opened and went astray, into different directions across the room, others made their target, striking directly in the head, face, arms and chest. Who was the "enemy" became obvious and about to be taken down. And still, there'd been no reason given. This was "spontaneous combustion", the gates of some Hell had been torn open, chaos, confusion, destruction and devastation was set loose and free! Death, it seemed, had risen out of its bowels and before too much more time had passed, it would take a soul with it. Its employer, its master? My father, insane with anger, furious rage, standing there, animated with only one directive, one purpose: my annihilation. Truth be told, this wasn't the first time in the past 18 years that such an endeavour was taken. It wasn't really uncommon any more. This was just another repeat performance of violence that had become almost routine over the years. But tonight, it all seemed to reach a crescendo, unique in its heat, determination, ferocity. He wanted death, and if not death, copious amounts of blood... my blood.

"I've fucking had it! Do you hear me? I've fucking had it with you! Fucking had it! Do you hear me? I've fucking had it with you!" The words just kept repeating, rasp, harsh, as if being spewed from a throat full of shards of broken glass. And as if to punctuate each syllable, "fucking", "had" and "hear" were accompanied by a fist-pound to shoulders, chest, arms, again and again and again. In the confusion of having not even the slightest idea what had caused this, tonight's out-burst, my mind reeled. Should I simply drop to the floor in defeat and surrender? Would that bring this to an end? Or no, if I do that, it might play into his delusion of my weakness and aggravate him all the more. If I remain standing, it might be construed as defiance. If not, disgusting, deplorable acquiescence. I couldn't run to the now open passage-way of the door; he'd positioned him-self, strategically, to eliminate all potential for escape. After all, THIS was an ex "Staff Sergeant" of the U.S. Army, a commander who'd survived a war. He KNEW his strategies and no prisoners were to be taken under ANY circumstances or conditions.

The tirade continued, the shouting grew louder, harsher, more violent, more seemingly blood-tinged.

"I've FUCKING HAD IT with YOU!" and any item or object in the room at hand was grabbed, with firm intent and determination, the question "Whose it THIS?" repeated and with each admission of ownership "Mine." the item was sent air-borne, lunged directly, no matter what it was... books and bric-a-brac, a desk lamp so as to strike and cause the most harm, damage possible.

Up-stairs in the house, mother heard the ensuing, horrific fulmination and with mercurial speed, gathered together her other three off-spring. Like roaches suddenly taken by surprise, bathed by a flood of light at the flip of a switch, she and her brood made hasty exit to the car in the drive. The front door of the house slammed as they ran out at greatest possibly velocity. The car engine roared out of the drive-way and careened down the street. Left behind, a homicidal maniac and his prey, possibly his "victim". With-out even the slightest effort at intervention or pacification, she'd deserted the battle-field, leaving her husband and first-born engaged in purely one-sided war, the results of which were almost certain: death... to one, the other, the elder, the child, or both, if that's as Fate would have it. But more obviously, the out-come was more than obvious... and she hadn't a single care nor even a remote inkling of concern. Self-preservation and that of her "chosen" was the only matter at hand, and she had ensured that by her departure. The rest would be a matter of history... one way or another. And the carnage at home raged on.

At the foot of the bed was a foot-locker. As with the shelves, the foot-locker held multiple books, hard and soft-cover, but predominantly hard-cover. Some of them were text-books from school, others, reference books of various sorts. It was of a weight that normally, it was, when necessary, moved by sliding or pushing across the floor. But at this moment, fuelled by pure, vicious, rage-distilled adrenaline, it was lifted from the floor, held at waist-height and again, the question roared, "WHOSE IS THIS?!?!?"

"Mine." came the honest reply and with that, the foot-locker, still closed and latched securely, was lunged into the open space, air-borne and travelling directly at its intended target. It struck with the combined brutal force with which it had been projected and it's mass and weight, almost perfectly but directly across the chest.

