October 12th 1972
My mom’s face was buried deep in the Topeka Gazette. “It’s three confirmed cases. All of them died.” My dad laughed, and took a sip of his coffee, “From a rash,” looking at me, “Esme gets a rash every time the wind blows west.”
I folded my arms and looked out the kitchen window. “Fuck you,” I said inside my brain. I dare say that shit out loud, he’ll take me and his belt to our barn.
He kicked my foot under the table and lit a cigarette, “Hey, there. Someone sensitive?”
“They all died, though…,” My mom turned the page of the newspaper, “Lee, don’t forget to pick up your dry cleaning when you’re in town today.”
My dad took a hard puff of his cigarette, still smiling at me. Trying to be funny. He didn’t answer my mom, he just kept smiling at me.
My brother, Manny, finally appeared at the door. He put on his brown boots, “Ya ready, Es?”
Every morning I had to wait for my brother to walk me down the driveway to wait for the bus. My dad said it isn’t safe for me to be standing on the highway alone.
“That’s how teenage girls end up missing.” was all he ever said about it.
“Don’t be a motherfucking pussy. Stand up for yourself. Don’t be a victim.”
I heard my dad say this so many times to Manny, it’s hard to understand why he wanted me to be a victim on the highway. Asking for protection instead of not being a pussy.
Manny and I walked up our long driveway to the bus stop. I tried to talk to him.
“Hey, mom says there’s three people that died of a rash in New York City.” Manny walked ahead, “Hurry up, Es” Daniel is already at the bus stop.
As I hurried up the driveway, a still feeling came over me. It was sudden, and I turned my head toward the neighbor’s house. The McNeill house.
My dad was always fighting with our neighbor, who hasn’t liked us since we bought the land. Before there was even a house on it. Harold McNeill, and his wife, Nancy. They had two sons.
One was over fighting in Vietnam. The other one, Joey, didn’t have to go because he was crazy.
Joey McNeill stood in his field watching me walk up the driveway. His brown hair, longer now, pulled across his forehead and stuck behind one ear. His eyes, looking straight at me, blue and defiant. Going the way of the wind.
Leaning against his fence, he solemnly ate a sandwich and watched me, chewing each bite slowly. I turned back trying to focus on the driveway. Looking up the hill, but I couldn’t resist looking over.
I stopped, and started back at him, widening my eyes. The eye widening was my way of saying, “what the actual fuck,” but he just kept leaning and staring.
I shouted back, “Stop looking at me, freak!”
He half smiled, “I know all about you, Esme. You can’t escape what you did” Then he turned and walked towards his house.
I watched him, feeling the shock of his words on my skin. My hair stood up on my arms. I looked down at the ground, the weight and fear held me there along the dirt road.
Joey McNeill didn’t know anything, I told myself, as I flipped my hair.
I looked like my dad, wild blonde curly hair and green eyes. Most people don’t know I am “one of them” when they meet me. My mom, with her dark olive skin, stood out in our rural town. Everyone here was a pure American, not from some cult. “The cult” is what people around here called my people.
I was not in a cult. My family was not in a cult. My dad says we’re nobody’s people. People without a homeland. From nowhere.
Technically, my grandfather came from Ireland. My mom was born in Bulgaria. Gypsies don’t have a home, though, they are just a guest wherever they roam.
I was born in California, on April 1st 1958. It was raining really hard. I am not supposed to forget I am nobody’s people. America doesn’t want me here either.
“The gypsies are out of touch with the modern world.” My history teacher told me last year. I just stared at her, too afraid to react.
Mrs. Henry taught 8th grade history. She was a tiny petite woman. She had a giant diamond on her finger because her husband owned five grocery stores. The same grocery store where my mom shops out on the highway. Mrs. Henry even went to Hawaii over Christmas break. On an airplane.
She was nice to me. She said I was going places if I could escape my father.
September 28th, 1972
“Esme! Get out here!” I was listening to Manny’s copy of The Doors “LA Woman” and sitting on my floor. My dad’s head appeared outside of my window. He knocked on my window a few times. Then he opened it and stuck his head inside.
“Esme, stop listening to Manny’s crap. Get out here!” His smile was wide.
I followed my dad to the barn. He does this, when he drinks too much in the middle of the day. The first time was a little scary, learning to load his guns. He had me target practice, mostly.
A few times he had me do “maneuvers” or something he called tactical that he learned in the army. My dad was drafted into the army and sent to Korea in 1951.
My dad had wild eyes today, like he was breaking all his own rules.
My dad’s pistol was on a haystack behind the garage. He wanted to watch me load the pistol. The way he showed me countless times. With each bullet my dad seemed to get more excited.
He was unusually drunk today, I thought.
“I want you to be able to take care of this family when I’m gone. Esme. People like you and me, we are different. We are different from your mom, or Manny, or even your baby sister Lena. You and me, baby. You are just like me. We are different.”
“We are fucking different.”
