I was out for a wild gay time. I was going to follow in my parents’ footsteps and I didn’t care who got hurt.
Dateline: February 1965
Her father was an alcoholic, her mother a prostitute. With “evil” in her blood, how could Jana ever be anything but bad? Wasn’t her fate pre-ordained? Even a fresh start on her grandfather’s farm is ruined, when her past inevitably catches up with her. She flees to the nearest city, and embarks on a life of failed marriages and affairs. She is fulfilling her destiny and hates it. Will she ever be able to turn her life around? Will she ever find a loving, stable relationship?
The legacy of Jana’s childhood was a deep belief that she was completely undeserving of happiness. But in her darkest hour, it is her mother who inspires her. No longer tied to the past, Jana is now free to choose her future! What path will she now decide to follow?
I NEVER LIKED MY FATHER for as long as I can remember. Maybe that sounds callous, but how can you like a man who makes your life miserable and makes your mother cry? Perhaps long ago, Dad might have been a decent guy-he must have been, or my mother wouldn’t have fallen in love with him. But over the years, whatever shred of decency he possessed must have been lost in a bottle. Dad was the meanest, most foul-mouthed drunk in the ‘world, I think.
He worked as a porter in a dry goods factory, and the salary he earned couldn’t possibly cover our needs even if he’d brought it all home on payday. But Dad drank up practically every cent he made, for every night he was out boozing it up and he wouldn’t show his face at home until they’d closed the bar.
He’d come staggering in, almost breaking down the door each time, then he’d shove the furniture around and laugh in a high-pitched, weird tone that sent the shivers right through me. He’d call for my mother to help him to bed, but when she appeared, he’d curse and rant and rave and shove her around if she came near him.
Mom would have to get my brothers up to help her put Dad to bed, and that was some ordeal, for he’d kick the boys and curse some more and shout orders until I thought the neighbors would surely call the police, but for some reason they never did.
When Dad was finally in bed and we could all get back to sleep, Mom would bring a blanket down to the living room sofa and lie there the rest of the night, to escape from the buzz-saw drunken snores of my father. There she’d weep till morning.
I can tell you, it was horrible. I thought men were awful, and seeing my brothers follow in my father’s footsteps didn’t help any, either. Oh, they didn’t drink, for they were too young. But I guess you might call them juvenile delinquents, for they were always getting into scrapes-not bad enough to be sent to reform school, but bad enough for the truant officers to come calling, and even occasionally a cop, who told my mom that she’d better discipline the boys more or they’d end up in jail.
Mom would throw up her hands in desperation, and tell the policeman or the truant officer that without my father’s assistance she could do nothing, for the boys wouldn’t listen to her. I guess those authorities knew she was telling the truth, for in our small town Dad had already cut himself quite a reputation-and it wasn’t good. Maybe that’s why they went easy with Mom and only warned my brothers to shape up, instead of taking them into juvenile court.
By the time I was ten, I was actually praying my father would drop dead! Oh, maybe I had a twinge of guilt about it, but not too much, because I saw he wasn’t doing anybody any good alive. I got my wish, if you can call it that, when one night the police came to our house at midnight.
Mom opened the door, and the minute she saw the expression on their faces, she knew the worst had come. “What hasStanleydone now?” she asked woodenly.
“I’m sorry to tell you this, Mrs. Enright,” one of the cops said in a sympathetic voice, “but your husband is gone. He was drinking at the bar onTurner Street, as
you probably know, and he got into an argument with one of the other patrons. Well, while your husband was slugging it out, he suddenly collapsed. But it wasn’t from being hit—he must have had a heart attack while he was fighting. A doctor has confirmed this at the hospital where they brought Mr. Enright. The other fellow is cleared. Now if you will come with us to the hospital—”
Mom could only nod quietly. I guess she must have known that my father was a doomed man, with all his drinking. I felt nothing, to tell the truth. I was only ten, and Dad had never been close to me except to slap me or something, so what could I feel, except regret that it had all turned out this way?.
Mom kissed me and told me to tell my brothers, sleeping upstairs, what had happened. Then she left. It was a turning point for all of us. I wish I could say it was for the best, but it wasn’t.
Financially, we were worse off then ever. The boys got odd jobs after school, but they made hardly anything. And they were in constant trouble and Mom just couldn’t handle them. “You’re just like your father,” she’d scream at them when something went wrong. “You’ll end the way he did if you don’t straighten out!”
But they just ignored her and continued running wild. About six months after Dad was buried, Mom began to take in “boarders.” From then on, I knew I wasn’t allowed in her room any more. She dyed her hair and fussed with her clothes in a way she never had. I guessed the truth about it all, and felt contempt for Mom and a sense of betrayal. I’d rather have starved than to see her smiling and laughing with the men. Every night I’d cry myself to sleep, filled with hatred and despair.