"THUD", then "CRACK", then "THUD" again as the foot-locker bounced off ribs and came to light on the floor. Meanwhile, from the force, I went down, at last, on my back, onto the concrete floor. I couldn't get up, and, because of shock, from the on-set of the foray to the moment of impact, couldn't move in any direction. There, on the floor, I laid, on my back as "needles" pierced the internal muscles and organs inside my now-injured rib-cage. I was still very much conscious and aware of the surroundings, but due either to injury or pain, or simply, again, the shock, I couldn't reposition myself to avoid any further onslaught or to work toward an escape from further attack.

Noting, with care, my supine position, he lost no time in approach and, positioning him-self directly on my right, lifted a booted foot and DOWN it came, directly centre, on my chest. He shifted his weight to the direction of the foot placed squarely on my sternum and I felt the pressure as it bore down on me.

"OH! JUST DO IT!" the thought SCREAMED in my head, echoed in my skull. JUST FUCKING DO IT! GET IT OVER WITH! I JUST DON'T FUCKING CARE ANY MORE!" It was a combination prayer and plea. I'd "fucking had it with you" too! You and the entire 18 years of constant battle, simply for the liberty to take the next breath. For fucks' sake, I'd TRIED to oblige! 150 aspirin (most of which were vomited back up before they had the opportunity to work "as intended"). A cocktail of house-hold bleach with a touch of mouth-wash to "lighten the flavour" (again, and almost immediately, vomited before having sufficient time to prove effective). And... AND... I still bore the scar left from the razor's slash to the wrist! Had your "charming, now cowardly idiot wife" not made the unfortunate discovery and intervened, tonight's production would haven't even been a passing thought! And, as local "justice" is served, no doubt, you'd have had me classified as "depressed" and "psychotic", my demise a simple suicide as a result of my "mental illness" and perhaps a flourish of "self-loathing". (Oh, why not?) But NO! For what-ever reason, she hauled me into the car and, all the way into the emergency room, repeated "It was an accident. You were shovelling snow and slipped. You fell and your hand came down across the edge of the shovel. Do you hear me? Do you understand? Jesus Christ! What are you going to do to me next?" (THAT was about 2 years prior to tonight.) OH FOR FUCK'S SAKE AND MINE... JUST PUT YOUR WEIGHT DOWN! DO US BOTH THE FUCKING KINDNESS! DO IT! FUCKING DO IT!

I closed my eyes, relinquished all resistance and in the now-calm darkness behind shut eyes, exhaled, leaving less impedance between the sole of the boot and the life-sustaining organs beneath it. I waited, patiently, for the sound of crunching bone, and the peace that would, eventually follow. At long, LONG last, this would be the end of it, the final performance.

He'd gone silent, completely silent, save for the heaviness of his enraged breathing. But the pressure on my chest didn't increase... instead, it lifted. He took his foot off my chest and as if simply removing him-self from a church after Sabbath services, he strolled out the door. I laid there, motionless, listening, heard the foot-steps ascending the stairs to the upper floor. The room, the house, the world was as silent as could possibly be imagined.

I waited until I heard foot-steps above. He was in the kitchen. I pulled my remaining wits about me, and, gathering them and the change of clothing that I'd laid on the bed in preparation for what was to have been a night of enjoyment, now strewn about the room in disarray, quickly grabbed the keys to the car and in blindness of every-thing but the exit from the house, strode, in long, wide, sweeping, but ever-so light steps, so as not to give ANY indication as to my escape, went out to the car, got in, started the engine and with-out so much bother as to close the door, THREW it into gear and with even greater speed than mother had taken leave, bolted down the street... and AWAY... into the night.

I knew where mother had gone to when she cowardly cut and ran, brood in tow. I headed directly for her mother's house, some miles away.

I pulled the car up in front of the house and, no longer trembling in fear, but now, in anger of my own, I walked up to the back door where I could walk directly into the kitchen. I'd no doubt she'd be there, at table, behaving as if she'd only just dropped by for a kindly visit and chat. Walking in, my expectations were confirmed. There she sat, back to the door, her mother, my grand-mother, seated across from her, facing the door, as she usually was. As I entered, grand-mother looked up at me and with-out a word, stood up and left the room. I went round the table, sat in the now empty chair facing my mother, directly. She just stared at me, no particular expression of note, just a plain, simple stare, wordless.

