|posted on 19-Jan-2003 1:31:09 PM|
|Title: Surviving Santa Clara|
Disclaimer: I don’t own anyone except for Teresa; all other characters mentioned belong to Melinda Metz and Jason Katims.
Rating: R for child abuse
Couple: UC (Mi/L)
Summary: Michael’s life, viewed through the eyes of someone who knew him well.
This fic received the Best Original Fanfiction and Runner Up for Best Overall Polar Fiction at Substantial Myth.
* * * * *
I slipped silently into the last pew of the church, sliding in just moments before the scheduled beginning. The repressive New Mexico heat filled the small building, and above the rustle of the fans used to stir the stifling air I could hear soft crying emanating from the woman in the front row. I ignored her, turning my focus center to focus on him, Michael, the only person who could ever draw me back to this god-forsaken town. I had never seen him in a suit before, and there with his hands crossed gently, eyes closed and face relaxed, he looked so serene and peaceful. I knew then that Santa Clara no longer had a hold on him. I still couldn’t believe I was here for this, it seemed like only yesterday he was a grubby little kid, and now…My breath caught in my chest as tears welled up in my eyes as I remembered the beginning….
* * * * *
"... Adversity not only draws people together, but brings forth that beautiful inward friendship, just as the cold winter forms ice - figures on the window panes which the warmth of the sun effaces... "
* * * * *
I learned early that time in the Santa Clara Trailer Park passed not in seconds, minutes or hours, but in the screams and yells of its occupants accompanied by the sounds of flesh hitting flesh. Every once in awhile these sounds would be interrupted by arrivals or departures, the arrivals lending new voices to the chorus of domestic abuse, while the departures were high-lighted by a solo of flashing lights and the wail of the ambulance siren. On those days, the people of Santa Clara would watch as one of their own was wheeled away on a gurney or led away in handcuffs with an air of fascinated disinterest. Some would pass judgment even though their own lives where no better, while others would yearn to experience the same escape no matter the violence implicated; mostly though the events just reinforced to us all the wretchedness of our own existence. Santa Clara would continue to claim its victims because its victims didn’t know that they deserved any better.
* * * * *
I was sixteen when Sarah Tilling ran off and left her husband Hank. For awhile the neighbors whispered that he had killed her and dumped the body somewhere, it had certainly sounded like somebody getting killed in that trailer with all the screaming and the sounds of furniture breaking. I knew the truth though because I was there when she left, and although he hadn’t killed her he had broken one of the Santa Clara rules and messed up her face pretty bad. Most men aim for the stomach, chest, and back, places that are easily hidden by shirts when the police come around, but not even the large sunglasses she wore could fully hide the familiar purple and black radiating from around her covered left eye. The entire left side of her face looked like he had taken a bat to it, her cheek was puffed out and her lip was twice its normal size, a bloody split delineating the swollen line running down the middle of her face. I watched from the shadows, halted from my walk home from school by the sight of her slowly moving down the trailer steps. The tiny duffle bag she carried seemed almost too heavy for her to make it to her car, but she persevered, her little foster son following quietly behind with a full looking paper sack. Sarah had been able to fit her entire life in a bag and a piece of paper, Santa Clara didn’t leave a person much to live on. I didn’t feel pity or sadness about that revealing bit of social commentary as I watched her load her beat-up Mustang though, what I felt was envy. Sarah was getting the hell out of Roswell’s only trailer park before it killed her, and she was managing it, just barely, on her own two feet. Sarah was realizing my goal, and I had to restrain myself from falling at her feet and begging her to take me away too.
I watched her painfully ease down and clutch that little boy to her chest, silent tears running down her cheeks. He didn’t try to squirm out of the hug like most eight year olds would, but stood there stoically. He seemed to understand that she needed to derive some comfort while she wept, but was unable or unwilling to join in her grief. Finally she pulled away and lightly brushed his wild ash-blonde hair off his forehead. “Michael, come with me where we can be safe.”
The boy stepped quietly out of her grasping arms and with a voice filled with an age and purpose that should have been foreign to any child, replied, “I can’t. They need me here.”
His odd refusal pushed Sarah to the brink of tears again, but I could tell that this wasn’t a new argument because she didn’t try to persuade him. Instead she just turned her head away, and that’s when she caught sight of me. A new tension filled her body and blankness settled over her features, “On your way home Teresa?”
You minded your own business in our community and her body language reminded me that I should have just kept on walking instead of spying on an obviously private moment. My voice assumed the same monotone as hers, “Just got out of school, heading in that direction.”
I watched her struggle to stand, what little color she had draining from her face with the effort. I had taken a first aid class at the Y last summer, both to escape the house and to gain some knowledge on how to mend the various wounds my father inflicted on us. I could tell by the way she was holding herself that if her ribs weren’t broken they were at least cracked. I couldn’t stop myself from opening my mouth and breaking another Santa Clara Commandment, thou shalt not offer unsolicited advice. “You need to wrap those ribs of yours.”
The boy, Michael, answered for her, “I wrapped them tight for her.”
His foster mother stared at me, daring me to ask the origin of the wounds, but I didn’t want to go there, everyone in the park knew that Hank was a mean bastard. I shuffled my feet in the dirt, figuring that the least I could do was help her on her way, in for a penny, in for a pound, “Your not going to be able to drive far with those ribs without passing out, so don’t push yourself. Stop at the first motel you can and get some sleep with the help of some extra strength aspirin.”
I couldn’t believe I was still there, but I couldn’t seem to make myself leave. I was risking my own father’s fists just to see Sarah off, just to see my own dream realized. I watched the other woman’s face soften briefly as she replied, “Thanks, I’ll remember that.”
She spared one last longing glance at her foster son before gingerly lowering herself into the car. She paused in the act of shutting the door to pierce me with a gaze not even the sunglasses could diminish, “You didn’t see me leave.”
I shrugged, not even slightly affronted that she would still question my integrity, we learned early to watch our own backs here, “This is Santa Clara, nobody admits to seeing anything but tumbleweeds.”
