After multiple coffee stops and multiple bathroom stops, I finally see the sign for the city entrance into Moon River. I glance at my phone. I should probably give my sister a call and let her know I am coming so that she isn’t completely taken by surprise. I have 4 missed calls from Langston. Whatever he needs can wait. I left for a reason… to escape from everything.
I pull up to Lily’s cottage style house and park my car.
Lily and I grew up inseparable. We’re twins, born only minutes apart. Of course we were close.
Things changed for us when got a little older. Just a few days before my thirteenth birthday, the issue began inside our church. Pastor Partridge would always talk to Lily alone. Always pray over Lily alone. Always take her into his office alone. His wife was sick with cancer and she rarely attended Sunday services. She was suffering from a rare form of cancer that was terminal and it was killing her quick. In fact, because Pastor Partridge’s wife was so sick with this cancer, we barely ever saw her in general. Lily grew more and more distant from me and at the time, I didn’t understand why. One Sunday, our parents were eating the complimentary bagels and muffins and socializing on the patio with the other church couples like they did every week.
Lily had stayed home this particular Sunday because she felt sick.
I walked the hallways of the church, looking at the statues and thinking of the sermon. Redemption. Repentance. I remember feeling so confused. Life didn’t make sense to me at the time. I was always questioning things and being told to “be quiet”.
Pastor Partridge emerged from his office and saw me standing there.
“Come here, dear,” he said, waving me in his direction.
He never really talked to me before because he was always talking to Lily. As soon as we were behind closed doors, he started fondling me and kissing my mouth aggressively. He started grabbing me by my hair. I was so stunned that I was frozen. Unable to speak or move my lips. He pulled me by my waist to his chair where he sat down and bent me over his lap. He pushed my skirt upward to expose my bare skin and started spanking me. At first softly and gently and then he progressed to painfully loud slaps against my skin with his hand. He turned my body around so that I was facing him and for the first time, he looked into my eyes and he quietly asked me, “Lily?”
He realized that he mistakenly thought I was Lily but I was too stunned to respond.
I shook my head no to inform him that I wasn’t her. He had grabbed the wrong twin. I looked down so that my hair fell over my face.
“It’s okay,” he whispered to me, pushing my hair behind my ears. “The angels came to me and told me that it’s okay, my dear.”
I started crying but he softly wiped away my tears.
“I’m going to teach you how to honor God by honoring your priest,” he told me, unbuckling his pants.
Felt like it lasted for hours. But the gigantic grandfather clock that stood there, ticking away in his office begged to differ. Six minutes. Nothing more, nothing less.
When it was over, he made me dry off my tear-streaked face with tissues and he pushed a Christmas colored mint candy into my mouth.
He gently fixed my hair and watched me adjust my clothing back to normal. He guided me back out into the hallway and touched my face, softly. “You did God’s work today, Lori. You performed a work in God’s name. That means that it must stay between us and God. If you tell anyone else, there will be no holiness in it. Matthew 6:5 through 6 tells us that ‘hypocrites love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’ Do you understand?”
I shook my head no.
I had never been more confused.
“You do not need to publicize your services of God because God rewards those who serve him in secret. Do you understand now?” he asked.
He was gripping my arm so tightly.
I shook my head yes, just so that he’d let me go.
I can still remember the twinges of pain from where his dry fingers had dug into me.
“Tell Lily she shouldn’t skip church again,” he told me, as I started to walk away.
His voice echoed in the hallway as he watched me walk from him at a faster than average pace.
My legs felt weak like noodles. Like I was going to collapse at any moment. I tried to avoid limping in my steps although he had twisted my body into positions that contorted me and caused me pain.
I reached the end of the hall and he closed his office door. I spit the minty candy onto the floor and ran through the church to find my parents.
The entire drive home I didn’t know what to say. I debated on if I should tell my parents but decided against it because for some reason at that moment, I thought I’d get in trouble. I cried in frustration when I got into my bedroom and my tears quickly became tears of panic. I was frantic at the notion that this had been happening to Lily for quite some time now. I cried in anger. I was told to remain a virgin until marriage. I wasn’t a virgin anymore.
Candy. He used to always make sure to give one to Lily afterward. His drawer of goodies probably had every type of candy you could think of. Jolly Ranchers, Snickers bars... I used to jealously watch Lily eat her strawberry Laffy Taffy and Dum Dum lollipops during every ride home. I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want her to know I was jealous about that too. She already had the prettier hair, the bluer eyes, and the longer eyelashes. She didn’t need to know that I’d already noticed how inadequate I was in comparison to her.