Looking her most directly in the eye, I leaned forward, slightly, and in a voice just above a "stage whisper" I spoke, in a clear, determined tone:

"I warn you, be VERY careful how you respond, be VERY careful what you say, but I want you to look at me and I dare you... I FUCKING DARE you to tell me again that he loves me. And again, in all fairness, I WARN you... be EXTREMELY careful about what you say." and I sat back in the chair and waited.

Her facial expression didn't quiver nor alter in the slightest, she didn't even take the time to take a breath, but with almost immediacy she calmly, and almost with a tone of "compassion" replied: "In his own way, he does."

I was dumb-struck, dumb-founded, shocked, appalled, speechless, wordless, almost thoughtless other than passing flashes of absolute and utter disbelief. I was unable to be be angry. Quite frankly, at that point, I'd literally lost the capacity and capability of any emotion what-so-ever. Seriously, this moment shouldn't have been transpiring. I SHOULD have been dead! But looking at this woman, sitting so calmly across from me, the woman who carried me in her womb for 9 months, gave birth to me and nurtured me through the past 18 years and yet, was still capable of delivering such a statement of obvious lies was, to me, astonishing... I was, in the truest sense and definition of the term, "awe". I felt something drip from my bottom lip, reached for the tea napkin on the table and blotted, thinking I must have drooled, mouth agape in shock. Removing the napkin and replacing it on the table I noticed that I was bleeding. My lip had been busted in the fracas at the house. My chest began bothering me as well, as if it were strapped tightly, and what felt like bits of shards were piercing from with-in with every breath taken and released. I glanced down at my shirt. I was bleeding there as well. I wasn't in any "pain" to speak of, but it was obvious, damage had been inflicted. But never mind all that, I was trying to come to terms with the statement I'd just heard, trying to analyse it, mulling it about in an attempt to find some justification, some, perhaps, truth, some quality of credibility to or in it. I needed to accomplish that much at the moment, the rest could wait. Besides, if I were in desperate condition, would no steps be taken to seek proper medical attention? (OH! How, in retrospect, little did anybody in that house, that evening, care about me or my well-being.)

As I grasped for sanity, rationale, even the most remote sense of well-grounded reasoning, she continued: "You have to leave. You HAVE to leave and you HAVE to leave NOW! If you don't, the next time he WILL kill you, and think of the stigma that'll put on the other three, growing up, knowing that their father murdered their eldest brother."

Unbelievably, incredibly, she managed to make it WORSE! The "next time" and "the stigma that'll put on the OTHER three"? So you have NO intention of making ANY attempt to stop this? You left tonight believing THIS would be the end of it and all you had to think about is funeral and court battles? Is THAT what you're here with your mother for? To Hell with me; right? I wasn't supposed to walk in through that door. You were here, with "the other three" so that none of you had any association with the murder. Ah... so THAT'S how your story was to un-fold. These were the thoughts that rushed, like brisk winds across a vast and open tundra. And then...

"You have friends in Albany. You could move to Albany. You can look into that."

No, I didn't have "friends in Albany". I knew one person who was attending college there, and SHE lived in campus housing... in the all-girls dormitories. YOU are very much aware of that fact. But then, having just heard what's slavered from your mouth, "aware" is a term most-questionable. Whether you are "aware" or not, your choice of whether or not to actually "comprehend" is the point of issue here and obviously, you've chosen not only to not comprehend but to simply deflect all responsibilities for any part of this event, and all aspects of it, past, present and future. I said nothing to her in response. There was nothing to be said that would be appropriate. She KNEW what she was saying, had said it so easily that there was no doubt she hadn't given it fore-thought. And in particular, the statement "The next time he WILL kill you." put every-thing in proper perspective. "He WILL kill you.... and I'm not going to stop him." Very well then. At least we both knew where YOU stand in the matter. And so now, all actions are MY responsibility, completely. "He" will kill me. "You" will do nothing. And the out-come will be absolutely of MY choices. Very well then.

