Priming the pump…
Laura Gaye gunned the engine and swerved her violet 2005 Volkswagen Beetle in between two speeding tractor-trailers after almost sideswiping a white Chevy Minivan that came out of nowhere. Both of the vehicles had simultaneously tried to merge into the same lane on southbound I-10. Actually, the van—its yellow signal light a visual echo in Laura’s mind—had the right of way and was changing lanes with some level of responsibility. Laura, on the other hand, was driving like a bat out of hell. Glancing into her rear-view mirror after the near collision, she said a silent prayer of thanks that no highway patrol cars were in sight. A moment later, after a brief scan of both lanes of traffic on either side of her, she floored the accelerator to move into a hole in the middle lane of the fast-moving traffic on the interstate south of Phoenix. Seeing another opening in the farthest lane, she darted across two lanes of horn-honking traffic to the rapidly narrowing hole. And groaned aloud as she saw a white van—the same white van—directly behind her and gaining fast.
Bracing herself for what—to her—seemed like an unavoidable collision; she grasped the steering wheel with both hands. The crunch of metal and plastic never came. Swerving into a slot in the just emptied carpool lane inches before hitting her bumper, the driver of the van fought the vehicle’s attempts to fishtail and recovered before hitting the median wall. With its horn blasting, the van barreled past Laura on her left side. The fuzzy, blue-haired and bespectacled grandmotherly look-a-like in the passenger seat gave Laura an eat-shit-and-die look. She added the wrinkled wave of her knobby middle digit as the van sped past. Trembling all over from her two near collisions in less than two minutes, Laura turned on her right signal. Slowly, she merged with ongoing traffic until she made it to the far-right breakdown lane just before the Ray Road exit. Rolling the car to a stop, she turned off the air conditioner, then powered down the driver’s side window before killing the engine. She took large gulps of the already heated early June air, removed the over-sized Serengeti Aviator sunglasses from her face, and tossed them to the empty passenger seat. Her hands—a bit steadier now—rose to brush several thick dreadlocks from her face. Pulling the two-foot long ropes of dark brown hair behind her head into a makeshift bun, she secured the bundle with a thick rubber band from several she kept in the car’s ashtray. As she watched the river of traffic move by, her eyes hardened even as they glistened with the glassiness of tears.
“I will not cry,” she said aloud. And after a short, fierce emotional struggle, she succeeded in keeping her anger and fear at bay, at least for the time being. After months of gathering her strength and weeks of self-pep talks in front of her bathroom mirror, she had almost killed herself before she could get to Tucson to deliver her speech. The speech where she would finally confront her father. To stand in his face and challenge the nightmare of her life about the years of abuse he had handed out like candy to her and her mother. The slaps and beatings that came out of nowhere for no reason other than she didn’t cower or answer his questions quickly enough. The constant put-downs. The rapes.
Sticking her head out of the driver’s side window, she checked the oncoming traffic whizzing by mere feet from her. Once Laura saw that it was safe, she opened the car door and, staying close to the vehicle, moved her toned, six-foot one frame to the rear of her ride. She sat against the back of the car and stared into the columns of oncoming autos yet seeing nary a vehicle as her thoughts colored her vision red. Her height and her features—large sleepy eyes, sharp nose and cheekbones covered with dark chocolate colored and flawless skin, completed with full gloss-covered lips a shade lighter than the surrounding skin—were from her father. The tautness of her long limbs came from years of track and Martial arts training at various dojos on too many Air Force bases around the world. She had stepped into her first class—against her father’s wishes and with her mother’s blessings—just after her father had left for a one-year remote tour to Korea in ‘95. Aikido, Kempo Karate, Isshin-Ryu—it didn’t matter to her. If there was a class open, she took it. It wasn’t until they had moved to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, in 1997—almost two years after the last rape—that she had stayed in one place longer than two years. Long enough for Laura to discover she could make (and keep) friends. Long enough for her to discover she (despite the long-distance attempts of her father to belittle her) was good at something. Very good. In the three years she had attended Rincon High School (Laura graduated a year early with a 3.97 GPA and a perfect SAT score), she was untouchable—and unbeaten—in the 100 and 200-meter sprints and State Champion in both her sophomore and junior years. When the time came, she chose Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, from among eight top notch schools that had offered her either an academic or athletic scholarship because she wanted to stay close to her mom. Close to her mother but far enough away so that she couldn’t and wouldn’t have to live at home. Couldn’t and wouldn’t live under the same roof as him…
Her emotions contained for the time being, Laura pushed off the rear of her car and, staying close to it, made her way to the driver’s side door and re-entered the vehicle. She folded herself into the front seat, reached for the door handle, and pulled the door shut. Starting the engine, she powered up the driver’s window and turned the air on high. As she checked the flow of traffic behind her in the rearview mirror, she saw the Highway Patrol car with its lights flashing as it pulled in behind her. Cutting the engine and powering down the window she had just closed, she felt the sweat gathering in the folds of her thick hair just before she killed the air conditioner.