Despair was the feeling I knew more than any other. I felt doomed, lost. I was convinced that nothing but evil could happen to me because I came from people who were evil. I knew the same filth and rottenness that had made a drunken maniac out of my father, a prostitute out of my mother, and possible criminals out of my brothers was also in my blood. Yes, I felt I must be as bad as my family; that I couldn’t be different; that it would be useless to fight the evil that was in me.
I looked at other young people I saw in town-the freshly scrubbed kids, showing love and care all over them tie touch of a mother’s hand, the concern of a father, hope for the future in their eyes. They were born on top, I thought. On me, there was mud, and anyone who looked at me could see it.
As time went on Mom spent more and more long hours alone, crying bitterly. It wasn’t long before the neighbors began to talk about Mom, and forbid their children to play with me. “I don’t know what to do,” Mom told me helplessly. “If we could get out of here, if we could start over again in some new place-”
There was so much misery on Mom’s face, some of the hate I’d stored up in my heart against her when she’d started taking in “boarders” began to melt away. Finally, Mom wrote to her father who owned a store in a small town far away. He had been a widower for five years. He wrote back and asked Mom to come with us and keep house for him. Mom was overwhelmed with gratitude. “It’s like a new lease on life,” she told us brokenly. “I don’t deserve it, but as God is my judge, I’ll earn it!” “I’m not going!” Dell, my oldest brother, said. Mom looked up at him and her mouth tightened. “I’ve had nothing but trouble from you and Pete for years! What do you mean, you’re not going?”
“I’m old enough to enlist in the Army if you give your permission.”
Eagerly Pete said, “Me, too, Mom. Please!”
Bewildered, Mom looked from one to the other. “But why? I don’t understand-” My brothers argued and pleaded with her, and finally she gave in. The boys were overjoyed. To them, the Army meant escape from work, and school, and scrimping.
Mom and I took a train out to our new home. Grandpa, a tall, lean man in his sixties, met us at the station. He welcomed us eagerly and kept telling Mom, over and over, how grateful he was that she had come to help him.
He was grateful! Bitterly I wondered how long he would remain grateful. How long would it take for the dirt that had soiled our lives to rub off on him? But I began to feel differently in the weeks that followed. There was a cozy, pleasant air about the little town. Grandpa’s place was on the outskirts, practically in the country, and he even had a few acres of land under cultivation. I learned to handle a horse and plow, tend the dairy cow, and run the cream separator.
I loved the clean smell of the country air, and I began to hope. Maybe our past hadn’t followed us, I’d think anxiously. Maybe like sick people, we could get well again. Maybe I had a chance. I was fifteen, and for the first time in my life, I felt hope for a brighter future.
After we went to live with Grandpa, Mom changed. She stopped wearing makeup, and instead of the fancy dresses she used to wear to entertain the men “boarders,” she wore simple cotton house dresses. She became deeply religious as well. I knew that her past bothered her conscience and she wanted to atone for her mistakes.
When I was almost sixteen, I met Clark Curry. I was out in the north pasture one day, digging post holes for a new fence. When I looked up I saw him, tanned and blond. “Hello!” he said. “That’s not work for a girl.”
I wiped my forehead with my arm and said, “Mister, you’re not kidding.”
He laughed and came toward me. “I’m Clark Curry. My pop runs the farm up the road. I thought I’d drop over. Can I help you?”
I said, “Gee, that’s swell of you. But what about your own farm-no work to do?”
He smiled. “We don’t have any beautiful girls like you on our farm. Here, give me that digger.” He rolled up his sleeves and started twisting the digger into the ground. Did he really think I was beautiful? No one had ever said that to me before. “What are you doing tomorrow?” he asked.
I took the digger back and started the next hole. “Boy, you’re fast, and I don’t mean with the digger!” We laughed and teased each other like that all afternoon. And I fell in love.
Clarkliked me. I could tell that by the way he held my hand when we said good-by, and the funny look in his eyes that made my cheeks redden. “Can I see you this Saturday? I’ll come by in Dad’s pickup.”
I nodded. “I’d like that.” Then I waved to him and ran back to the house. Upstairs in my room, I stared at myself in the mirror. What had he said? “Any beautiful girls like you-” I could hardly believe what I saw in the mirror. Something had happened to me in the past year, to my face and my body, too. I had filled out in the right places and all at once my red hair and tanned skin, my green eyes and freckles weren’t ugly or wrong. I was pretty.
