Chapter Nine – Goodbye is Forever
Masturbation and sex were anathemas, especially when girls broached the topics. They could never talk freely about it with anyone without being condemned—censured to the point of living in ignorance; forever made to dwell in unawareness, stumbling around blindfolded from one room to another, hands outstretched, attempting to live in a house built by men that had no clue how to build or maintain or navigate. Historical romance novels somewhat solved that conundrum—at least, they did for Jay and Nat. Frequently though, the writers felt as blindfolded as Jay was. She never understood the need to treat virginity as some sacred ritual and sacrifice. It felt archaic and incurious. To her sex was an adventure into the unknown; a quest to climb Everest or sail across flat seas while others warned of falling over cliffs and edges, demanding to stop and go no farther. Jay didn’t care—she sailed forth and climbed anyway. Sexuality became a jihad of knowledge and a subject to research and investigate without judgment. She didn’t understand that desperate and easy willingness to embrace ignorance and unawareness.
There were experimentations with the cousins—nothing horribly egregious; kids being kids kissing and touching. Since the adults avoided extending them any type of sexual education, they were left to explore on their own, being careful not to venture too far from home, utilizing their own vigilance when needed.
From reading historical romance novels, the severity of the punishments women were perpetually made to feel, if they did go too far, were cruel; not to the men, but always to the women. Women were rarely allowed to sexually explore freely without repercussions while men were given much latitude and little consequences to do whatever they wanted with a woman’s body, regardless of how women felt about it. Women were often left with the products of whatever transpired between—consensual or not.
Jay pointed this out to Natalie who shrugged it off. This bothered Jay and didn’t seem to bother Nat. She often wondered why—how Nat could be so apathetic often sidestepping the conversation unconcerned—sometimes answering, oftentimes not.
Stretched out on the swinging bridge in the shade reading, Jay closed the book. Frustrated, she recounted the narrative to Natalie of the historical romance set at the tail end of the Crusades. Jay was pissed and baffled at how the author—a woman—could write so casually about her character’s betrothed raping her before he even knew who she was. The woman eventually forgave her betrothed, they fell in love and live happily ever after.
Jay hated it. But, she loved it, and she couldn’t stomach that she loved it.
Nat ignored her and continued reading while Jay yammered on about it.
“It’s the way it is,” Natalie replied just as casually, which sent Jay off on another rant. She put her book down and looked at Jay: “Your father beat your mother and you loved him,” she said blandly. “You were daddy’s little girl, weren’t you?”
It felt like a slap.
Natalie was good at this—listening, waiting for the perfect time to insert some breezy comment that carved up Jay’s heart. It would take Jay a few minutes to respond and sometimes she never would so hurt was she from the knife Nat drove into her heart.
Occasionally, Jay would counter with a question: “Why?”
Nat’s indifference was brutal: “Some girls aren’t as strong as you,” or variations of that sort based on the initial conversation that Jay both pondered and fret over.
But, Jay wasn’t strong, and Nat knew that. She used those carvings as a weapon of irony and condescension—not as a tool of wisdom and compassion.
And they didn’t talk about Jay’s dad, and his history. Ever.
“Am I supposed to hate him,” Jay asked.
Nat shrugged and they moved off the subject entirely avoiding the confrontation of anything further seemingly like it wasn’t worth her time or care.
Jay swallowed the hurt and carried on unsure how to act; perplexed and ashamed to feel dislike or disgust for either her dad or Natalie as well as all that intense love and affection. Confusion, accompanied by curiosity, complicated this and most of her childhood. She meandered through blindly coping and learning, adapting where she could.
Unmoved by the drama that the rest of the family represented, Natalie and her family deemed themselves superior to that of their extended family—Uncle, Jay and her mother’s family. The shade was there: the disdain for the act of visiting her Maw-Maw and Paw-Paw’s house to that of hanging out with the other cousins. Oftentimes, the contempt was open and unguarded. Jay was pressed to join or she too would be mocked and derided thus shunned. She glimpsed those acts of superiority through fogs of longing—a longing to be loved. She realized later that all that hate must have originated with Uncle.
Uncle—having been raised around five opinionated sisters and their equally demanding mother—spread his misogyny to that of those that he could control. Most notably his wife, daughter, and two sons. Jay felt this battle within himself each time he interacted with her. He straddled the line between being a virtuous person and the usual maleness that was—nine times out of ten—standard in these parts of the world or, of what she subsequently learned, in many parts of the world. She wondered later if Natalie felt that same struggle, especially as she got older. The hum of hate vibrating underneath the the façade of the virtuous family man?
What about Aunt? And Uncle’s grandchildren? Had they felt it too? As Natalie birthed only boys, Jay was positive it no longer occupied her thoughts.
Or did it?
There were nieces—Cody and Ben’s girls; had she thought about them? Jay did.