She nodded and shut the door, but before she could start the car Michael rushed forward, reaching through the open window to clasp her about the ribs in a hug. The way the light shined through the dust coating the car’s front window almost made it look like his little hands glowed. He let go as quickly as he grabbed her, pausing to run those golden fingers along the tear trails on her swollen left cheek before he stepped away, ending up near me. He carried himself like a little soldier, his back straight, with the bruises mottling his little arms standing out like badges of war. I almost expected him to salute as Sarah drove away; leaving Santa Clara and the death sentence it would confer on her if she stayed as Hank’s wife.
“Michael, it there’s anything…,” I began, but he just shot me a wide golden-eyed look over his shoulder before taking off at a dead run. I figured with all the emotions he was dealing with, he’d used up his word quotient for the day. The kid never did talk much as far as I could tell.
* * * * *
Soon after Sarah left I got a job at the Crashdown Café serving tourists and truck-drivers alien-themed food. The owners were good people and I think they understood that I was trying to earn enough money to escape my hellish home life. Mr. Parker (I could never bring myself to call him Jeff) paid me under the table in cash, but would always make of point of telling me just how lucky I was not to lose X amount to taxes. Every week the tax money and a small percentage of my tips went into my freedom fund while the rest was confiscated by my father, supposedly to help the family, but it really was taken to support his never-ending tab at Noah’s bar outside of town. My father became a drunk soon after my mother died trying to give birth to her forth child, the baby didn’t make it either. He was left alone to raise my six year old brother Jason, four year old me and my younger brother Tim, who was two at the time. He held on for the first few months, but losing his job running heavy equipment at the quarry caused him to snap. The quarry hired him back a few years later, and everyday he goes to work half-sauced. I know one day he is going to kill himself on one of those big machines he operates, and I know I should be worried, but, God help me, part of my believes that it would be the only end to the violence he often feels compelled to reek on us. I want freedom not only for me, but for the brothers I have been cooking, cleaning and caring for since I was six (it all fell to me because I was the girl). I used my waitressing and babysitting jobs as a way to escape the trailer and the horror of watching my two siblings slowly morph into men like my father. Luckily my father’s newest live-in seems to actually enjoy cooking and cleaning, and he hasn’t felt the need to punish me for my frequent absences.
I didn’t see Michael for almost a month and a half after Sarah’s departure, but I did hear him, or more specifically I and everyone else heard Hank screaming at him as he beat him. Every frustration Hank seemed to have regarding Sarah, he took out on that little boy tenfold. Each night Santa Clara echoed with the sounds of Hank yelling obscenities and the unmistakable noises of leather hitting flesh. I don’t know how he survived it, but he did, never once making a sound.
It was one of those rare Friday nights where I had the trailer to myself and didn’t have to work. Normally I would use the silence to get ahead on the homework I had for school (I took all honors classes because I had figured out that brains and not brawn would get me out of Roswell), but I found myself with nothing to do other than kick back and read from my favorite novel Ulysses, by James Joyce, and dye my hair. I was just settling in when I heard a whimper from the gully behind our trailer. At first I thought it was a coyote or a wild dog, it took me a few minutes to recognize the distinctive human quality it contained.
I grabbed Tim’s baseball bat and headed outside, not knowing what sight would greet me. I certainly didn’t expect to find Michael, curled up on his side on the rocky ground, covered in so much dirt and blood that I wouldn’t have recognized him if he hadn’t cracked one of his unique golden-brown eyes to take me in before passing out.
“Oh Jesus Michael, Hank really did a number on you,” I whispered, crouching down to run my hands over his body, trying to determine if he had any broken bones. The source of the blood covering his face seemed to be a thin cut at the edge of his eyebrow, and through the rips in the back of his t-shirt I could see that his foster father had flayed his back open in several places. Gently as I could, I picked him up and carried him inside to lay him facing down on the kitchen counter. I reached for the nearby phone, intending to call the cops, the hospital, and to alert child welfare when I felt a surprisingly strong little hand latch on to my wrist.
“Don’t,” he moaned, holding on so tightly that his knuckles were white with the effort. “They can’t take me away.”
“But Michael, they’ll take you some place where Hank can never hurt you again,” I told him in the most soothing voice I could, kneeling down so we were eye level. “If you stay here, Hank will probably kill you.”
“I have to stay here,” he gasped. His half open, golden eyes held such purpose and they pleaded with me even as his voice managed to emerge strongly from his small battered frame, “They need me here.”
“Okay Michael, whatever you say,” I murmured in a placating tone, but neither his hand nor his eyes released their hold. He took another pained breath before repeating, “They need me here.”
His voice held such certainty and authority, that I found myself wanting to obey. I couldn’t force the kid into unwanted compliance, and besides how did I know that child services really would put him in a better home, they certainly hadn’t done anything to protect him up to this point. If he stayed in Santa Clara at least I could look out for him. “Whatever you want Michael, just let me get you cleaned up.”
“Alright,” he mumbled, his grip finally loosening as if he had used up all his energy trying to make me understand. I left him breathing shallowly on the counter, while I ran for the first aid kit that I kept well stocked in the bathroom. I had to cut his shirt off him, the processing going slowly because I had to pause and soak each spot where the blood had incrusted the cloth to his back with a hot wet rag. The kid was so out of it that he didn’t even flinch when I cleansed his wounds with alcohol. “God Michael, what did he use on you?”
“Belt buckle.” The sound of his voice startled me; I hadn’t realized he’d been conscious enough to hear my question. The shear strength and pain tolerance this one small child displayed amazed me. My own brothers screamed bloody murder whenever my father took his belt to them, and he used only the leather part. I supported most of his weight as I helped him sit up, putting one of Tim’s old wife-beater tanks on him to cover his bandaged back. “Are you going to be safe to return to your trailer tonight?”
He didn’t answer, just sat there on the counter staring down at his feet, and I silently concluded that Hank would finish him off if he showed his face. I sighed, “You can sleep on my floor if you want?”