And then I looked again, as a terrifying thought struck me. Did it show-the ugliness, the shame? No, it didn’t! A healthy, innocent-looking girl peered back at me from the mirror. A sudden wave of bitterness passed over me. Was it really possible to paint over an old surface and pass it off as new?
I told Mom aboutClarkthat night while we were washing and drying the dishes. I was so happy, I was sure Mom would share it with me. I didn’t notice her expression until I was almost finished and then her tight lips and narrowed eyes made me hesitate. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
She flung aside her dish towel. “You’re only sixteen. I don’t want you running around seriously with boys-that’s what’s wrong. You wait until you’re old enough.”
“But Mom! All the other girls-”
Mom hissed, “I don’t care what all the other girls do!” I stared at her. She believed there was bad blood, evil tendencies in me. She had to have faith in me. Didn’t she?
“Mom!” I stepped back bewildered and hurt. I turned blindly and ran out of the kitchen. I don’t care, I told myself furiously. Nothing is going to keep me from seeingClark, or going out with him. Do it even if I have to lie and sneak. And even as I thought of that it occurred to me that here was my curse showing itself-lying and sneaking my way to love.
I managed to seeClarkthe next day, out by the fence. I told him about my fight with Mom. Of course, not all of it-not about the part concerning the truth about me. We agreed on a meeting place, and that Saturday I sneaked out of the house and ran down the road to whereClarkwas waiting with his father’s pickup truck. “I know a swell place where we can dance and have some pizza. How about it?”Clarkasked.
I nodded. When we got to the roadhouse,Clarktook my arm and the touch of his fingers sent chills through me. WhenClarkasked me to dance, I was embarrassed. “Gee, I’m not a good dancer. I’d never danced much-” I said. How could I tell him I’d never had a date before?
“That’s swell!” He grinned. “I’m a bum dancer myself. We’ll learn together.” He pulled me to my feet. To my amazement, we actually danced well together.
On the way home, he parked the car a little way down the road from the farm, then walked me to the gate. We stood there, holding hands. “Well-”Clarkfinally broke the silence as he half turned away.
Suddenly, I felt that if he left like that, without asking if he could see me again, I’d just die. I said his name and he turned quickly and said “Yes?” sort of eager, and then we just stood there looking at each other.
“Clark-” I whispered again, and then he reached out and pulled me to him and his lips on mine were sweet and cool.
After that, we saw each other often. I’d sneak out at night, and we’d meet at the fence. I knew it wasn’t right to see him on the sly all the time, but I just couldn’t make Mom understand, even though I tried again.
And then one nightClarkfailed to show up for a date. I waited for hours by the crossroads, dread and bewilderment clutching at my heart. Finally, I sneaked back to the house and went to bed thinking all sorts of terrible things.
In the morning, I ran out to the road at the time Clarkusually drove by on his milk delivery route. He came by, all right, in the pickup truck. I caught a glimpse of his face-set, grim, pale. His eyes were on the road. My waving arm froze in the air and the eager smile died on my lips. Clarkdrove by without even looking at me.
Maybe somebody else would have been too proud to even look at a boy after he’d done that, but I wasn’t. I went back home and a few hours later, I went out along the road and waited for Clarkto come back. When I saw the truck approaching, I stood in the middle of the road.
With a squealing of brakes, he stopped. I walked around to his side and said, “Clark, what is it?”
His hands gripped the steering wheel. At last he turned to look down at me standing in the road. His eyes were red. He’d been crying. “Good Lord,” he said, “what kind of people are you?”
“What are you talking about,Clark?”
He took a deep breath. “Friend of my father’s is a salesman,” he said. “He came by and stayed with us last night. I heard him talking to Pa.He’d gone by your store and he’d caught sight of your mother. He knew her back in Perryville. Laughed his dirty old mouth sick about it. He even told how there was a young girl around that house. You! I thought I’d die.”
I stood in the road looking up at him and it seemed to me that a cold hand had just laid its touch of death on my heart. “What kind of people can you be?” he asked again of me and there was despair in his voice. “I love you, Clark,” I whispered weakly. “That’s all I know. I never loved anybody else. I’ve never kissed anybody else.”
He put his fist to his mouth and bit on his knuckles. “I can’t believe you. I don’t know what the truth is any more! Why did I let you come into my life and why don’t you leave me alone?” His eyes were filled with tears. So were mine. He jammed the truck into gear.
“Clark! Listen! Stay and listen to me,” I begged.
“I don’t want to hear,” he shouted wildly. “I don’t want to see you again—or any other girl!” The truck leaped forward and roared away down the road.