I said nothing more and wanted to hear nothing more from her. Not angry, not in the least, rather almost completely devoid of all emotion at that juncture, I simply stood up and walked from the table. A brief visit to the wash-room, I had the opportunity to give a quick check of my appearance and confirm: my lower lip was, indeed, lacerated, my face, where it had received a hearty punch or more, was reddened, the right eye was blackened, bruised. I opened my shirt to reveal more lacerations of the chest and there was a "foot-print" of red where the pressure of a booted foot had been applied. There was no telling of the conditions that lay beneath the skin and I didn't really care at that moment... I couldn't care. There was too much else to be concerned with and about just now, decisions to be made. "The next time" kept repeating in my mind. "The next time. The next time. The next time."

When I came out of the wash-room, mother was still sitting at table, grand-mother had returned to the kitchen and stood beside the table. Neither of them uttered a sound, both of them remaining absolutely still, silent, staring at me. In my own silence, I walked past them, to the door from which I'd entered, and left the house, left them to their own devices, as it were. Neither of them would be of any assistance to me, either in remedy of the situation or in making any proper decisions concerning the matter. "The next time." BOTH of them would simply allow "the next time" to occur. My choices were whether or not I would allow it. The choices were mine, the out-come was my responsibility. I, at the age of just 18 years, was completely, utterly, absolutely alone. Very well then. I was to be forcibly exiled. I owed no debts to any, neither morally nor ethically. I went to the car and decided to go to where I could discuss the situation with compassionate listeners. I headed out of town... directly... to... The Lodge.

Chapter II

Driving all the back-roads, in the darkness, alone, in the silence, made the travel all the longer that night. I sped along, not minding speed limits, determined to get to my destination and nothing else. If no more, I felt the need to, at the very least, make the atrocity I'd just suffered through, well-known by as many others as was possible. There was no good sense in going to "the authorities". What, indeed, would they do? Past experience of similar matters with others had resulted in having both parties simply re-united, back in the very house where the farce had taken place. No, I wouldn't be "put back" in there. Certainly not tonight. No. I'll go to The Lodge and perhaps there, some-body will offer alternatives, choices, solutions. There would be more people, more thoughts, and, above all, compassion. Compassion, an attribute sorely absent from relatives, particularly those who, according to the "Natural law" were supposed to be providers of nurturing, sustainability and survival of the young. I drove on, blind to every-thing around me, focused solely on my present destination.

When, at last, I arrived at The Lodge, I parked the car and walked to the front porch of the "Main House". As I approached, I heard the music from the juke-box inside, mixed with the din of so many voices. The party was well under way, there was laughter, laughter, people enjoying the evening, enjoying each-other's company. I so needed to hear pleasantries, see smiles, to be reminded that the rest of the world was still very capable of kindness and joy. I SO needed to be reminded. I climbed the steps, crossed the grand front porch and stepped in-side. The attendance tonight was as expected. There were people in the front parlour, people in the front hall, people almost wall-to-wall. It was wonderful! I gathered "me", the "me" who was a "regular", a "local", the "me" who knew this place as well as I knew any, and better than others, and headed to the back, to the "dance hall" where the lighting would be lower, the music louder, and, undoubtedly, most of those whom I knew best would be congregated, many already on the dance floor.

I'd no sooner stepped across the thresh-hold when I was spotted by one of the staff members. From across the undulating, swaying crowd of dancers, Pat smiled, nodded and came toward me. When close enough to see my face, she stopped in surprise. "WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?!? ARE YOU ALRIGHT? WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?" she called over the music and chatter. She came to me, and, by the arm, led me to the back dining room where ever so seldom any-body went, unless meals were being served. After we'd entered, she closed the doors behind us and turned to me again. "WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?" she asked again, eyes tearing.

"Could I possibly trouble some-body for a drink?" I asked, with my usual tone of affected pomposity, wit and humour. "I think I could use one just now."

"You sit right down here!" she said, as she pulled a chair from under one of the tables. "Don't you DARE MOVE! I'll be RIGHT back! Scotch. Right?" I nodded. "DON'T YOU DARE MOVE! DON'T LEAVE THE ROOM! I'LL BE RIGHT BACK!" and she almost bolted out through the door.

