Nicole’s latest letter arrives just a few days before Sheldon and I leave for Sioux City. How does she expect me to answer? I just don’t understand her, this brown-eyed child of mine, this child who has demanded her independence from day one.
From a distance, you see this lovely 20-year-old girl, with long black hair, long legs, slim body. When she sashays into a room, she makes an entrance. Heads turn. Men drool. Women round up their men and cling to them.
You wonder how she slides through life so effortlessly.
But when you meet her up close, you notice that her eyes are glazed, her hair not quite clean, her teeth gray, her skin bad, her mind dulled from years of drug and alcohol abuse.
Not the willful child who struggled out of my body.
She’s quit the alcohol and drugs now, after having overdosed on crack cocaine last year. I almost lost her. Now it’s the cult. The Circle of Love. Everything revolves around that strange sex cult.
As if in my day we needed to find an excuse to fuck.
I hear through the grapevine that she and Roger have really gone around the bend. I really don’t want to know about these things, but the community is small. Word gets around fast.
Did this alien child REALLY live in my womb for nine months?
I try to put it all out of my mind, but Nikki can’t seem to leave it alone– her letters come about once a month now.
I will hide this last one from Shel:
June 10, 1990
Why don’t you write? I never hear from you anymore. I miss you. Don’t turn away from me, Mama. I could have lied about things, but I chose to tell you the Truth. I don’t expect you to agree with everything I believe in, but can’t you accept me for who I am?
I just don’t believe in the same things you believe in. What do you believe in, anyway? Everyone (except poor old Shelly, the fool) knows you’re screwing your OB-GYN on the side. At least I’m not a hypocrite. I’m up front about everything I do. Besides, God put women on this earth for two purposes: to please men and bear children. And I like pleasing men, and Roger likes pleasing women. Sometimes we like pleasing them together. Is that so wrong? We love each other, but we are bursting with so much love we want to share it with others.
And does it really matter who contributed the seed for my child? As long as we all love each other, no one cares. Every child belongs to every man and woman. By the way, I think I’m about 5 months along now, but I might be 6. I don’t know if that last period was really a period. I figure God will tell me when the time is right.
I no longer drink or smoke. God tells us that Receptacles of the Seed must keep their bodies healthy & strong for childbearing. And Roger’s very careful not to smoke around me. But I don’t begrudge him his few pleasures. As Bearers of the Seed, men have special privileges. Why do you think that is so bad?
I really wanted to go to the family reunion. I know Nana’s really sick and is not expected to live very long, and I would like to see her one last time, but Roger says I must obey you in this matter. He says that as long as you aren’t interfering with our doctrine, I have to listen to you because you’re still my mother, and you know best.
I don’t know why I should start now; I’ve never listened to you before, but that’s the Rule according to Love.
Why won’t you give me your permission? I promise I wouldn’t say anything about The Circle. I understand that Nana comes from another era and wouldn’t understand our ways. I won’t lie to her, but maybe I could just give her the impression that Roger and I have gotten married? And Roger says he’ll stay away. I just want to see the Mallory part of my family one last time. You know, once the child is born, I won’t be allowed outside the compound any more. It’s God’s Will.
We’re doing okay. Roger’s got a job painting houses and gets paid good money. Finally, we’re able to help pay for our share of the building of the compound.
Please call me, Mama.
I want to go to the reunion.
How does she expect me to answer this, anyway?
Every year we drive to Sioux City, but this year is different. We’re still driving, of course (I hate airplanes), but on this trip Sheldon gets to meet the entire family.
We used to have fun on our road trips, I telling impossible puns with trick endings, Shel singing silly songs:
“Oh, what a time I had with Minnie the Mermaid/Down at the bottom of the sea/I lost all my troubles/Down by the bubbles/Whenever Minnie made magic with me.”
Normally, Shel is wound up so tightly that he twangs like a taut rope. But while driving, he becomes this unfamiliar loose, frivolous creature.
The first time I saw this trait–we’d been married only a few months–I thought he’d gone off his nut. But then, once we were off the road, he was the same old Shel. So I’ve learned to enjoy these spurts of spontaneity.
This time, though, it’s different. I just want to talk about my life, sort some things out before I have to face my entire family, especially Danny.
Danny O’Flaherty. Aunt Sal says he’s really looking forward to this reunion and has asked about me, how I’m doing. I haven’t seen him in years, and I’m not anxious to see him now. Father Dan. What a joke.
I just don’t want to talk about him right now. But I have to talk about something; otherwise, I’ll spill my guts about the grant. I’m not ready to tell Shel about that until I have made my final decision.
I MUST KEEP MY COOL!
Your mouth must remain in mindless motion, just keep talking, you must never stop, Samantha Anne Mallory, not once, until you hit Iowa.
I might as well take advantage of the fact that I’m married to a shrink–a Gestalt shrink, maybe, but I can handle that confrontational side of him. He’ll listen to me ramble for hours, plugging in an occasional “How do you feel about that?” just to prove he’s listening to me.
I have written two letters to Inez Shorb–both are stamped and ready to go–and I have hidden them in my suitcase, wrapped in my white cotton Jockeys–
Letter #1: Reject the grant and stay with Sheldon–stagnate. Suffer for the rest of my life from a chronic case of the “what ifs”? Wither. Kill any chances for a real career as a painter. Die an old unfulfilled woman.
Letter #2: Accept the grant and run off to France for a year–will Shel divorce me while I’m gone? Will he find another woman? Worse yet, will he go through my things and find out about Ian?
Ian, how dare you love me when I don’t know how I feel about you?
I’ll have to decide sometime during the reunion. About the grant, I mean.
Meanwhile, we’ve decided to stop along the way, see some sights, snap some photographs.
As we merge west onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike from I-83, I ask the ritual question:
“Are we there yet?”