I walked back to the house, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, thinking nothing, just feeling—feeling empty inside, dead. I went to my bedroom and sat there on the bed and then I felt other emotions—hatred and bitterness. I’d allowed myself to think the past could be washed away. I’d allowed myself to think I could be better than my family. That’s a laugh! Me, different? Not a chance!
But I wasn’t completely beaten. There was still some fight left in me. Clarkhated me—hated all girls. All right, I’d do the same. I’d hate all men! I had a lot of reasons to hate them, and I’d fight back. I’d give as good as I got. Men! I cursed them—the whole grinning, smirking, shuffling parade of men that had passed my door on their way to my mother’s, room not so long ago; Clark, who had left me; Dad who was rotten! I’d never give my heart to a man again.
That afternoon, I packed my few belongings, left a bitter note for Mom, walked down to the highway, and caught a bus toEdgewood.
I got a room and found a job as a waitress in a restaurant there. I worked day and night trying to forgetClark. I wanted to forget, yet the memory of him tore me apart inside. I was filled with guilt about Mom, too. What happened to her when she got my note?
I tried to tell myself that I didn’t care, and yet I knew I did. Finally I called the farm and spoke to Grandpa. Mom was out but well, he said. She missed me and couldn’t understand about my going. I told Grandpa to tell her I was well, and then I hung up.
It was that same day I met Albert Denny, a stocky, dark-haired man, with bright eyes and quick smile. I had seen him eating in the restaurant before. I knew he was interested in me, but I hadn’t ever gone out of my way to even smile at him. That night he sat at one of my tables, and when I took his order he said, “There’s one more thing.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“A date after you’re finished here,” he said, grinning.
I started to frown and say, “You’re pretty fresh, aren’t you?” But instead, I smiled. “I finish up late,” I said. “You wouldn’t want a date that started at eleven with a tired girl.”
“Wouldn’t I? Try me.”
I looked at him a moment, and then I nodded. “Okay, I will.” I wasn’t interested in Albert, but I was lonely—
That late date with Albert was the beginning of a regular thing. He lived by himself and had a good job and a lot of free time. He wasn’t fresh as I had thought he’d be. Actually he was kind of sweet and sensitive, and he had fallen for me that first night. We went out about three times a week after that. I didn’t care about him at all, but when he asked me to marry him two months after our first meeting, I said yes.
I didn’t love him. I was sure I would never love anyone the way I had and still loved Clark, even though I tried to tell myself I hated him. But I thought in Albert’s arms I might find some kind of forgetfulness, even if only for a while. Yes, only for a while. Not for one minute did I believe that the marriage would last; that for me, marriage could last.
With people like me, nothing lasted! But for a while, I’d clutch at an end to loneliness, at little scraps of comfort whenever I could, I decided. Maybe Albert would get hurt, but what did I care? What did I care about men at all, let alone Albert? Love was not for me.
And so I went through with it, Albert and I were married and we lived together—for six weeks. Six weeks of agony and hell. Every time he took me in his arms and made love to me, I wanted to scream out in protest. “What’s wrong with you?” Albert asked time and time again. “You act as if my love turned your stomach.”
Finally I burst out, “Maybe it does. I can’t stand the way you’re always at me. Being married doesn’t give you the right to maul me all the time!”
“Are you crazy? You’re my wife!”
I shrieked, “Maybe I am crazy! My pa was crazy as a loon. I hate you! I hate this marriage! It was a mistake, I want out.”
Furiously he said, “Well, you’re not going to. You’re my wife—I’ll never let you go.”
“I’ll run away.”
“Go ahead. Legally, you’re my wife, and that’s the way things will stay.” His voice softened. “Oh Jana, what’s wrong? Can’t we talk this out?”
I shrank away from his touch. “No! No! We can’t. Leave me alone, Albert.” And yet, even as I said it, I felt a deep contempt for myself. I had rushed into marriage, taking an easy way out of my loneliness, and now I didn’t have the courage to try and make something out of it.
Before our marriage, I had told Albert I wanted to go on working, and now I was glad of that. At least, I had some income of my own, and I felt I could do what
I pleased. Also I wanted to take my mind off Clark. Somehow I couldn’t forget him. His voice, his face kept haunting me a hundred times worse after my marriage to Albert! Forgetfulness! How I yearned for it!
That was why I dated Robby Young. Yes, married to Albert, still living with him, I dated another man. Like Albert, I met Robby at the restaurant. He wasn’t good-looking. His nose was crooked and his mouth was too large. He was tall and husky, with gray eyes and brown hair and a deep, rich voice.
At first, when he asked me to go out, I told him, “Cut it, I’m a married woman.”
But Robby was persistent. “When a dame like you is farmed out to work, it can’t be much of a marriage.”
“I work because I want to,” I snapped.