He nodded, and I quietly counted my blessings that my father had had the foresight to build an extra additional room onto the trailer before he turned into a drunk. He and my mother both felt it would have been wrong for me to share a room with the boys. It was small, barely big enough to hold the dresser and bed that composed the total amount of my furniture, but it was mine. I figured Michael was small enough to sleep on the small piece of exposed floor beside my bed.
“Come on, I’ll help you lay out the blankets,” I told him as I grabbed his arms to steady him as he slid off the counter. The thinness of his arms shocked me, wiping all imagined punishments my father might bring down on me for this infraction from my mind. “On second thought, maybe we should make some dinner first.”
* * * * *
[ edited 4 time(s), last at 21-Jan-2003 11:09:35 PM ]
|posted on 19-Jan-2003 8:13:13 PM|
* * * * *
My voice faded off and I quietly shut Ulysses, ever mindful of the small sleep-still body snuggled up against mine. He’d been sitting poker straight beside me as I read, only initiating contact when he couldn’t fight sleep anymore. I wasn’t even really sure how we’d ended up in my bed while I read. After I had fed him, I helped him create a little nest out of a comforter and one of my pillows on the floor, but despite my encouragement, he refused to lie down. I don’t know whether he was fighting sleep because of nightmares or because he was afraid I’d call child services as soon as his eyes closed, but he insisted on following me around like my shadow. I shrugged at his presence and decided to just go about my business. Grabbing a box of brown hair dye from my drawer, my one luxury expense provided by freedom fund money, I headed into the bathroom to begin my bi-monthly ritual of treating my roots. Michael apparently had no qualms about following me there too because I had just finished wetting down my hair with the shower head, when I heard his voice behind me ask, “What are you doing?”
I am a natural redhead, a deep, dark crimson redhead, which isn’t really that unusual on its own unless you factor in my naturally golden brown skin. Yep, I am one of those few fire-tops in the world who can actually tan, I’m told the combination is quite striking, but I found out young it could also be a detriment to my health. When I was thirteen and had just started my period, my father sent me to my Aunt Janny’s home in Arizona. I made the bus trip with two broken ribs and heavy bruising all over my torso. My “spectacular” red coloring and newly blossoming state made me look a bit too much like my mother for my father alcohol pickled brain to handle. One night after arriving home roaring drunk, he proceeded to beat me because he thought I was my mother Mary and he wanted to punish her for leaving him. My brothers had to pull him off my unconscious body. The next day when I finally woke up and he had sobered up; my father bought me a bus ticket and called my aunt. Janny took one look at my sorry condition, and took it upon herself to teach me the art of disappearing. She applied a wash to my hair, making it look brown instead of red, and changed my self-done, magazine copied cut to a blunt bob. She taught me about loose clothing and how everyone noticed the really smart kids and the really dumb kids, but never the child that fell in between. She spent the entire summer teaching me that blending in would help facilitate the escape from home that I had begun to crave so badly. The summer at Janny’s made me realize how much I wanted a life outside the constrictive violence of Santa Clara. Janny couldn’t keep me, her own father had messed her up pretty bad and she had a hard time holding down a steady job, so in August I went home. I claimed my new hair color was the result of my changing hormones, and my father’s alcohol riddled brain accepted it at face value. I began a monthly trek to the next town to stock up on dye, buying it with baby-sitting funds and bottle return money. I took Janny’s teachings to heart, transforming myself into a person who flew under the radar of the torturous majority of my school’s population. I became the quiet girl who faded into the background, the girl in all the honors classes that rarely talked, the girl who made honor roll but not four point. Somehow instead of offering Michael a flippant “what the hell does it look like,” I found myself telling him all about Janny as he helped me apply more dye to my roots.
Later I found myself distracted, unable to focus on my book because I kept glancing over at the small shivering ball he made on the floor. Next thing I knew, I had pulled him up into my tiny twin, trying to comfort him with James Joyce’s great words. He became so caught up in the story that he fought his exhaustion just to hear more. He battled gallantly for forty-five minutes before succumbing to sleep so deeply that he didn’t even hear the sirens in the distance announcing that yet another Santa Clara resident was leaving in a carriage of flashing lights.
* * * * *
That night marked the beginning of my time with Michael. More often than not, the darkness would be broken by the sound of his quiet knock on my window, and I would let him in to clean his cuts and ice his bruises. He would then spend the rest of the night curled up on my floor, and I would rest a little easier knowing that he was safe. He healed amazingly fast, the belt buckle incident leaving only one thin scar near the middle of his back. On nights that my father was gone or so drunk that he wouldn’t hear the noise, I would read to Michael from one of the tomes required for my advanced English course as he sat quietly beside me absorbing my words. James Joyce always gave him the most comfort though, and by the middle of my junior year he was reading Ulysses to me.
Sometimes, on days I didn’t have to work, we would take walks to the quarry. I would dip my feet in the cool water (if weather permitted) or simply perch on a rock and read to him while he drew strange symbols that seemed to flow about on themselves. As a belated birthday/Christmas present, I gave Michael an old sketchbook from my required Art class and a new set of sketch pencils I’d bought with some tip money. That June for my own birthday, he gave me a sketch of one of his symbols, hidden on the paper in a play of shadow and light. “What’s this mean Michael?”
He silently traced his finger over his drawing for a moment before capturing me with his golden gaze. “It means freedom, ‘Risa, your dream.”
He had called me that ever since the time that Hank had smacked him under the chin and caused him to bite his tongue, the swollen appendage wouldn’t allow him to form the T-sound for a week. Once I told him that it was the Spanish word for laughter, he insisted on calling me by his special nickname. The sweetness of his gift brought tears to my eyes, and I ruffled his hair to distract myself. “No Michael, our dream. One day we are going to be free of Santa Clara and Roswell, New Mexico. The sky will be the limit for us, kid.”
“Maybe for you,” he responded cryptically before bounding away from me to go throw rocks into the quarry.