“Shit!” she said aloud as the cop opened the door to his cruiser and walked the short distance to her car…
* * *
Her father had impregnated her when Laura was almost thirteen years old. He had raped her repeatedly since her ninth birthday, always after his return from his assignments. He wouldn’t touch her until her mother left for work. For the two months he was overseas at Ramstein AFB in Germany, Laura had hidden the symptoms of the life growing within her. The morning sickness, cramps, and abject terror of the life planted in her were suffered in silence. Her father had warned her that this could happen and told her what he expected of her if it did…and what he would do to her if she disobeyed…and what he would do with her if her mother found out.
“I’ll make them take you away—far away,” he said, “and you’ll be in an orphanage, a place for girls who don’t listen. And you’ll never see your mother again. Ever.” Eyes wide and glassy with tears, she’d looked at the ceiling—the wall—anywhere but at the monster on top of her. In her.
“I’d have to tell her you ran away, that you didn’t love her. It would kill your mother to hear that.” Those few poisoned words had kept her quiet—kept her obedient for years.
Joseph called her into the kitchen the next day just after her mother had left for work at the Base Exchange. Laura sat at the kitchen table as her father talked quietly into the ugly yellow kitchen wall phone. Finishing the call several minutes later, he took a small pad of paper off the counter near the twin sinks and wrote on it while telling her to get her jacket. When she returned to the kitchen, he was standing at the open back door.
An hour and a half later they arrived in front of a tired looking brick building in downtown Trenton, New Jersey. As they entered the neighborhood health clinic, he pointed to a row of empty plastic seats. She sat down as he went to the counter and watched him talk to a nurse in a blindingly white uniform as he filled out paperwork. She still to this day remembered the conversation he had minutes later with another nurse in the waiting room to which they were taken a bit later. She could not forget the lies he had told the dejected-looking nurse who stole quick, nervous glances at Laura while shaking her large head at the skinny child in front of her.
“…I need to know. This boy she’s seeing’s no good. This would ruin her for life. I thought I raised her better after my wife died…”
He scowled at her as he spoke, and then turned back to the nurse. Laura knew better than to interrupt his lies.
“I understand, Mister…” The fat blonde-haired woman pushed a stiff lock of hair from her chubby face as she looked at the information sheet Joseph had filled out minutes before. She put her thick finger on his name and gave him a weak smile.
“…Mister Johnson. How far along do you think she is?”
“Two months, maybe less.”
“Alright.” The large woman, after a brief struggle with gravity, stood upright from her low wooden chair. She glanced again at Laura with thin lips pressed tightly together. She shook her head before looking back at her clipboard and addressed Joseph.
“Mr. Johnson, how old is Maggie?”
Satisfied with his lies, she had nodded.
“The doctor will see her in a few minutes. Sir, this won’t take too long.”
He did. And she was. Almost nine weeks.
The abortion came three days later. Not at the clinic they had gone to, but directly off base in a building off the side entrance road that was boarded up in the front. The last thing she remembered as she laid on the uneven table under two large floodlights was a trim, nervous man telling her to breathe deeply through the mask on her face. And her father, standing at the door to the room, watching her. The garden variety, unlicensed nurse scraped the new life out of her. And scarred her insides so badly that eight years later, after years of crippling cramps and rivers of blood during her periods, Laura had had a hysterectomy three days before she graduated from Arizona State University with dual degrees in Counseling and Physical Education. Her mother had cried in the stands as Laura got up out of the wheelchair her classmate was pushing so that she could walk the two steps to get her diploma. Laura’s mother had made the drive up from Tucson alone; Joseph was working somewhere back East as a Base Transitional Coordinator and was helping to close down a military base. Laura couldn’t have been happier. He—no, they—had changed after her backroom abortion. He had barely spoken to her—and hadn’t touched her—for almost two years after the operation. Her joy was barely contained as she had slowly healed (he was gone by then). She had just begun walking when she entered the first of too many dojos, this one a Kempo Karate class, about a month after the operation. Her father had left a week earlier for a one-year remote tour of duty at a base in Korea. The tension in the household was cut only with timid questions from her mother. Those and her father’s gruff replies.
“Joe, she would have told me. She’s never lied to me about anything…”
“If you had been a better mother, this wouldn’t have happened, Diane. You needed to keep a closer eye on her and you didn’t. Some boy did this to her. If this scars her, it’s your fault…”
His lies had hurt worse than her healing wounds. And still Laura was too afraid to say a word, even when her mother came to her room late that same night. Thinking her asleep, Diane Gaye had stood in the doorway of Laura’s darkened bedroom and had sobbed quietly for almost an hour before leaving. Her tears had fallen almost as silent as the ones Laura had left on her pillow that night as she had faked sleep while watching her mother’s bent silhouette. All of these thoughts flooded her mind as she drove toward Tucson. The highway patrolman, having thought her in need of help, had gone on his way after she assured him she was okay. In the thirty minutes since she’d talked to the young officer, she had covered almost forty-five miles at more than eighty miles per hour. Today was the day all lies stopped.
Adjusting her rearview mirror as she passed the Pinnacle Peak exit on southbound I-10 (about two thirds of the way to Tucson), a tight smile cut into the frown on her face.
Shit’s gonna hit the fan today, she thought. Let’s see the motherfucker clean this up.
Taking another glance into the rearview mirror, Laura’s smile grew as she saw that the coast was clear. She pushed the gas almost to the floor and edged the speed of the car to slightly more than ninety miles an hour…