“That so? How come you don’t date me, then? You know you want to!”
My cheeks flamed. I walked away, confused and disturbed. Robby left the restaurant with a laugh and a wave to me, which I tried to ignore. But I thought about him all day. And as the days went by and Robby’s attentions increased, I found myself thinking about him more and more. And I thought less and less aboutClarkor my troubles with Albert. Was it possible for me to love again? I thought I hated men. I had tried to harden my heart to them, but Robby had thawed the ice.
Was it too late? At another time, I might have felt free to go out with Robby. But now I was married! Why did everything go wrong for me? It must be because there was evil in me. And that meant it was wrong for me to go out with Robby—suppose I brought bad luck and misery to him?
Finally, on Friday evening I left the restaurant to find Robby waiting outside. “How about a spin in my car?” His car was a light green convertible. “I just bought it,” he said, “to go with your eyes.”
“You’re taking a lot for granted.”
**Oh, I don’t know. Never yet met a redhead who could resist a green car. Hop in.” He took my arm. “Or are you afraid of me?” I climbed in and we roared away. For a while we were both quiet, then he said, “Well, where do we go?”
“ToNorthern Road,” I said coldly. “I’ve got a husband waiting for me.”
He just kept grinning at me, but to my surprise he drove me home. When I got out of the car he said, “I’ll see you again.”
“Don’t look too hard!” I was angry and annoyed, but I wasn’t sure why. He had taken me home the way I had asked, but had I really wanted him to?
It was about a week later that he met me after work again. “How about another ride?” he asked. I hesitated only a moment. Then I shrugged. Why not? It would be a relief not to go home and listen to Albert begging for my love. I climbed in. My heart was racing wildly. I was so aware of Robby next to me. This time he drove out of town, but I didn’t say anything. He pulled up on a side road. “Jana, Jana, you know you’ve been driving me crazy ever since I met you. I can’t sleep at night. I can’t work during the day for daydreaming about you.”
I drew back, suddenly afraid. Robby reached out and took my hand. Oh, God, what am I going to do? I wondered frantically. Had I fallen in love with Robby? But what good could come of it? And then his lips came down on mine, hard and demanding; his fingers dug in‑
to my arms and it was a sweet pain. Suddenly I didn’t care about what could happen. All I wanted were Robby’s kisses‑
Later he lit two cigarettes and handed me one. I sat back, leaning my cheek against his shoulder. “Robby,” I asked, “is this for real?”
He laughed. “Did you think I was kidding?”
“No, I mean, do you want me, Robby? Not as a married woman belonging to someone else, but for your wife? I have to know that, Robby.”
“I want you as my wife, Jana,” he said slowly. “I wanted you from the moment I saw you. As soon as you get a divorce, we’ll be married.”
I sighed with relief and settled into his arms. “I’m happy, Robby, so happy!” And I was happy for the first
time in a long while. I was in love; it put hope in my heart that I might then find a different and better life.
The next day, I packed my clothes and left Albert. It was no surprise to him. He knew how miserable our marriage had been. “Maybe it’s my fault, Jana,” he said, tight-lipped, -but I swear we could work it out if you’d try.”
“I don’t want to try, Albert. There’s someone else.”
“Yeah, I heard it through the grapevine. Okay, go ahead, but remember this-you’re still a kid who doesn’t know what she wants. You’re mixed-up and when that guy throws you over you’ll come back to me.”
I shrugged. “Don’t wait around.”
“Oh, I will, because you’ll still be my wife!”
“What do you mean?” I stared at him in dismay. “You know I want a divorce.”
“Sure, but I’m not giving you one. When you’re through with that young guy drop in and talk it over.” I slammed my suitcase shut and walked out. I’d never go back to Albert, I told myself firmly. With Robby, I had found happiness I’d never dreamed of. I took a room by myself near the restaurant, and Robby and I went out together every chance we got-sometimes to a cocktail lounge where I liked the admiring attention his pals gave me, but I only had eyes for Robby. I never dreamed anyone could be like him, so full of life and fun, so easygoing, and yet underneath it all, so surprisingly sensitive and thoughtful.
And then, one moonlit night when we had parked out in the country, I couldn’t fight it any more. That’s when I knew that the badness in me hadn’t really disappeared. It had only been hiding for a while. I knew it was still there because I couldn’t fight Robby. I didn’t want to. I gave in to his pleading to really love him.
Afterward I cried and hated myself, but Robby only held me tight. “Don’t be ashamed, Jana. We love each other. We belong together. There can’t be anything wrong in that.”
After that, whenever we were alone things would wind up the same way. And then I discovered I was pregnant!