Now, knowing where she got all of her candy from was making me feel sick.
I began to loathe my parents. I’d stare at them with disdain from afar every time I’d see them laughing or smiling or simply doing anything. Ignorant idiots.
They’d munch on their bagels and muffins and sip their tea and coffee while they socialized on the church patio every Sunday.
I remember the time I tried to sit my mother down to tell her something was wrong with Pastor Partridge. She didn’t let me get very far because apparently to her, it sounded like I was trying to complain my way out of going to service.
I tried to talk to Lily about it several times in the days that followed what had happened to me, but every single time, she would shut me down and refuse to discuss it. The year that Lily and I were sixteen, Pastor Partridge’s wife passed away from the cancer and he decided to step down from his position due to “grief”. Pastor Kenworth took over and finally nobody was there to bother Lily or me. Even though Pastor Partridge was gone, it didn’t suddenly make Lily and me close to each other again. My parents mourned the loss of Pastor Partridge’s wife and the loss of Pastor Partridge as the leader of the church, along with the rest of the congregation.
When I saw my mother shed tears over the whole thing, I wanted to slap her.
I hated her, I hated my father, and I hated my entire life.
And then there was the accident.
It happened during Lily and my last year of high school. A few weeks before graduation.
We’d all gone out to eat together as a family and when we got back home afterward, Lily and I got started working on our homework. I was writing a research paper and Lily was filling out a worksheet for her government class. I reached into my pocket and realized I’d left my cell phone at the restaurant.
“I left my phone at Union Café,” I said, looking up at my mother in the kitchen.
“That’s alright, I’ll go back and grab it,” she responded, pulling her jacket off the hanger.
I started standing up to go with her but she told me, “No that’s okay, Lori. Just keep plugging away on your homework. I’ll bring it right back.”
My dad grabbed his jacket too and said, “I’ll go with you, honey. We’ll stop at the grocery store and grab a carton of ice cream for dessert after we grab her phone.”
The sound of the car keys jingling in my father’s hand as they walked out the front door to the car still haunts me.
They never came back home.
They were greeted abruptly with the crashing “hello” of a drunk driver on their way down the road back to Union Café.
And that’s when Lily and I fully lost each other.
I was angry.
And I blamed myself.
And then for a second, I thought that it was karma of some sorts. They died because they were such horribly shitty parents. They allowed years of abuse to continue right under their noses.
They didn’t notice a fucking thing.
Wouldn’t hear me out for what I was desperately struggling to say.
I felt so betrayed by God that I decided to stop acknowledging the existence of God altogether. Lily went in the other direction and dived right into the scripture to try and find meaning and closure and peace from our loss.
I remember telling her, “There is no meaning or closure for this. There is no peace when you lose both of your parents.”
And she just looked at me with red-rimmed eyes and continued highlighting her way through Psalms.
After graduating from high school, she moved to the country. She found love and got married and started having kids.
I got enrolled at UC Berkeley and earned my degree.
We never talked.
I was busy with finals when her wedding came along so even though she’s sent me an invitation in the mail, I couldn’t make it.
I didn’t even give her a reason.
I never met her husband, I never met her children, and the two of us became nearly perfect strangers.
Now we’re both 23 and the last real conversation we had was about seven years ago.
But that’s all about to change right about now.
I grab my suitcase and roll it up the pavement to Lily’s front door. I knock on the door and stare at the wood.
When she opens the door and sees me, her mouth falls open in amazement.
She has flour dusted across her face and an apron tied around her waist.
She throws her arms around me and embraces me in a hug that I absolutely did not expect.
We walk inside together and sit down on the sofa.
“What’s going on?” She asks. “What are you doing here? I mean it’s obvious that you weren’t just in the neighborhood.”
“Yeah… yeah, no I wasn’t. I was wondering if I could stay here with you for a while.”
“Alright!” She agrees without even a second thought. “I can have Mazie sleep in the boys’ room and we can just change the sheets and clear some drawers. No problem.”
I never in a million years expected her to greet me so warmly. I expected more of a rude interrogation. Like how dare I miss her wedding and how dare I be such a bitch.
“So,” she asks with these bright eyes full of wonder. “How have you been?”
“Pretty shitty,” I respond meekly.
“Alright… well, why? What’s going on?”
I look around her living room. Toys all over the floor. Kid art pasted on every wall. She’s clearly in the middle of cooking or baking something because her kitchen is a bit disorganized looking from what I can see. Her husband and children are nowhere to be found.
