I don't know where to begin.
This here is Zack, by the way. I call him Zack. His dad didn't like it at first, but later he called him Zack, too. I didn't want to call him by some highfaluting name that everybody is bound to make fun of, or stumbles over, you know.
Anyway, doesn't Zack have the most gorgeous hazel eyes? I'm not big on God these days, but sometimes I think God, or somebody, poured light into Zack's eyes, so that it must now always radiate out.
Sorry, Zack. I know I promised I wouldn't talk about you like you weren't even in the room or something. Of course you are here. Come, sit right here on my lap. Then, if I do talk about you, maybe it won't feel so strange. That's right, put your head just here. Are you comfy?
We never want to be apart again, if we can help it. If I can help it anyways. Isn't that right, Zack? At least not until Zack is much older. And even then I'll always make sure you know where I am, Zack. You'll always know. I promise. As long as I ... forever.
You want to know how I met my husband?
I was working as a waitress at Rubio's of the Rockies. He came in with a bunch of guys one night. It was four of them together that time. I hadn't seen any of them before. But it's a tourist town, so that's pretty normal. They ate their steaks and drank their beers, and I tried to do my best to earn a good tip. They were watching TV in the corner. Have you been to Rubio's? The TV hangs down at an angle from over the left side of the bar. It's not very big. But the volume you get out of it is plenty loud. Plenty. Even with all the tables filled and everybody yakking about one thing or another, until it just becomes a sort of rumble of noise and smoke. Yeah, we still let folks smoke at Rubio's. I smoke myself. I didn't while I was pregnant with Zack, and I'm proud of that. But afterwards I started again.
Abe never even seemed to notice me at first. But then he asked my name. They'd paid their bill already, and they were making a ruckus, talking about this and that, discussing the equipment of some cheerleaders on the TV screen, and I was hanging around because it looked like he was fishing in his pocket. For a tip, I hoped. I was being extra pleasant, because you can always use a tip. I wasn't exactly swimming in dough, though I've always managed. He looked like he might leave a good tip, too, if only to impress his buddies. I can tell the type. So I hung around trying to ingratiate myself without being too obvious about it.
"Let's ask this lady here," he said at some point, patting me on the rump. You got to let them do that. I learned that early on. It doesn't mean anything. "What's your name?" he asked.
"Sarah," I said.
He stopped speaking and looked at me for the first time full on. It was a deep, strange, fascinated look. It was a surprised look, rather flattering. I didn't know then that any Sarah would have done.
Nobody said a word for a while. The rumble continued at the other tables, but at this table time stood still, chilled.
"Will you marry me, Sarah?" he finally asked.
"Well, it's a bit sudden and all that." In those days I still gave good for good. But that's all water under the bridge now. "And I don't even know your name yet."
"You're my witnesses," he said to his buddies. "I will marry this woman."
His buddies changed over the years. But they're always the same type. Nobody hangs with him too long.
Zack, you're heavy when you wiggle so much. Are you bored? Do you want to go over there and play with those nice Duplo for a while? Build a new bridge? Or a stadium? Go on. We'll be right here talking. Go on.
I thought it just was a particularly tasteless way of flirting with me. Like this guy I met in college once. This was a poet, and until then I had always kind of admired poets. I wrote some poetry myself, but it wasn't anything to ever show to anybody else. It was just for myself. This guy was published, though. He was about twice my age and his breath smelled of cheap red wine. Somebody introduced us, and he said, "Oh, my next wife?" It made me angry. I kind of knew he said that to everybody he met, and wife to him meant someone in the sack, and I was so young then, that kind of talk still bothered me a lot.
Yeah, I went to junior college for a while, but it bored me. Not that being a waitress is a major thrill. Still it feels better somehow. I feel I'm more my own person, instead of trying to figure out what everybody wants me to say or think at any given time, so that I can then get some diploma. For what exactly? To make more money, so I can get a larger apartment, and a fancier car? I just don't function that way. The only time I regret not having a lot of money is this situation right now. I'll get to that in a minute.
Anyway, back then at Rubio's I went along with his joking for a bit. But it wasn't a joke to him.
He actually meant it.
I still work there at Rubio's, yes. I mean, I did until two weeks ago. And I just know they'll take me back when all this is sorted out. They're always short people.
You see, I never thought of marrying anymore. I was 46 when I met Abe, and I liked my life well enough the way it was. I liked being independent, not having to answer to anyone.
