Sunday, February 22, 2009
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
The fourth day after Ranger’s new boss started was one of the few rainy days Bruni earned each year. Jessie was standing over the stove sprinkling cheese on a mac and cheese casserole when she saw Ranger’s green car pull into the driveway. She slid the casserole into the oven and glanced back at the car. She furrowed her brow as the clock behind her ticked away the seconds and no one emerged from the car. The rain ran in rivulets down the window pane, and she wondered if Ranger was hoping it would let up. She grabbed an umbrella and ran outside.
She opened the passenger-side door and leaned inside.
“Hey sweetie, I brought an umbrella out for you.”
He sat slouched in the seat, staring at his hands at his lap. She reached inside to brush her fingers against his thigh.
“You comin’ in?”
“Yeah. Not just yet though.”
“Oh,” she replied, startled. “Ok. Well, I’ll leave this here for you.”
She folded the umbrella and dropped it into the car before running back inside.
Thirty minutes later, Ranger came inside.
“You didn’t even use the umbrella, silly,” she said, brushing the water off his soft, brown hair.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking.”
“Don’t apologize,” she kissed him. “What’s wrong?”
He refused to say anymore, and spent the rest of the evening in silence.
It wasn’t until Saturday morning, as Jessie was heading out to work, that he opened up.
“Mitch, the new boss, you know? I don’t think he likes me.”
“That’s ridiculous, why would you say that?”
Ranger swiveled his foot on the ground, like he was putting out a cigarette.
“He told me my performance was sub-par and I was an ignorant red-neck.”
“He said that?” she exclaimed.
“Yeah. The red-neck thing was under his breath, but I know he said it.”
“Well, maybe he didn’t,” Jessie replied, hopefully. “Maybe you heard him wrong.”
Ranger glared at her.
“I know what I heard. So you think I’m dumb too?”
“You know that’s not what I meant. I was just hoping it’s not as bad as you thought.”
“I’m sure it is. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I can’t work with this guy.”
“You’re going to have to,” she said gently. “We need this job. Remember how hard it was to find it? And now, with the mortgage …” Her voice trailed off. Two and a half years of mortgage payments hadn’t made much of a dent in their debt, and the thought of all those zeros they still owed the bank made her nervous.
He exhaled, and his shoulders slumped. She hugged him and kissed his neck.
“I have to go, but let’s talk about this more when I get back.”
“Alright,” he said, and kissed her.
When she returned, exhausted, Ranger was absorbed in a crime drama on TV, with a bottle of beer in his hand. She didn’t want to disturb him, so she tiptoed up to bed.
As the weeks passed, Jessie’s husband spiraled deeper into his own personal misery. She could rarely get him to tell her what was wrong, as recounting it seemed to wound his pride even further. He drank more and spoke less, and seldom agreed to go out with the few friends they had made in Bruni. When she reassured him, he snapped, and when she caressed him, he pulled away. She didn’t know how to make him feel better, how to show him her love. Her heart ached.
And so, nearly three years after last seeing her mother, Jessie decided to write, pleading for help. Jessie’s mother was no stranger to marital difficulties – Jessie’s parents had nearly divorced when she was twelve, after three years of misunderstanding that rotted their relationship and led to screaming. But, to Jessie’s amazement, they reversed their trajectory and reconciled. Jessie wanted that secret, wanted the advice. And when she let herself admit it, she wanted her mother’s consolation. A hug scented with cloves and bread, that’s what her mother’s love was.
Her tears hit the paper before the ink did. She stopped thinking about what to write and just wrote. She sealed the letter without reading it, and ran it down to the mailbox.
When she came back inside, she saw Ranger sitting on the couch, watching TV. She walked behind him and ran her fingers through his hair. The TV was showing Forrest Gump, and the music surged through the quiet room. She leaned down to whisper in his ear.
“This is a little cheesier than your usual fare,” she said, kissing him on the cheek.
“I guess I’m feeling mushy,” he replied. He reached his arms over his head to hug her. Then he released her and reached for his beer.
“Do you feel like going out? Maybe have dinner at Chili’s?” she asked, hopeful and watching his profile.
He drank the entire bottle before answering.
“No. Thanks. I’m just going to watch this. You can go though.”
“No, that’s ok,” she sighed. “I’ll be upstairs if you need me, ok?”
Friday, February 13, 2009
Her pen hung over the paper, suspended mid-air. She watched it, waiting for something to happen. Nothing. She grabbed the brown beer bottle and drank what little was left. She returned to the pen, making it dance swirls above the paper. But still, no words came.
The first line had been easy. “Dear Mom.” After that, she didn’t know how to begin. With a warm salutation? With a formal opening? Or to cut right to the chase – “I need you.”
It hadn’t been so difficult the first time.
“Dear Mom: I’m sorry to tell you this in an email. I’m sorry I left without saying good-bye. Don’t worry – I’m fine. I’m more than fine, I’m happy! Ecstatic! Ranger and I are married. We got married three nights ago, in Las Vegas. We drove there all the way from Charlotte, can you believe it? And now we’re headed out, looking for a small town that’s affordable where we can get a job and start a life. The land here is beautiful, Mom, and I can’t believe I’m seeing it with my soul mate. We drove all day yesterday, hair in the wind. Is this how you felt when you married Dad? I know you don’t approve of Ranger, but I hope you’ll give him a chance. He has a beautiful spirit. And now he’s your son-in-law. Write back, and when we find a place, you can come visit! Love, Jessie.”
She never heard a response, not to the email or to the letter she sent when they found their tiny rancher house in Bruni, Nevada. She had given her mother her address, and begged her to visit them. Her mother never wrote, and ignored her phone calls. After a year, Jessie gave up. Frustrated and angry at being rejected, she resolved to cut her mother out of her life in the same way her mother had eliminated her.
Life in Bruni was exhilarating, at first. She and Ranger had cooed over their tiny, charming house, and dreamt about landscaping and baby’s rooms. They joked that the possibilities were as wide as the horizons. Ranger got a job in the office of a small mining firm, and she waited tables in a family-run Italian restaurant down the street. The owner, a mostly-Irish woman named Shirley, welcomed Jessie with open arms. Jessie loved taking her tips and meager paycheck home, to her own house, and curling up on the couch in the arms of her own husband, resting her head on his firm shoulder. She watched Ranger come out of his shell, finding his own two feet in the absence of his father.
Visiting Ranger’s house in Charlotte had been unbearable. He was 23, living at home because his parents had forbidden him from going to college and relied upon him to help pay the rent. His father vacillated between states of drunkenness and rigid propriety, and berated Ranger at every opportunity. Jessie didn’t blame him for wanting to get away, to drive as far as possible. And she couldn’t let him go alone. It would have been like letting her own heart leap from her body and drive away. Painful and impossible. So they left, driving his old convertible towards his freedom, their unknown.
She told him that their love was like drinking hot chocolate – warm, sweet, and more comforting than anything. She knew it was silly, but she couldn't find better words. He laughed and tickled her.
“Ok, pudding,” he teased.
Then, Ranger got a new boss at his office. Jessie had visited the office once – it was a tiny place, just a few rooms in a three-story cement office building on the outskirts of Bruni. Ranger managed the sales contracts, and that Sunday he’d made love to Jessie on his cramped desk. The place felt like a fishbowl to her, and she wondered how he didn’t feel claustrophobic.
Continued at Part 2.