I told Robby tearfully, but he only laughed and drew me close. “Good. I’m glad.”
So he and I went to see Albert. I’ll never forget the look on Albert’s face when we told him. It was as if his life had been drained from his body. Ashen-faced, he turned away, and for a moment my heart went out to him. He had loved me, still loved me, and I had hurt him. Was this my doom-to hurt my men?
“All right,” he said, “I’ll let you have the divorce.”
He wheeled around. “But just remember this, Young. You stole her from me, but it’s not going to do you any
good. The same thing that made her unfaithful to me will ruin your marriage.” And then he said something deliberately cruel, and untrue. “You’re not the first .guy she stepped out with and you won’t be the last!”
“That’s not true, Albert!” I shouted. “You know it’s not true.”
He shrugged. “Maybe-and maybe not.”
I turned away, and Robby followed me out of the room. Outside in his car, I said, “It’s a lie. You know that, don’t you?”
He smiled and put his hand on my shoulder. “Sure kid, I know it. Just forget it.”
We were married about two months later when my divorce became final. I was six months pregnant at the time, but we were happy. Robby’s job at the machine shop paid pretty well. He was a foreman there. I quit work at the restaurant and devoted all my time to making a home for us. There shouldn’t have been any financial problem, but still, when the baby came we suddenly found ourselves up to our necks in debt.
We were renting a furnished apartment, and our living expenses were pretty high. Robby drank a lot and was always setting up drinks for his friends. We had to borrow two hundred dollars for the hospital bill, and we still owed a hundred to the doctor who had delivered Stevie. Then the eighty-dollar-a-month car payments added up. The bills mounted until we found that our debts were just overwhelming. “I don’t know what to do,” Robby said helplessly.
“The car’s pretty expensive,” I said casually.
“That stays!” Robby said curtly. “There are just some things I won’t give up.”
I didn’t answer him, but I felt a resentful anger. The real trouble was that he wouldn’t grow up, wouldn’t face his responsibilities. Our quarrels built up, one after the other, till in dismay I realized that our whole marriage was being destroyed. I decided the only answer was to go to work myself till the debts were paid off.
At first Robby wouldn’t hear of it, but finally and reluctantly he gave in. “I guess I’ve been a heel about the whole thing, but—it’s not that I don’t love you, Jana, it’s just the pressure of all those bills.”
“I know, Robby,” I said, “but if I get a good job now we can be out of the red in a year.”
He pulled me close then. “Nothing’s going to break us up, Jana, so long as we love each other.”
“That’s right,” I said happily. “I’m your wife. I want to help. I love you.”
We couldn’t afford to pay someone to take care of the baby while I worked, so Robby suggested that I go to live with his family in Kissena, and get a job in one of the big plants there.
I agreed reluctantly, hating to be separated from Robby, but knowing it was for the best. He drove me down with Stevie and his family welcomed me. His sister Phyllis lived at home with his mother, who was a widow, and the two of them were wonderful to us.
Phyllis took me to her plant, and I got a job without any trouble. Robby’s mother was delighted to take care of little Stevie. Within two weeks, I had begun to pay off some of our debts, and after two months the doctor bills were taken care of. By then, I had already written to Mom and patched up our quarrel, too.
Robby came down every weekend. Suddenly, when everything seemed to be going so well, the whole thing came crashing down. It started with Robby beginning to skip weekends, one or two, and then more and more. The work at the plant left him too exhausted for the long drive, he said apologetically. I tried to understand, but I was terribly lonely without him.
Then, one night after work, Phyllis asked me to go out with her and her date. I went but I didn’t enjoy the evening. We went to a roadhouse, then Lou, Phyllis’ date, brought a friend over to our table. I don’t even remember his name or what he looked like. That’s how uninterested I was. I tried to be pleasant, but that was about all. We got home around twelve in Lou’s car, and his friend came along. At the house I said, “Good night,” and started up the walk.
Suddenly the guy grabbed me and said, “Not even a kiss for the evening?”
“Look, Buster,” I said, annoyed, “I didn’t ask you along. Now I’m sleepy. Let me go.”
He just laughed and pulled me close. “Aw, come on baby, give.”
I felt myself torn away from him, and Robby was standing there, his eyes blazing.Bad timing. He shoved the guy toward the car. “You better blow before I lose my temper.”
Lou hurried up and took his friend’s arm. “He’s had a few drinks, Robby. I’ll get him home.”
Robby turned to me as the car roared off. “So Albert was right about you.” His face was so cold with fury.
“What do you mean?” I gasped. “You heard me tell him to get out!”
“Oh, sure, a great act after you saw me. So you’re
stepping out cheating! What kind of a girl are ‘you?”