But he didn't take no for an answer. He said we'd, well, have a fine boy. That's what he said. I laughed. At my age? I should have a grandchild. I wanted to use birth control. I even told him to go look for somebody younger, and then he could have a whole station wagon size family, or minivan or whatever they call it nowadays.
To which he said, "But I've never met anyone named Sarah before."
Which struck me as, like, where has he been? I think Sarahs are a dime a dozen. There were three of us when I went to first grade. I remember, because I was kind of upset that there were so many of us all at once and I wasn't anything special anymore. Somebody called our name, and three of us weren't sure, was it us, or one of the others?
Abe telling me he wouldn't find himself another woman because he'd never met anybody called Sarah before, that wasn't when we first met. We'd already dated for a while, or whatever you call it. Not real dates, you know, with dinner and movies, and so on. I hardly wanted to go to a restaurant for a date and pay to have someone else wait on me when I could eat at Rubio's for free. I wasn't interested in dating all that much anyway. Like I said, I like to be my own woman. But he had his mind set on me. You know how men can be when they want something.
There's this weird stuff about men -- how we can be strong on our own as women, but as soon as we get into the radar of a guy, all the strength just sort of gets sucked out. I was doing fine, and suddenly here comes this guy into my life.
We were married when I was just short of 47, and we had Zack ten months later.
He's hard to deny, my husband.
But one time I did. I was already pregnant with Zack, because I got pregnant pretty much right away after we married and Abe insisted I stop using birth control. For a while he wanted me to not tell any of his buddies that I was his wife. And then he wanted me to put out for them. He said the Eskimos did that for their guests, and it was a friendly gesture. That time I got out of it, though. I'm not an Eskimo, thank you very much.
"Abe," I said to him, "I don't know what all your fantasies are, and I'm your wife, and I'll do all kinds of stuff for you. But that? No."
Amazingly, he let it go at that without any more argument. Thank God. I don't know what I would have done if he had gone on and insisted.
But then Zack was born, and things were good. I never thought I'd love having a child so much. I guess with me being so old already, it felt extra special. Maybe I was calmer, too, and didn't have so many ambitions for myself as I might have had as a younger woman. You know, where it might have gotten on my nerves that I didn't have a full minute to myself anymore in a day. I really love the boy.
My husband spent most of his free time with his buddies.
"Abe-raw-ham." I wonder if anybody ever called him that.
His buddies kept on changing. Monthly? Weekly? It was hard to keep track of. He'd bring them home to watch a game, and they always looked sort of the same. Tough guys, you know, the outdoorsy variety, woodsy smells, knives somewhere on their person, even if it was only a pocket knife. But no matter who they were at any given time, he was always sort of the leader of the pack. I think he insisted on that, wouldn't have it any other way. Kind of attractive to have a leader around. As a woman you think you'll be taken care of. And the men seemed to like to have someone with his kind of authority around, someone who told them what to do and they didn't have to think for themselves so much. Sort of like in the military. Guys like that, you know. So Abe's buddies seemed to like his authority, at least for a while. Until he hurt them, their pride, something like that. It wouldn't surprise me if he hurt them deliberately, but always in ways they could never prove. Then they drifted away. But there was always a new guy to take their place.
The day they went up into the mountains, I made them roast beef sandwiches and packed a big slice of pound cake for all of them. And beef jerky, and egg stuff you can just mix up with water, and trail mix. I thought Zack was a bit young for going on this so-called hiking trip. But Abe said he was going to make a man out of the boy, and the earlier the better. Obviously, between him and his buddies, they were going to be able to protect the little one from anything dangerous.
Zack was excited about the outing, believe you me. I mean, they were taking him seriously. They were taking him on a hiking trip as though he were one of them. A dream come true for the little tyke. He almost couldn't fall asleep the night before. But when he finally did, he went out like a light. In parts of myself I was proud and excited for Zack, too. Now he was going to get his first lessons in how to be a man among men.
By then I already knew, of course, that Abe had this fixation on the Abraham and Sarah and Isaac story from the Bible, but, well, obviously we weren't them. She had her Isaac when she was 90. Besides, that Abraham was in a different league from my guy with his Rockports and his parka and mountain gear. And our Zack was just a regular blond American kid.
Anyway, on that trip Abe did manage to lose his buddies for a while, and, yes, he did tie Zack to a rock. Zack freaked and Abe had his fun. There was no ram, no nothing. Just fear and vicious power. But Abe got the boy back home in one piece. That's the main thing in the end.