It wasn't moments passed when she came back in. This time she had no tray in hand, instead, she held a "water glass" filled to the brim, one cube of ice. Scotch. "HERE!" she said, "Enjoy it. On the house." and she pulled a chair and sat across from me, elbows on the table, head rested in her hands. She looked at me with an expression of one who'd lost a life-time pet, sad, confused, hurt. "Did you get jumped in the park? WHERE'S your CAR? Have you been to hospital? WHO DID THIS TO YOU? WHAT HAPPENED? OH MY GOD! Do you WANT to go to hospital?" Oddly enough, all the questions one would, perhaps rightly, expect from a parent, a grand-parent, a relative POURED across the table from a Friend, a Friend whom I knew only because of my regularity of presence at The Lodge.

I assured her that I did NOT want to go to hospital, that I'd driven my-self out tonight. The car was parked, quite safely, in the lot out-side and no, I did NOT want to get the police involved. And then, as if simply recounting an incident witnessed, I succinctly provided her with the blow-by-blow, as it were, particulars. She listened so attentively that it would have seemed she was creating a documentary film version of the entire, sordid affair. When I'd done with the account, she stood up, came round the table, put her arms round my neck, leaned her head against mine and calmly whispered, "Don't you worry. You couldn't be safer. It's all over now and you couldn't be safer. We'll see to that. You know that." Un-wrapping her arms, she stood, looked at me and said, "Stay here, enjoy your drink. I'll be right back. Please, stay right here, just for a little while. I won't be long." and she left the dining-room, closing the doors behind her.

I sat, sipping my drink, and started to ponder my next course of action. I was here, and "safe" for the next few hours while the business was open and the festivities continued. But what then? I couldn't go back to the house, not tonight, not tomorrow morning. It was Sunday and "he" would be there. I couldn't just walk back in. There's no telling WHAT would happen if I did. Never mind the threat of "the next time". If he'd kill me out-right, it would be a blessing, but he wasn't even capable of such compassion. HE was nothing other than pure HATE and LOATHING. I didn't care about being dead, I cared about the suffering that would be inflicted instead. I could stay in the car, find a back-road or some-where until Sunday evening, then come back here for a few hours. It would be an "early" night, no doubt, but some of the "usual crowd" would be here for a while. That would pass some time. And then? No sense in going any-where else. And obviously, I wouldn't be welcome at grand-mother's... obviously. Maybe I should consider heading to Albany. I could take my time, take a few rests along the way. It was only an hour's drive, a little longer, but along the Interstate, I could stop for rest-breaks and extend the trip. But what then? What would I do when I finally arrived? There was no place to spend any length of time. I couldn't afford a hotel room for any extended period, and there was nobody I knew... no "friends" with whom to stay.

Almost lost in my thoughts, I heard the doors open. It was George, the owner. Pat was at his side. They came to the table and sat down, again, across from me. George looked at me, most seriously and in a calm voice with great over-tones of caring and compassion spoke. "Pat told me. I don't need to hear any more. I don't know HOW you managed to make it here or why you came here of all places, but I want you to understand that you ARE safe here now. And there's room for you, for as long as you need. It's not the 'grand suite', but it's a place where you can shower and sleep with-out worrying. If you'd like, you can work around the place, help the staff. There's always plenty to do and plenty more that needs doing. That's up to you. But, at least for right now, tonight, you're NOT going back there. There's no need to and I don't want to argue about it. The room is available, and it's yours. Now, do you need fresh clothes or any-thing? Have you eaten? Are you hungry? There's a shower up-stairs if you want that."

There really was nothing more to be said. Pat smiled and nodded in agreement with every-thing that had already been made clear. And all I could do or say was to contritely say "Thank you." from the very core of the being that was "me", I was grateful. "You're safe." Nothing else could have meant any more, no greater gift could be given. "You're safe."

I explained that I had a change of clothes in the car, that a shower would probably be best, "for presentation of course". ("Jesus!" Pat exclaimed, "I just don't know about you people. 'Presentation'. Seriously!" and we had a good laugh.)