* * * * *
With the onset of my senior year, I worked as many hours as I could to try and earn the maximum amount of money possible. I had broached the subject of my leaving with Michael, telling him that he could come with me. I considered him more a family to me than my own. Toward the end of November though, Michael began to knock on my window less and less frequently, and I started to worry. I didn’t know if Hank was preventing him from leaving the house or worse that he was injured somewhere on the grounds of Santa Clara, and my fears drove me out to look for him night after night with no success. I endured a week and a half of worry before finally hearing his light knock once again on the glass. I hauled him in before he even had a chance to say hello, my fear making my voice a harsh whisper, “Are you alright?”
He squirmed as I ran my hands over his body looking for evidence of broken bones and blood, finally breaking away to announce in a joyful tone, “I found them Risa.”
“Found who Michael,” my fear was rapidly turning to frustration. “Don’t you know how worried I’ve been?”
He didn’t seem to register my plaintive tone, simply repeating over and over, “My family Risa, I’ve found my family.”
But I’m your family, I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t bring myself to interrupt his happy mood, they happened so rarely. He didn’t seem to want to tell me anymore about them, and quickly changed the subject before I could question him, “Can I read tonight?”
“Sure Michael, whatever you want,” I told him distractedly as a little bit of my heart broke from his un-intentional slight, “Let’s make your bed up first though, okay?”
* * * * *
I discovered the identity of Michael’s secret family by accident really. I was babysitting the Evans’ kids so they could enjoy an evening out, and, having put the kids to bed an hour before, I was basking in the silence of the house as I did my Calculus homework. If I hadn’t grown up in Santa Clara where every little noise could be a warning, I would have missed the sound of the window opening all together. As it was, I crept quietly towards the boy Max’s, room, with the portable phone in one hand ready to dial the police. I don’t know who was surprised more when I burst through the door: I at the sight of Michael curled up with Isabel and Max like a little puppy, or the kids for getting caught. Max and Isabel immediately began sputtering excuses, but it was the pleading look on Michael’s face that kept me from revealing our acquaintance. Somehow, with only his eyes, he was able to convince me to down-play our connection. I could almost hear him in my mind, telling me in his short choppy way that he didn’t want to expose his family to the reality of his Santa Clara life. It wasn’t me he was ashamed of, but Hank, and the life he lived. I realized that these two pampered children would never understand or comprehend the scars that Hank and Santa Clara had etched on his soul; they were completely foreign to their lifestyle. They might have been his family by the bonds of blood, but I was his sister forged in the bonds of pain and survival, the bonds of the Santa Clara Trailer Park. At that exact moment, I think we both would have been hard-pressed to say which bonds were stronger.
* * * * *
In an effort to make myself more appealing to colleges I discarded my need to blend in long enough to score a 1500 on my SATs. It took some convincing to keep my school counselor from broadcasting my feat all over the community, but I succeeded (just because I didn’t make great use of my persuasive skills didn’t mean they weren’t formidable). I applied to colleges all over the United States, getting many of them to wave their fee in light of my financial background, and was accepted with a full-ride to small liberal arts college in Virginia. I didn’t tell my father, just forged his signature on the necessary paperwork. I told Michael of my triumph, hoping he’d share in my enthusiasm, and I guess it finally made real the idea that I wouldn’t always be in Roswell forever waiting for him to knock on my window. He responded to my announcement by disappearing for a few days, child services found him out by a rock formation in the desert and brought him back.
* * * * *
Upon hearing that I was looking for a vehicle, Sheriff Valenti, one of the parents I babysat for, took me to a police auction and helped me bid on a late model Honda Civic. I kept the car at his house until the night before graduation. The day of graduation I packed my newly purchased car while Dad and Jason were at work and Tim was out with friends. I had already obtained my diploma and arranged to start my freshmen classes during the summer session of my college. I had emptied the bank account my Aunt Janny had helped me open when I was thirteen and transferred my freedom fund over to the Bank of America so I could access my money in Virginia. Michael was already sitting on my steps when I got up and he watched as I loaded my life into my little Civic’s trunk. I took only those items that I really needed or had great significant meaning to me. Clothes and Goodwill bed sheets joined Michael’s newly framed drawing and a picture of my mother. The only reminders I packed of my high school education were my diploma and my beat-up copy of Ulysses, I had never even bothered to buy my yearbooks since I didn’t appear in them at all.
I walked to the Crashdown to pick up my earnings, Michael slipping in and out of my shadow as he followed along behind me. I owed the Parkers a good-bye and a huge thank you for all the kindness they had showed me. After learning I had been accepted into college, Mrs. Parker bought me a set of fluffy thick towels and a hot pot, claiming it wouldn’t do for me to skip on these necessary dorm commodities. Mr. Parker gave me a fifty cent raise, telling me it wouldn’t do to have his best waitress go off to school without any spending money. I sat at the counter at the counter where Liz Parker and her friend Maria had been coloring, waiting for Mr. Parker to bring me my final paycheck. I often babysat the two girls and the differences in their attitudes always amused me. Maria was currently dancing from table to table, smiling and preening at the attention she garnered, while Liz studiously applied herself to her coloring book, glancing up occasionally to check on her exuberant friend. I realized moments later that Maria wasn’t the only person worthy of little Miss Parker’s attention as I caught her casting long fascinated glances at Michael who waited near the front door. I almost laughed aloud when I saw him return her looks when he thought she couldn’t see him. God only knew what would happen when those two got older…but I wouldn’t be around to see it.
I was interrupted from the dark turn of my thoughts by Mr. Parker’s arrival, bearing a fat little envelope. “The other waitresses donated their tips from the last couple of days to your pay. They said for you to buy something nice for yourself when you get to Virginia, and not to forget them when you’re living the high life on the East Coast.”
I almost cried as he pulled me over the counter and into a quick tight hug, somehow, even while I was trying to disappear, they still managed to see me. Now I was not only leaving Santa Clara and Michael behind, but also the only friends I ever had.