God, while this went on, I was at home imagining them striding along with the wind caressing their skin, and birds swooping around them, crows and starlings and such, and song birds twittering from their perches. I imagined Isaac playing with the yellow butterflies, hoping to catch them, wanting his father to catch them for him no doubt, and disappointed that his father wouldn't. Or couldn't, perhaps. A situation like that is easily disguised by an adult claiming he wouldn't.
"How was it?" I asked when they came back.
"It was fine."
Zack acted weird, though. He was surly and quiet. He'd always been a sunny kid before. Now he mumbled and didn't look me in the eyes. I thought something had scared him. Could have been anything.
It's easier to see a certain dignity about all this the way it's described in the Bible. The boy asking, "Father, where's the lamb for the sacrifice?"
In reality, there's nothing dignified about it whatsoever. Here's merely a big guy terrorizing a little one, just because he can. That's all there is to it, no matter how many voices of God he claims to have heard, no matter how he rationalizes that it's all part of growing up to be a man. It's vicious bully stuff, nothing more and nothing less. Abe weighs two hundred and sixty-eight pounds on a light day. Zack weighs thirty-seven. Can you imagine?
You see, Zack trusted his father. What else could he do? His father, up till then, was everything to him.
Zack probably screamed. No, Dad. Don't hurt me. Mom. Help. Dad. No. Dad!
Zack didn't want to talk about it at all. Makes sense to me. Abe probably even warned him not to say a word. But Zack moaned about his father in his nightmares, and that's how I started getting the truth out of him. I went nuts. I packed up a suitcase and got us on a train to California. It's been a whirlwind ever since.
Why California? Warm weather, I guess. I didn't know how we were going to live exactly, and I didn't want us to be cold. I wanted to get into a shelter like this one, although I didn't quite know how you did that yet. I just wanted to get lost with Zack so that Abe wouldn't find us.
Abe always sounds so reasonable in person, you know.
So did the cops when they caught up with us in California. They sounded so reassuring. And Zack wasn't all that happy on the road either. The cops kept saying everything was going to be all right. Did he hurt you? they asked. Zack truthfully said, no, his dad had just tied him up. But he had said he would cut him. For God.
Abe had already told the police his Abraham story, and how it was all just a dramatization. And they believed him. Because, I guess he always did talk so believably, like I said.
Meanwhile, in my heart, it's all killer stuff. God. Etc. I mean, Son of Sam heard God's voice, didn't he? At least they finally put him away. And the original Abraham -- well, in my opinion, they should have put him away, too, rather than glorify him for all posterity for doing what he did. I mean what else did he ever do that was all that remarkable? His claim to fame was his unwavering belief in God, even when God told him to sacrifice his son. But then again, look at their religion. I'm not much for church myself. Their God himself sets up his own son for slaughter. They admire that as God's sacrifice for human redemption. Sound like a rationalization to me. So what do you expect from a God like that? I think it's just our job to be human on earth, never mind gods and their demands, and church fathers and how they would like to train us to be something other than human instead.
Anyway, I'm scared now. But I have to be brave. I know that. I don't know what exactly they'll do. Abe isn't allowed near us while we're here in the shelter -- and we have a restraining order, too, just in case. But when I last saw him, he gave me a magazine to read, with an article earmarked. A message for me. About how they are jailing women nowadays for not protecting their children from abuse when they should have known, should have done something.
I'm afraid. I would have been scared without that article, too. I haven't done anything wrong, you know. But that doesn't necessarily count. Not under the law, which promises justice, but it's a justice that can be bought, it appears.
I don't want to be separated from Zack. He needs me now, more than ever. You've see me talk to him as though I'm confident. Inside me, there's no such thing as confidence. I feel like jelly. And if they take him away from me, he'll know that I haven't been able to keep my promise. And if that ever happens, then will he ever be able to trust anything again? I wonder whether he will hate me one day anyhow for not being able to protect him from this weird stuff to begin with.
You know, I used to think I wasn't all that dumb, what with school and my good grades and all that, but it seems I've been really dumb to have landed myself in a situation like this.
Trouble is, men with their laws and their God and their self-confidence can always speak so much reason and charm, and then, once they've got you in a snare, it seems so hard to get out again. I feel all clumsy.
I wish someone would come and tell me what to do. Or at least approve of what I do. It used to be all I had to do was make nice. I've always wanted to please. But this new place in my life asks for stronger stuff. I don't know what exactly I need to say or do to keep us safe.
I love this child. I want to protect him. Listen to that laughter, even when he plays by himself. Isn't he beautiful?
I don't know where this will end.
* * * * *
"Sarah" was first published by Hot Metal Press (Winter 2006-2007)