"Go get your clothes, when you come back in you can get the key to the room. When you're done, you come back down-stairs. There's food, and although they won't be like THAT one" (he looked at the half-emptied glass that had been filled with "top shelf" scotch), you can work a bar-tab off, either during hours or when we close. There's breakfast served in the morning too. Don't you worry. And at least, tonight, you won't have to be thinking about driving home. You're already there." George got up from the table, and left. Pat looked at me with a brilliant smile on her other-wise charming, beautiful face and just said "See? I told ya. Now go get those clothes. I'll get the key and we'll set you up."

She left me at the table. My head began to reel, not because of the scotch but because the shock was beginning to subside. The recounting of the brutality forced me to focus on the events, and made it all an incontrovertible reality. At once, the panic, the terror, the fear, the shock of being SO succinctly rejected by mother and grand-mother, the apathy, the dissociation, all mingled with the indescribable compassion, caring, loving-kindness, the protection ("You're safe."), concern, help, support, LOVE... The attack was easier to assimilate than all the thoughts and emotions that bashed and mashed and mingled together in my mind. And then, in a touch of sanity, I got up from the table and headed to the car. Pat would want to get back to work and I had no place making her wait for that.

The shock subsiding, the aches were beginning to set in. So too, the tension and nerves. The panic that had been deflected during the attack was starting to take hold, belatedly. I was shaky, and no, not because of the scotch. That hadn't hit at all at this point. It was rather like giving morphine to a terminally ill cancer patient. Cancer will, as they say "eat the morphine". Well, tonight, my nerves were "eating the scotch". My face became a bit sore and the "needles in my chest" were a bit more profound, obvious. But, I was breathing, I could walk on my own, I wasn't staggering... and... more importantly than absolutely ANY-thing else in Creation... I was "safe".

I went to the car, gathered the clothes, locked it up and went back in-side. Pat was waiting for me in the parlour and together, we climbed the grand stair-way up to the second floor and then to the third where I was "shown to my room". The third floor was for the employees. But the room was ever-so comfortable, with fresh linens, a chest of drawers and a bed. There was nothing more that any human being could want or need. "Human being"... I was one of those again, and... I was "safe".

A brief and gentle shower, to clean the dried blood on my face and body, a light "inventory" of lesions, cuts, scrapes and bruises, a change of clothes and the scotch, at last, finished, I was able to head down-stairs... into the throngs, pulled into the music, another gal from the staff came and handed me another drink (a "normal" scotch, one cube), and the mingling commenced. Indeed... just about EVERY-BODY was there tonight. Every-body familiar, every-body new, some-body for the first time, some-body for all the time. THIS would be some kind of affair! And I was "safe".

"I know a place... Ain't nobody cryin', ain't nobody worried, ain't no smilin' faces lyin' to the races..."(9)

"Hey fellas, I'm talkin' to you, you and you too... Now baby, I got a life to live, and a whole lotta lovin' that I wanna give... So I'm layin' my cards out on the table. When it comes to takin' care of me, I know I'm able..."(10)

"When-ever you call me, I'll be there. When-ever you want me, I'll be there. When-ever you need me, I'll be there. I'll be around."(11)

I've never cried over, because of, about the matter. I'd not cried then, and crying subsequently never seemed pertinent nor appropriate. Besides, as "Life" continued, there really has never been time to appropriate to such a thing.

"It's a family affai-ai-air. It's a family afai-air..."(8)

******************************************************************************************************** (1) I'm A Winner - Diana Ross
(2) Listen to the music - Doobie Brothers
(3) We're On The Right Track - Ultra High Frequency
(4) Love Train - Spinners
(5) Dancing In The Moon-Light - King Harvest
(6) Keep On Truckin' - Eddie Kendricks
(7) Boogie Down - Eddie Kendricks
(8) Family Affair - Sly and the Family Stone
(9) I'll Take You There - Staple Singers
(10) Think (About it) - Lyn Collins
(11) I'll Be Around - The Spinners

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