“Let me explain, Robby!” I cried out. “I didn’t step out. Phyllis—”
“Phyllis, sure, throw the blame on her. Well, I don’t care, understand? It’s your headache, do what you like.”
“Robby!” I pleaded, but he jumped into his car. Phyllis ran after him trying to explain, but he brushed her aside and drove off in a rage.
We made up the next weekend, but things were strained between us. Phyllis wrote Robby a letter explaining it all, and ‘Lou also told him what had happened. Robby apologized to me, but grudgingly, and deep inside I knew he didn’t trust me.
And the next month, when I told him I was pregnant again, we had a meaningless quarrel over something. At the end he burst out, “How do I know this kid belongs to me? You did wrong with me while you were married to Albert. Maybe you’ve two-timed me, too!”
I just stood there, unbelieving, and Robby saw my stricken look, and he said softly, “Aw, baby, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
I started to cry, and he took me in his arms, whispering comfort. “I didn’t mean that. I don’t know what gets into me. It’s the debts and being away from you—Please, please, Jana! I’m sorry.”
I forgave him. What else could I do?
But after he left forEdgewoodI didn’t hear from him again for a whole month. Then one night he called.
“Robby!” I cried out. “Where are you? What’s wrong? Why haven’t I heard from you? I’ve written again and again—”
“Wait a second, Jana. Slow down. Listen, I’m in trouble and I need your help.”
“Trouble? Robby! Are you hurt?”
“No, but I’ve been kind of foolish. I traded the car in on a new model and—”
“But the car was new, Robby!” I interrupted.
“Okay, okay—I was tired of a convertible. Anyway, I did it. The point is I drove the car before I bought it and I wrecked it. There’s still two hundred dollars owing on the old one, and if I don’t get that paid off I might go to jail. Jana, are you listening?”
I was so stunned I could hardly talk. ‘Finally I said, “How much do you owe on the new one?”
“About a thousand dollars,” he said quickly. “Now don’t start fussing. Just help me out so I won’t go to jail!”
I listened and I felt an overwhelming bitterness. I had sacrificed and saved for nothing; I had given up seeing my child during the day so I could work; I had given up seeing my husband so I could help pay off our debts—and now this!
“Oh, Robby!” I began to cry. “Why did you do it? We were just getting out of debt!”
“Oh, great!” His voice over the phone shook with anger. “All you can think of is getting out of debt. You don’t give a damn if I go to jail! Well, I’ll tell you the whole truth—I wasn’t alone when I wrecked the car!”
“I don’t know what you mean,” I said numbly. But I knew, only too well. I didn’t want him to go on.
“A girl was with me,” he continued sadly. “She didn’t mean anything to me, Jana—someone I picked up.”
“Well, let her pay for the car!” I screamed. “If they put you in jail, I hope you rot there!”
Then I slammed down the receiver. I went to my room and cried for hours. Now I understood why Robby had stayed away; why our debts never seemed to get finished. Oh, I understood so much! Happiness had seemed so close, and all at once I had nothing—no Robby!
I lay there on my bed all night, thinking, trying to look back and understand what had brought all this on. I had met my husband in sin and it still preyed on his mind, had driven him to this. It was the old curse, the filth I couldn’t shake from my life.
Late that night I went into the baby’s room. He lay asleep in his crib. What could I give him? Whatever I touched turned bad, and wherever I went I brought unhappiness. Did I have any right to bring another child into the world now-especially when Robby had already grown tired of me before the baby was even born?
I left Stevie’s room and went into the bathroom. I’ll go mad if I keep thinking like this, I told myself. I had to find something to put me to sleep. I searched the shelves of the medicine chest, looking for an aspirin to calm my nerves. Then I saw a bottle of sleeping pills.
I took two of the pills with a little water, and I went back to my room, but I still couldn’t sleep. My brain kept going round and round- Robby out with another woman. Robby lost to me, the way Clark had been lost-Dear God, why? Why go on living if I didn’t have Robby and his love?
Finally, desperately searching for sleep, I got up and took another pill. I was so tired I couldn’t move, yet I lay there and all my tortured thoughts swirled across my mind. I had lost Robby! Oh God, let me sleep! I wept, and then, shaking and trembling, I stumbled to my feet and went down the hall to the bathroom to take another tablet.
The house was quiet. As quiet as death! I thought. I paused in the darkened bathroom, my whole body shuddering. How restful and easy to die-to slip out of life as easy as sleep. Why go on? What was there for me or the unborn child inside me? For just a second I thought of Stevie, then emptied the rest of the pills into my hand. Stevie would be better off with Phyllis and her mother. Life, was unbearable to me now and I wanted to die and escape the torment. I pushed all the pills into my mouth.