“Frank’s at work and the kids are at school,” she responds as if she were reading my mind. “He’ll pick them up and bring them home in about an hour.”
“Okay,” I say. And then I pause. “Where can I sleep?”
She guides me up the stairs to a pink painted little girl’s room.
“This is Mazie’s room,” Lily explains. “She won’t mind sleeping with the boys’ for a few nights.”
“So, you like this?” I ask, looking around and crossing my arms.
“What do you mean?” she asks.
“This whole family thing you have going on here. With the little kid shit all over the place, and the house, and the whole country housewife vibe you’ve got going on.”
“Um… well yes. I’d say I ‘like’ it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing it.”
“You pretend you’re happy or what?”
“Yeah. Because this can’t be real.”
“There’s nothing unreal about my life. And I am quite happy actually. Is something going on with you that’s making you so hostile?”
“Yeah. I mean we haven’t spoken in years and now I finally get to see you and it’s… like this.”
“Get to see me? You could have visited me too.”
“It’s a lot harder with kids, Lori.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I get it.”
“What is your problem?”
“My problem is that I knew what dick tasted like when I was twelve and I can tell you one thing. It sure doesn’t taste like a fucking cherry Dum Dum.”
“Whoa… okay. Got it.”
“Yeah, I know you do. And you never talked to me about it the whole time it was going on.”
“Because I was trying to be strong. I wasn’t trying to ruin your life too.”
“Too fucking late.”
“Well, I didn’t let it break me, Lori. I didn’t let it do to me what it so clearly has done to you.”
“You don’t know a fucking thing about me.”
“I don’t even care that you missed my wedding. It was hurtful but fine, I understand it. Come on, Lori. You didn’t show up for Mom and Dad’s funeral either! I think that says enough, don’t you think?”
“Why would I show up to their stupid fucking funeral? Watch a batch of old fucking strangers to me sink into the ground? For what? What purpose would that have served?”
“They were our parents, Lori.”
“No, they fucking were not. ‘Strangers’ would be a better term in my opinion.”
“They tried their best while they were alive. Especially towards the end, right before their accident…”
“They were doing that out of guilt. How can you be so dense?”
“They didn’t even know about it, you psycho!”
“But how didn’t they? You and I were FREAKS of nature! We were ostracized at school. We didn’t know how to act normal for fuck’s sake.”
“Lori, they didn’t know. If they had known, you know they would have stopped it.”
“HOW can you be so forgiving? How does a good parent not know that something is so tragically wrong with their own children? We were their flesh and blood. We stood in front of them every day and they couldn’t even tell that we were suffering.”
“They thought it was teenage angst, Lori. Most parents would’ve thought the same thing.”
“Sullen, sulking thirteen-year-olds is normal? Depressed and dejected fourteen-year-olds was the norm? What about when we were 15 and I went on that sexual rampage with any guy who would look my way? I slept with half the basketball team and butchered my teenage reputation in the process, was that normal? What about— what about when we were sixteen and you swallowed half a bottle of sleeping pills with a bottle of Jameson in our bathroom? And you locked the door! Dad had to break the door down while mom was dialing 911! Was that normal?”
I yank on my own hair and pace the room in frustration.
“Mom and Dad loved us, you know? Whether you wanna admit it or not, they did.”
“No, they fucking didn’t,” I say with a sarcastic laugh in my voice.
“Yes, they absolutely did!”
“No, they fucking didn’t!”
“Yes, they fucking did!”
“NO, THEY FUCKING DIDN’T!”
“HOW THE HELL DO YOU KNOW?!”
“Because... FUCK THEM!”
I burst into tears and crumble into a pile on the floor in the exact place where I was so boldly standing, raising my voice at my sister in her own home.
She falls to her knees beside me and tightens her arms around me on both sides.
Not in an attempt to pick up my slumping body... but just to hold me through the shake of each sob.
And she cries with me, alongside me making me feel like I’m not the only one who has to bear this pain. I’m not the only one who has to carry this burden.
“He’s still out there, probably doing the same shit you know,” I tell her.
She gently nods her head and keeps holding me. We stay there in that spot until we hear her front door swing open downstairs and the chorus of voices of her family that follows.
Her family whose voices sound sweeter in my ears than it would taste to bite into a solid bar of sugar.
We stand to our feet and dab our eyes dry.
I know she has to play the role of the happy wife and mother but I don’t.
I can stay hidden away in this room with my red-rimmed eyes and my heart broken for now.
“I’ll come down for dinner,” I say to Lily.
“Alright,” she responds, squeezing my arm.
She leaves the room, shutting the door after herself.