* * * * *
My father didn’t take the news of my leaving well, and to be truthful the timing couldn’t have been worse; Luanne had left him a few days before and he immediately had gone on a drinking binge, his anger building with no outlet. Just as the word college left my lips I was transported back to when I was thirteen, and I was again the focus of all of my father’s rage at the women in his life for leaving him. I don’t know why I was shocked by his response, but maybe some small part of me wanted him to act like Mr. Parker and express happiness for me. I was so busy looking for even a hint of approval in his eyes that I wasn’t aware of his flying fist until it made contact with my diaphragm. I fell back against the kitchen counter, but managed to dodge his second punch and make a break for the door. He shoved me hard just as I made it to the stoop and I tripped down the stairs landing on my exposed palms and knees, embedding them with gravel. You learn to bounce back quickly in Santa Clara, but I was not quite fast enough at regaining my feet; my father grabbed me by the hair and threw me against my car. The door handle dug into my left side as my father pummeled my abdomen and ribs. After the incident when I was thirteen my brother Jason had taken it upon himself to teach me how to fight and protect myself, but this was my father. I couldn’t bring myself to return his blows because some part of me perversely believed I deserved them for deserting my family, but I did try to dodge them.
Even through my father’s screams I heard the young voice yelling for him to stop. I saw Michael over my father’s shoulder standing straight and tall with his feet slightly apart as if he was bracing himself. His right arm was extended palm out towards us and his golden eyes seemed dark with the energy that crackled around his entire body. Time seemed to slow down and I didn’t even feel the impact of my father’s fists anymore, only a terrible certainty that somehow Michael was going to try and save me, and his only recourse was a violent response. I knew that if he went through with it, I would be responsible for destroying the very soul in that little boy I had been trying to nurture.
Luckily my brothers appeared before Michael could react and drug my father off me. Jason hustled him into the trailer while Tim ran in to grab the first aid kit. I stayed where I was, leaning against my car and watching Michael, never taking my eyes off Michael. He slowly lowered his arm once my father was out of sight, his body still vibrated with that strange energy, but his eyes were silently questioning as he watched me spit blood into rusty New Mexico sand.
“I have to leave Michael,” I told him and he nodded slightly as he slowly inched in my direction. I found myself in the same position as Sarah when she left, unconsciously echoing her words. “Come with me.”
For a moment I thought he might actually agree, the conflict on his face was evidence that he too wanted to escape the life that Santa Clara provided, but after an eternity he shook his head and uttered his familiar refrain, “I have to stay here, they need me.”
I personally didn’t think that the Evans’ kids wanted for anything, safely ensconced in their upper middleclass world, but Michael was adamant. I tried a different tact. “Michael, they don’t understand that staying here will kill you. Certainly they wouldn’t begrudge you a chance at safer life?”
He didn’t answer me, just stood there as Tim came out of the trailer carrying the familiar white metal box. Pain shot from my battered kidney and Tim waited stone-faced as I unfolded enough to take the kit from him. The sounds of breaking glass and angry voices emanated from my former home and my brother grimaced, “You’ve got to get out of here fast sis. Dad’s out of his head, and Jase isn’t going to be able to keep him in there for long.”
“Thanks Timmy,” I murmured, evoking his long ago childhood nickname. We stood there awkwardly for a moment as it occurred to me that my brother and I had chosen the same mode of survival. We both tried to blend in with our environments, me through invisibility and Tim by blending his personality, at least topically, with my father’s. My brothers did love me and I returned their feelings, but survival and escape were always forefront in our minds. My brother didn’t attempt to hug me, Santa Clara didn’t foster an environment of loving touches; instead he just nodded his goodbye before heading back into the trailer to help Jason.
I became aware of a presence by my side and discovered that Michael had stationed himself next to me sometime during my talk with Tim. I opened my mouth, but he just shook his head, whispering forlornly, “I can’t.”
Then he was hugging me hard around the waist, his head butted against my ribs. I almost passed out from the pain his strong grip evoked, but the stabbing sensation was immediately replaced by a strange, soothing warmth that seemed to travel out of his hands and into me. My mind chose not to dwell on that but the amazement I felt because Michael never initiated any physical contact with me that I could remember. He released me so that I could ease into my car. It felt wrong to leave him with only a goodbye and I grabbed my copy of Ulysses from its place on the front seat and I handed it to him through the window. “So you’ll always have something to remember me by.”
“I’ll write,” I continued, as I watched him clutch the worn book to his chest, “and you can join me anytime. There will always be a place for you.”
He nodded slightly, and I felt compelled to add, “Don’t you remember Michael, for us, the sky’s the limit.”
His golden eyes lifted to mine and he smirked slightly, “Maybe for you Risa, maybe for you.”
The front door to the trailer burst open then and my father came barreling out. Michael jumped back as I cranked my key and threw my car into drive, fishtailing out of Santa Clara and away from Roswell, New Mexico.
* * * * *
|posted on 20-Jan-2003 2:20:35 PM|
* * * * *
I kept my promise to Michael, writing him every two weeks or so. Once and awhile he would write me back, and those short letters always talked more about the other children I used to baby-sit than him. I was reassured that Maria still hadn’t learned the beauty of the thoughtful silence, how Liz was the smartest girl in his entire class, and how the two girls had grown greatly attached to a new kid named Alex. He would only mention the Evans in passing, and I always had the feeling that he fought to keep us separate in his mind. He never told me about Hank and every night before I went to sleep I found myself saying a little prayer for his continued safety.
At the end of my freshmen year I was approached by a man who recruited for the government, specifically the NSA. He told me that I would make an excellent field agent because of my intelligence and my unremarkable appearance that let me blend, a better backhanded compliment I have never received, but I admit that while I no longer hid my mind, a lifetime of physically trying to fade into the background is hard to reverse. If the government was willing to offer me the opportunity to see the world just because of a skill I developed to survive, who was I to argue with them? I entered an intense physical and psychological training program and by the time I was nineteen, I was a full field agent working for the NSA. I was known as cleaner, someone sent in to salvage whatever possible when a mission went wrong, and excelled at my position, quickly climbing through the promotional ranks. I traveled all over the world putting out other agents “fires”, and even though it was a great breach of etiquette and personal security, I always found a way to send Michael a postcard from whatever country I happened to be in. I always signed them Risa and never called Michael by name. I knew that the government did not know about Michael’s importance in my life or really much about my up-bringing at all. In fact when I hacked into my file, and found that all they really knew about me was that I had grown up in Roswell and that nobody really remembered me. I had never paid taxes on any of my jobs or been mentioned by those I had worked for, and so for all intents and purposes the NSA believed I had never held a job until I worked for them. The ineptitude of my own government sometimes amazes me, but in this case it worked in my favor. I preferred that the US government not know about Michael because I knew he was special, different. I know deep in my heart that he fixed me somehow, healed all the damage my father’s fists had done to my kidneys, I know because I didn’t have one bruise, not even a hint of lingering pain, from what should have been a debilitating attack. Michael had healed me with a hug, and I had a sneaking suspicion that he had done the same for Sarah. That precious, selfless little boy had helped us even though he knew we were leaving, and it was the least I could do to protect him from a government that wouldn’t understand.
* * * * *
When I was twenty-five I was transferred from the NSA to the FBI. I was told that the Feds needed to make use of my special skills, and they knew that I could be trusted to do the job right the first time. In a small windowless room, deep under the streets of Washington DC I met with the newly appointed head of the FBI, the Senate Majority Leader and a leading democratic Congressman. I was briefed about a Special Unit, charged with finding proof and providing protection against extraterrestrial life that had been created under Hoover, and that its disbandment had supposedly been the last act of the former FBI chief. In reality, he pulled a bait and switch, while everyone was watching the old unit come apart he reassembled it as S11 under the black-ops heading and turned its reins over to one of his senior officials. The new Bureau chief, Mr. Simmons, did not even know about S11 until the official left in charge died of a heart attack and information regarding the unit was found in his personal affects. Mr. Simmons and his legislative counterparts were afraid that although it was classified as black-ops, the House Budget Committee would find it during their yearly review because money not marked for the program had been funneled into it by Congresswoman Whitaker and Senator Cussler. The congresswoman had recently died, but the Senator was embroiled in scandal involving female interns and other allegations of misappropriation and it would be better for all if the unit simple ceased to exist. It was to be my job to evaluate S11, and decide and follow through a course of action to shut it down. I was being sent in as the new agent in charge, taking the place of an Agent Pierce who mysteriously disappeared. Everyone would be told that I was agent Laura Eliason because Mr. Simmons feared there might be reprisals from some of the more fanatical parts of the staff.
I arrived the next day at one of the many nondescript office buildings that make up Washington DC. I was met by Agent Dixon, a fifty-six year old man with a shock of white hair who made it obvious by his attitude that he thought I was an interloper. He felt he should have put in charge of the unit, and to find himself under the command of a twenty-five year old brown wren of a desk jockey really gulled him. He was too much of a company man to openly defy me, but years of invisibility had sharpened my observation skills. Santa Clara kids could sense danger a mile away. Thankfully, Mr. Simmons had the appropriate files waiting for me in my new office and I shut myself in with them immediately. I was shocked to come across files on Michael, the Evans’ kids, and even Liz Parker. I had accepted Michael was unique, but an alien? His file made him sound like an intergalactic serial killer who may have been responsibility for Pierce’s disappearance. That certainly didn’t sound like the little boy who’d taken Hank’s beatings without a sound, loved Ulysses, and healed me. He’d been jailed and I hadn’t even known about it! He’d asked me stop writing the year he turned sixteen without any explanation. He went from asking me how to tell if girls liked him to asking me never to write him again. I cried for hour after I read the short terse letter, but now I wondered if it he thought it was the only way he could protect me from the agents that were after him; little did he know that I worked for the very same people. I had failed to protect him, and he suffered so much pain because of it. My mind flashed back to my horrible graduation day and the sight of Michael telling my father to stop. He had been trying to protect me then and I knew that if he had indeed killed Pierce, then it would have only been to protect someone he cared about. I had read Pierce’s file, he was a sadistic little bastard who’d been implicated in the deaths of two of his fellow agents before his disappearance. I needed to find out how many people knew about the Roswell teens, so I called Agent Dixon in, questioning him at length about S11 procedures before leading him around to the Roswell investigation.
“So this sector was created after the ’47 crash in Roswell,” I asked. Dixon’s eyes lit up and I could see that he was going to use my seemingly bonehead remark to show how much more qualified he was for my job. He expounded on the oddity of the wreckage, and the alien bodies that had disappeared whom he believed had been scouts sent to find out how easily Earth could be invaded. The guy had all the classic symptoms of a paranoid delusional, and would have been under strict medicated supervision had he worked anywhere else except the FBI. I could definitely see why the men I met with might see the entire sector as an embarrassment. He said alien the same way a Ku Klux Klan member would say Negro, hate sharp and apparent in his voice.
I found his discourse on Michael and his friends quite frightening. I had a hard time not giving in to the overwhelming urge to pull my government issued 9mm and blow him away. The man talked about strapping Max Evans down to dissect him while he was still awake with such relish that I thought I might be sick. I decided it was time to shut him up and go on the offensive, the sooner that this place was shut down the better. “You talk about capturing this…Max Evans?...but I find nothing in these files to indicate that the plan actually took place except a memo from you to Agent Pierce.”
Agent Dixon puffed out with self-importance, “I’m the only one that actually remembers the incident. Everyone else was brainwashed, but I was too strong for them to work their alien mind tricks on me. Pierce told me to stay quiet until we could gather more evidence, and I’d have followed that man to the ends of the Earth, so I didn’t write it in my report. Then that Bastard went and turned traitor on me, claiming that the Special Unit was a fraud before pulling a disappearing act. I know they got to him, and then got rid of him when he was no longer useful.”
I worked hard at seeming sympathetically interested and not murderous, “And the boy Max, why haven’t you gone after him again?”
“He’s been laying-low, but I know that he has to be planning something. I just need to gather enough evidence and then I can take them all down. The public must be protected.” He leaned back and studied me, obviously waiting to see my response.
“Agent Dixon, I don’t think I’ve ever met another agent more devoted to his cause, you truly believe in S11 and it’s work.” I stood and shook his hand, filling my voice with just the right amount of hope and uncertainty, “I admit this job would be overwhelming without someone of your obvious expertise and I hope that I can count on you to help me get this unit in tip-top shape.”
I could see the wheels turning in his mind, he had been completely taken in, falling for my poor little me act. He failed to look beyond the beige demeanor that I presented, underestimating me like many of those before. He was different though, he’d tried to harm Michael, a member of my family, and I was going to do everything in my power to make this office and everything it contained disappear. That night I went home and thought about Michael the boy and the man he was becoming. I thought about how the face of the first man I ever killed, Peter Boyle, was etched into my soul, and even though I did it to protect another agent I always questioned whether it was the only way, the right way. Was that what Michael was feeling? Did he wake up in the middle of the night wondering if it could have ended differently if he had grown up anywhere else than Santa Clara? When I went to sleep I dreamed of Peter Boyle the Christian Zealot, but this time it was Michael he had his gun against, not another agent. There was no hesitation in me when I took him out all over again, one clean shot through the forehead.
* * * * *
It took me only three weeks to completely destroy S11 and any evidence that it ever collected. I sent Agent Dixon off to collect evidence of a mysterious crash site in the wilds of Michigan (which ironically really did turn out to be the remnants of a weather balloon), while I rounded up enough falsified evidence to show that S11 was nothing but a drain for the tax payers’ money. I had the paper shredders going an hour before the official sentence of disbandment came down. Surprisingly Dixon was the only member of the department that was fanatical about his work, the rest were there awaiting promotion to somewhere else, or they hadn’t been truly convinced of the theories pertaining to the Roswell kids, finding them a bit too Star Trek to be believed. Agent Dixon was a loose cannon, but among Pierce’s personal affects I found evidence that he plotted in the deaths of both Agent Sanders and Agent Topolsky when they became liabilities. Mr. Simmons was ready to hand him over to federal prosecutors to be tried on two counts of conspiracy to commit murder and two counts of Murder One. Everything was going according to plan until Dixon managed to escape the Federal Marshals sent to pick him up.
* * * * *
I had shredded the files on Michael, Liz, Isabel and Max hours before and was directing the removal of the last garbage bags to the incinerator when Dixon appeared. He’d slipped passed the other agents cleaning the building and come directly to me, correctly coming to the conclusion that I, his little protégé, had something to do with his current situation. I learned early on in my career you can’t reason with fanatics, hate just clouds their minds and eradicates all rationality. Dixon was irate when he stormed into my crate filled office, face red and spittle flying. He called me a traitor in league with the aliens, which technically I guess I was because I had shut the operation down to protect Michael. He called me every derogatory explanative one could call a woman as he moved closer and closer, until all that stood between us was my desk. My mind was racing a mile a minute; Dixon was a liability not only to Michael but to the entire department. He was threatening to take matters to the press, to spread his irrational hate to the public, and I knew he would ruin countless lives if he was allowed to talk. I was still considering a plan of attack when he pulled his gun. I don’t know if he did it merely to frighten me or if he saw me as a traitor who needed to die for her treasonous acts, and I never will. A young agent, alerted by Dixon’s outraged screams, threw open my door and that slight distraction allowed me to pull own weapon. I truly do believe I saw his finger flex on the trigger, his eyes filled with the same fevered self-belief that Peter Boyle’s contained so long ago. If Santa Clara taught me anything, it was that I was a survivor that protected her own and I did not hesitate to pull my own trigger, killing him instantly.
* * * * *
The inquest into shooting was short, finding that I acted in self-defense. I transferred back to the NSA and worked undercover for the rest of the year before requesting early retirement, citing mental duress caused by the death of Agent Dixon. I left DC and moved to Atlanta where I opened a security consultation company that taught upper management types how to protect themselves. There is good money in other people’s fear. I chose to retire from the government and invisibility at the same time, shunning hair dye and loose clothing to revel in my femininity, Santa Clara’s hold was finally loosening. Having discovered what kind of trouble Michael got into when he was left unsupervised I kept abreast of his activities to make sure the government didn’t find a new reason to go after him. He and his friends graduated without incidence, and I was so proud that he was finally escaping Roswell and Santa Clara for Massachusetts and Harvard, offsetting bad grades with high SAT scores so that he could follow his girlfriend. He quickly became famous when a Harvard alum spotted one of his paintings in the student art show, and decided to show his work at the galleries he owned in LA, Paris and New York. I flew to the Big Apple and saw his work, it truly was amazing. I think one critic put it best when he said that Michael’s paintings “were a layering of emotions over life…one could practically feel the darkness and light that affected the human soul.” I saw my own soul in a painting called “Nightmare II”, or rather I saw myself as Michael saw me on graduation day, a purple red haze over a girl bruised and battered, leaning against a car. It brought back that day all over again and I had to leave. I never did find out what “Nightmare I” was.
* * * * *
“Don’t be dismayed by goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.”
~ Richard Bach
* * * * *
I blinked my tears away rapidly disgusted with myself for becoming so maudlin, but weddings seemed to always do it to me. I couldn’t believe that little boy I knew had grown up enough to be getting married. He was only twenty-two! I watched as the best man, Max Evans all grown up, nudged Michael in the ribs and whispered something in his ear. Michael’s golden eyes opened wide before crinkling at the edges as a large beautiful smile spread across his face. I looked closely, but the shadows of Santa Clara that had gathered in those eyes during his childhood appeared to be gone, before me stood a man who accepted his past but did not dwell there. Seeing Michael so happy allowed me to slip free from the last chain that held me to Santa Clara, my guilt of leaving him behind. The opening notes of the “Ode to Joy” filled the air and the bride’s maids started down the aisle, Michael only had eyes for his bride though. His gaze was filled with awe as Liz Parker floated along on her father’s arm, her adoring gaze never wavering from Michael’s. Mrs. Parker’s tears escalated and I smirked, I wasn’t even that bad. I valiantly tried to ignore the moisture that was gathering just behind my lower lashes. Liz had done what Sarah Tilling and I never could, freed Michael from Santa Clara both physically and mentally and made him whole. The love those two felt for each other seemed to fill the entire church as Mr. Parker handed Liz into Michael’s keeping, and as a tear rolled down my face I silently put Michael into hers.
|posted on 21-Jan-2003 10:39:45 PM|
|Surfgirl02-thanks for your feedback. I wrote Surviving Santa Clara a long time ago, but it still has a very special place in my heart. I understand that it doesn't appeal to most readers because it is told from an outside perspective and that it deals with child abuse. Thanks for sticking with it, and here is the epilogue dedicated to you. It's not necessary for the story, but it does put a nice cap on it....|
The reception was in full swing, but Liz could not find her husband anywhere. This didn’t surprise her though, Michael was quickly overwhelmed by large crowds citing that they were a logistical nightmare to any soldier, but Liz knew that her husband just didn’t like being put on display. He was much more comfortable fading into the background, a survival skill he learned early in life. Michael kept no secrets from her, and he had been completely open about his years at Santa Clara, years that could have broken a lesser person. She knew that he had sacrificed his chosen family and the promise of freedom and happiness to stay in Roswell and protect his blood family. Max and Isabel would never know the possibilities Michael had forgone, and the depths of the hardships he had survived. They would never know about the two women that had come before Liz and helped shape Michael into the man he was today. Those women, Sarah Tilling his foster mother, and Teresa Jones, sister of his heart made up his chosen family and Liz was proud to join their ranks. She joyously accepted the love that Sarah had taught and Teresa had nurtured, but was sad that they would never know the end result. Sarah had died in car driven by a drunk, abusive boyfriend, and of Teresa they could find no trace, a possible casualty in the war the Special Unit had waged on them. Michael told her once that Sarah hadn’t been strong enough to survive Santa Clara, falling back into the same abusive cycle even after her escape; while Teresa had been too strong, unwilling to cut her ties with the boy who probably brought about her death. Teresa composed the one scar that Liz had been unable to heal on her husband’s soul, and Liz knew she was the reason that Michael was standing outside the back of the reception hall staring off at the trailer park that glinted in the distance.
“Hey,” He whispered as Liz slid comforting arms around his tuxedo-clad body and pressed her cheek to the center of his back.
“Hey,” she returned, as his strong gentle hands raised to cover her own, feeling the strength and love she selflessly provided. They stood in silence for a moment, savoring their oneness under the warmth of the New Mexico sun. “She would have been very proud of you, they both would have.”
“I know,” he replied, no need to ask who “they” or “she” were; his wife always had the uncanny ability to read his mind. “She would have been happy to know that by giving me that sketchbook she had effectively provided me with my path in life.”
“She also gave you me Michael, although I don’t think she knew what she was doing at the time.”
He turned in his wife’s arms puzzled as he stared down into his wife’s warm brown eyes, “What do you mean?”
Liz smiled up at him, “She used to tell Maria and me stories when she babysat about a wonderful golden-eyed boy, stories that highlighted how smart and strong and special he was. I told her once that I wanted to marry a boy like that, and she smiled this little smile and said if I searched hard enough I would find him someday. Even before I knew you really existed I was half in love with you.”
Michael hugged her to him tightly, burying his face in her soft hair. “Sometimes I really do believe that Risa and Sarah were my Guardian Angels,” he whispered.
They stood entwined for a moment before coming to the silent joint conclusion to leave the past behind and instead celebrate their future. They turned there backs on Santa Clara headed towards the doorway of the building housing their reception only to find the entrance occupied by an unfamiliar redhead. The couple stared at her as she hovered there, the corner of her mouth tilting up in a hesitant, questioning half curve. “Michael?”
It was the utterance of that husky voice that jolted him into recognition, that husky voice that would read Joyce until it was hoarse and murmur soothing nothings as she tended his wounds. Sunlight cast her piled curls into a glowing red halo, and it sparked memories of the times he’d helped her hide the glorious color with nut brown dyes. There, standing before him, was a woman that he long thought dead, and the fear that she would suddenly disappear caused his voice to crack as he murmured, “Risa?”
Teresa’s eyes lit up with joy, a smile blazed across her face and she threw open her arms to catch Michael in a giant bear hug. Through the tears that ran down her face she grumbled, “Having missed two graduations, I knew you wouldn’t forgive me if I missed your wedding too.”
Liz stood off to the side, watching the two survivors hug, and she could almost see that one last scar releasing its hold on her husband, carried away on the invisible waves of New Mexico heat. She turned her head to give them a moment of privacy, and found her eyes once again captured by the sight of Santa Clara, standing in the distance. The park that had always looked so sinister to her before, suddenly looked exactly as it was, a dusty little acre of land covered in silver trailers. It was just a place, a place that had seen more than its share of unhappy events, but still just a place. The almost mystical power they had imbued it with for so long was gone. Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of her husband’s laughter filled voice calling her name, “Liz, we better go cut the cake. Risa says the guests are getting restless.”
Liz hurried to join her husband and his newfound family, not once glancing back at Santa Clara. It was just a place after all, it was people that made lives happen, and gazing at her strong alien husband, Liz realized not even the sky could limit their possibilities for happiness.
|posted on 21-Jan-2003 11:04:22 PM|
Yes I do have other fics (though not all have been posted on this board yet). There is a short one parter called "For the Preservation of Butterflies" that is lurking somewhere on the last couple of post pages, a story co-written with another author called "Double Negatives" (it's posted under Lauren21), as well as "Graduation Day." "Surviving Santa Clara" is the only one of the few finished stories I have to date, and one of the first ones I ever wrote...I'd like to think that my style has improved since. I will also be posting three of my other stories here at some later date (Hello Again, Point of Grace, Sleeping Beauty's Screams, and Serenity). I hope this answers your question...