It seemed that I stood there for an eternity. The glass slipped from my fingers and shattered on the floor. All at once the enormity of what I had done hit me. I screamed in agony and terror, and then I tore open the bathroom door and rushed out into the hall. The lights went on and I saw Phyllis come running out.
“Jana, Jana, what’s wrong?”
I ran toward Phyllis. I reached the top of the staircase, halfway to her, when my robe caught on the steps. I tripped and fell down the long flight of steps- And then there was only darkness.
I came out of the blackness reluctantly, only to be plunged into a deeper, more terrible one. I woke and found myself in agony. The pain was unbearable. And then I knew! My baby, my unborn baby!
I screamed, “Mama! Oh, God, Mama-” and then I sank back into blackness. It was as if I were a child again, calling out to her for comfort, for assurance. “Mama, oh, Mama!”
“Rest, Jana. Just rest, my darling.”
My eyes flew open at the sound of the voice and in shocked wonder I looked into Mom’s face. I was fully conscious now.
“Mom! What are you doing here?”
Her face lit up. “Jana! You’re awake! Thank God!”
But before she could say any more, Phyllis came in with a nurse and the doctor. I was examined, my questions forced to wait, and then Mom explained.
She had been called by Phyllis the night the baby was born, born dead! I had been delirious then, crying and screaming for Mama. My fall down the stairs had brought on the premature birth. I also suffered a bad concussion. Mom had come to me, and she had been with me night and day at the hospital.
I took her hand and held it, and it was as if I were holding all that was precious and stable in a crazy world. “Oh, Mom, the baby died,” I whispered. “I killed it, Mom. I tried to kill myself and I killed my child. What’s wrong with us, Mom? How do we get rid of the curse?”
Tenderly, gently she said, “The Bible tells us one thing, Jana. Yours is the choice. I knew when we went to live with Grandpa, that the choice was mine. I could go on as I had been going, destroying all our lives, living sinfully-or I could straighten up and find God. The
choice was mine do you see it?”
I shook my head. “No, no. All I see is that I’ve ruined my own life.”
“No, you haven’t! Nothing can’t be changed. You can accept misery or fight for happiness. You always had a choice, Jana. I was wrong to stop you from seeingClark. At that time, I felt sin was in my blood, and in yours, because you were my child. But I made a terrible mistake. The sin was there, but it was in your mind-the urge to hurt yourself. You could have stayed at the farm and tried to show me that I was wrong. You could have fought for what you wanted. Instead you ran away. Now you have another choice. You have a man who loves you. You can stay with him.”
“Robby hates me. I left him to rot in jail when I could have helped him.”
“He doesn’t hate you. He raised the money to pay for the car he wrecked and he’s been here all week, worried sick. I learned your whole story from him, what you’ve been through since you left home. Oh, Jana, don’t torture yourself. Open your heart and see where this madness, this drive to prove yourself bad has taken you. The choice is still yours!”
I thought over all she’d said. Finally I realized what Mom had been trying to tell me: a person has a choice between living in the mire and the mud-or in beautiful surroundings. No one has to take the wrong path if he or she doesn’t choose to. If you believe in yourself and trust in God, then He will help you find a path to happiness. Once I’d gotten that straightened out in my mind, I could hardly wait until Robby came.
When Robby came to see me the next day, I told him about my new resolution to change my life, and I also told him how ashamed I was about taking those terrible pills. “I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you,” I whispered. “I thought you wanted that other woman.”
“Don’t blame yourself, darling,” Robby said, stroking my hair. “I was the one at fault- running up the bills, acting like a spoiled brat, chasing women because I told myself you were cheating on me. It was just an excuse to have my cake and eat it. I’m the one who should ask your forgiveness. If you’ll let me, I’ll try to make it up to you in every way I can.”
“Oh, Robby,” I cried joyously, “let’s start over again! I’ve never cheated on you. You’ll always be my love!”
He bent down and kissed my cheek tenderly. “And you’ll always be my love, sweetheart. Now rest.”
When I left the hospital, another miracle occurred. Mom had written to my brothers in the Army about our troubles, and without being asked, they both sent us money to pay off some of our debts. You see, Pete and Dell had made a choice, too. They decided to make the Army their career because they wanted to “live right,” and they also decided to try and make it up to Mom about all the trouble they had given her as teenagers. They figured that their helping me out would please Mom.
Robby and I were so grateful for their aid. It helped us through the roughest spots we encountered all year while getting back on our feet. We made a decision, too. Pete and Dell are going to be joint godfathers to the new baby we’re expecting next month.
Copyright © 1965, 2012 by BroadLit