The late September sky started to set, slowly turning orange in the sky. A cool breeze came from behind the barn.
People are going to be out to get us. You have to be prepared to take care of this family, Esme. You have to stand up for yourself. I didn’t want it to come to this- but I need you. I need you to be strong. You can be strong, right?”
“I don’t,” my throat my dry. “know.”
We punch first, you got it, punch first. Don’t take shit from nobody, Esme.”
“Fucking promise me. I’m not gonna take shit from nobody.” He pressed his face close to mine. I could almost see up his nose.
I didn’t know if he wanted me to repeat it
My dad grabbed me by the shoulder and shook me hard, my 110 lb body didn’t resist.
“Say it! I’m not going to take shit from nobody.”
“Say it, Esmerelda, fucking say it!”
I gasped for breath. I wasn’t sure I could speak. Then I realized I was the one holding the loaded gun.
Weakly, I said, “Daddy, what’s going on”
My dad screamed, “I’m not gonna take shit from nobody.”
My dad was tall and his eyes were dark. I gripped the handle of the gun.
I wasn’t sure if I needed it.
My dad pushed his nose into mine, grabbing my head. When I was little he would give me “kisses” by rubbing our noses together. This wasn’t the same. He was holding my head, pushing me into him. He smelled of whiskey and cigarettes.
“Fuck, louder, Esme”
“I’m not gonna take shit from nobody,” but it came out like a squeak
I took a deep breath, my knees were weak, I screamed as loud as I could, “I’m not gonna take shit from nobody.”
He suddenly smiled. He cupped my face in his hands. “That’s my girl”
“My sunshine, my Esme…”
I need you to do something special for me.
He walked into the barn. I wanted to run, I looked at our barn, our tiny ranch house. I could see the neighbors house in the distance, smoke coming from the chimney.
I wasn’t sure where I could go. My mom wasn’t even home, she was in town. If I could get to the phone in our kitchen, maybe I could dial Mrs. Glenn down the street. That is who I am supposed to call in an emergency. Was this even an emergency?
I played my choices out in my mind. I took too long. I paused. I didn’t know what to do.
My dad came out of the barn with Lucky Time. Our neighbor Harold McNeill’s golden retriever dog.
I froze. I guess I didn’t freeze entirely, my head shook back and forth without my control.
Harold hates us, he’s plotting to kill us baby. I shouldn’t tell you, but he’s gonna kill us. He’s threatened your mother. So many times. She doesn’t want you to know.” His voice was rushed, he was breathing so hard I thought he might pass out.
“We need to send him a message. We aren’t going anywhere. We can’t be fooled. He can’t get us.”
“Lucky Time is an old dog, the oldest one. We need to send a message that we aren’t going to be bullied. You and me, we’re strong, baby, we’re fucking strong.”
“Be my sunshine, Esme.”
My hand was still holding the pistol. My dad pressed his hand over mine. I screamed, turning my body loose trying to get out from his grasp. My legs fell limply on the ground, my right arm high in the air, my dad’s gun pointing straight to the sky.
I tried to fire the gun in the air, but my dad had a firm grasp on the gun. If I could fire it in the air, I could discharge the bullets. I could save Lucky Time. I needed to save Lucky Time.
I felt the pistol hit the side of my face. My dad’s eyes were angry. The pain was sharp and I fell to the ground.
He stood over me. “Esme, you’re gonna fucking kill this fucking dog. I asked nicely, now I’m not asking.”
Tears were wetting my hair, blood was in my eye.
My dad took my hand in his and put my finger on the trigger. I kicked the dirt, trying to get up. I kicked dirt in my dad’s eyes.
“Ah, fuck it,” he yelled.
He let go of my hand, pointed the gun at Lucky Time and shot him in the head.
“I need a fucking drink, now” he said as he walked around the barn towards the house.
My hair was matted with blood, I looked at Lucky Time. I crawled over and put his limp head on my lap. I kissed his soft fur.
I pulled his body closer to mine. His nose was dry. His eyes were open. His big beautiful eyes had nothing. There was no Lucky Time in his eyes. Blood from his head was turning the ground red.
His tongue was hanging out of his mouth. It curved left and was stiff. It started to turn blue.
My dad appeared with a beer in his hand. “Get up and wash up before Manny, Lena, and your mom get home, ya hear me”
“I always thought you were strong like me, Esme.” My dad was calm now, his voice soft, but firm.”
“Get up now,” he insisted.
I pushed Lucky Time back onto the ground and crawled up to my feet. I walked back to the house and took a shower.”
Joy Ellen Sauter is a freelance writer living in Seattle, Washington with her partner, Nathan, two teenage boys, and two cuddly pit bulls. She writes about mental health, popular culture, and disability rights. She studied History at Penn State University, concentrating on American social and cultural movements. She is looking for representation for her upcoming book, “I Want To Change the World.” A dystopian novel of historical fiction about the psychedelic 1960’s and 1970’s
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