Ashamed to admit, Jay was sometimes guided by the self-serving and not the principled out of need of love and acceptance. She could’ve spoken up about what happened knowing no one would believe her—the troubled wild child exposing the sins of the golden-haired good ole boy and the perfect son. She could have possibly put doubt in their minds. Even if it were just a kernel. She could’ve let the truth of his own words and actions germinate revealing the ugliness within.
She told herself later that she was a child and to stop hating on what she couldn’t change—accept and acknowledge the actions she didn’t take. It was all good in practice until confronted with all those many misdeeds on repeat—that inaction that latched onto them all at one time or another, and sometimes permanently with a claw-like menace ripping away the elasticity of flesh to reveal the many layers hidden underneath.
There were those that accepted that burden as a lesson of the past and those that avoided it entirely out of some prideful or foul cause.
And here was Niko to show them their mirrors.
Niko started her freakish documentary-type movie with a voice-over she added while standing behind them in the shadows. Introducing this narrative to them as they sat looking on sheepishly, her voice was light—bemused and disinterested all at once, which quickly escalated into…something else.
“In the year 2020, the prison industrial complex T29, along with the US government, bombed and transformed West Virginia into one of ten prison states—an antecedently expansive shift in the growing private prison, slave labor, detention center industries. The czar of this complex lives in the Greenbriar where a conference of the governing elite cabinet of czars and the president will gather. As a member of the resistance, Jayden is resurrected and recruited to conscript and initiate five members of a dead opposition to cultivate and champion into soldiers for this resistance. She chooses three cousins and two friends from her youth she was once very close to that had ultimately rejected her.”
“I wasn’t recruited and I didn’t choose them,” Jay argued. She sat to the side overlooking the dark room lit only by the ambient light of the window-screen. The rest of them sat motionless staring straight ahead waiting for the story to unfold. Their faces and bodies rigid with anticipation and tight with concern and caution—even resentment.
Niko ignored her walking around them towards the front of the ship’s provisional movie theater continuing her narrative while also modifying her voice to sound more like those deep breathy promo voice-over narrators that peddled in melodramatic previews.
“Plucked from the past, reliving it along the way, their consciousness imprinted onto mutated clones, they struggle against Jayden’s leadership and the choices they’re asked to make in opposition of their ideological values. Led by an unknown mysterious crew of a vanquished commander from the future fighting her own monsters”—Niko paused looking off almost wistfully then continued as before—”Jayden tries to convince her initiates the honorable course of a history that’s already been experienced and lost. Or has it.”
An awkward silence before Jay busted out laughing—the sound grating, loud, and graceless—doubling over in such mirth, her side burned with pain and tears flowed liberally down her face. “Choices. Values.” she barely managed. After a beat, she sat up noting the eerie silence attempting to compose herself.
Niko stood looking at her and for a brief moment and through the dark, Jay saw Niko’s vulnerability almost overtake her—so revealing and startling as it washed over Jay like a hard wave shocking her into such unbending shame that she sagged from the weight of it.
Niko’s vulnerability disappeared quickly into amusement and delight—Jay’s remorse didn’t. Niko had so exposed herself to this small group of antagonists—how many times and at what cost? She felt Niko’s thoughts hit her in another surge. She stopped, shaken by that blast and removed all humor opening herself up. Realizing what she had not prior—Jay was just another antagonist. She was not the protagonist, the liberator, the savior or whatever colorful brands white people like to call themselves in situations like these. She was another cog in the overall con of what she ultimately represented. Niko knew this. They all did.
Niko’s mirrors became windows.
Feeling the tight lines of contrition on her face and the sternness in her posture under the weight of her disordered emotions, Jay’s shame pressed her down. Her oblivion lived in those cracks made chasms contrived by the heaviness of lies told to herself and others repeatedly; that and the complacency—the avoidance so many of them refused to acknowledge.
All eyes on Jay, the silence resounding, she mumbled an apology—an authentic hoarse one into the anecdotal coldness. “Please continue,” she practically pleaded.
Jay and the others sat riveted to the exceedingly large screen as the credits rolled.
Niko listed herself as the writer, director, editor, and executive producer.
From their Frankenstein-like future technological origins to the Groundhog Day foul-like repetitive scenes of violence and brutality, they watched their curse rot themselves, each other, and the Earth around them. The brilliance of each scene—the production and edits—blatantly highlighted their grotesqueness.
Mesmerized and disturbed on an entirely other level—one that had never been presented in such a way to them before now, the hideousness of their truth and the unawareness of their defects laid bare over and over again as they desecrated each other and the world around them.
It was like some twenty-first century arthouse horror flick—Jennifer Kent, Ari Aster, Jordan Peele, Robert Eggers—Jay was a fan of all of them back in the days before it all went to shit. Nothing touched the roasting and sinister-like creation of what the talent of this one scientist from the future staged and created so masterly.
Shock resonated through the room as each scene exploded truisms all over them. A thousand times better than a Tarantino or Coen brothers or any of Hollywood’s toxic white boy films—this was an ode to twentieth and twenty-first century horror films pure and simple.
The horror? It was a disease a lot of them still didn’t name. Even now.
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins