Updated: Jul 22, 2021
The next morning the boys changed into their new clothes and Siah helped them pack up more of the pasta MRE’s and the duffel bag of random nick knacks Nathan wanted to sell or trade with. Siah warned him not to get his hopes too high but still, he held the eagerness of youth.
She was also worried about him overdoing it with the weight over his shoulder.
“Na, as long as I have the weight over my good shoulder, I’m okay.”
She put a tender hand over his cheek before she hugged them both.
Thank God for the Carvers’. Sharlie was thrilled to have another little girl to play with and she could tell last night how relieved the boys were to be around others, especially a man, who didn’t look at them as freaks.
The light in their eyes was wonderful to behold.
Thank you God for Manaen. Thank you for him and Elaine and for them raising Candice right.
Finally shoving the three of them out the door, she drank in the peaceful silence before she got to work.
She’d chosen the dark blue wool for Eric’s coat and the dark forest green for Nathan’s. She decided to work on Eric’s first. Nathan might have a growth spurt before she finished and she’d have to redo his measurements.
She had lovely images in her mind’s eye of how handsome the boys would look in them.
Carefully, she laid the cut pieces of fabric on the floor of the living room, carefully measuring each three times, according to the pattern she had made. Her right hand remembered its skill. She prayed a prayer of thanks that whoever had packed the oil lamps had used these long sheets of thick paper and not Styrofoam peanuts.
Oh, this was tedious work- but she loved it. She literally could not remember the last time she had been able to be crafty. It had been years.
Finished with the cutting, she stood up and stretched before getting to the pinning.
The boys gave a little shout when they arrived home; giving her ample time to roll up the pieces before she heard the key in the lock.
“Hey Siah, is it safe to come in?”
“Yeah, it’s all clear in here.”
“We came back in the nick of time. It was starting to rain out in the forest.”
“Why were you in the forest?” He sat down the sack of stuff they’d traded for.
“We finished at the trading post early so we thought we’d go scout out some game trails in a different part of the forest.”
“I think so. This areas been getting scarce but it looks like no one’s been out there in a while.”
“So what’s in the sack?”
“More clothes, this time for you. Ms. Elaine said for you to try them on and see it they fit. Also this.” He pulled out a gallon size Ziploc bag filled with dried meat.
“Is that jerky?”
“Yup. Mr. Carver said he made it himself.”
Literally, Manaen knew she liked sweet Jerky. Yum!
They ate the stew Siah had made with gusto as Sharlie told her tales of her forest exploits; all the things she had jumped off of, of the birds and animals she had seen and how Nathan and Eric had promised to take her out again tomorrow!
“Uh huh, uh huh, and tomorrow I’m gonna see that same woodpecker and blue jay again.”
The child went back to eating her meat looking as smug as a queen. Siah looked at the boys, they looked pretty smug themselves. They had learned how to dupe an almost- four year old. She smirked. Nice.
The rain the boys had managed to avoid came just after lunch. Not bothering to fight her sleepiness Sharlie zonked out after the briefest game of blocks.
Siah and the boys looked at each other and bedded down as well.
Naps were such a luxury.
Siah decided she really didn’t mind if the boys saw her baste stitching the individual pieces together, all that mattered was that they didn’t see the finished product until it was ready. She’d finished basting the body of the coat yesterday but still had the sleeves to go.
When the boys came home from the Carvers today, she’d set Eric to clean the guns while Nathan busied himself with carving. He’d abandoned the carving set, but apparently Manaen had put a bug in his ear about practicing the skill and he’d attacked it. He was currently working on carving a bird.
She took the pieces for the sleeves to the living room and began the careful process of baste-stitching it together. Part of her wondered what it would look like when it was done. She had never worked with pure wool before but found it similar enough to her own denim that it didn’t feel completely foreign. The fabric was similarly heavy; no doubt it would have a nice drape.
Sharlie watched her, enamored by her mothers’ strange actions. Siah was warning her to not bump her while she stitched when she realized with a start, that her child had never seen her sew. She had never had the chance to see her mother do something so domestic.
She stationed Sharlie to her left and had her stay there as she stitched.
When she sat back to give her spine a much-needed break, she saw with a bit of amusement that the boys were watching her as well.
She kept her face deadpanned.
“Hey, no peeking.”
She turned to the fire to give herself some better light as she carefully continued stitching.
She heard both boys snicker behind her.
Though she was trying to be lighthearted, the truth was, her mind couldn’t help but wander to the one who had given her this skill.
“Now remember mija, measure three times so you only have to cut once.”
“Yes grandma, I remembered to do that.”
“This skill will save you a lot of money to do yourself instead of paying somebody. Just because you have money, doesn’t mean you should throw it around. I know you don’t see it now, but someday you’ll be grateful that I’m teaching you this skill. ”
She had no idea how right she would be. More memories flooded her mind. She finished the last stitch on a sleeve when her eyes began to water. She left the needle threaded and in place in the fabric before she allowed her tears to flow.
"Oh Grandma..." She hadn’t realized she had spoken out loud until she felt both boys come up on either side of her. They looked worried. Eric was wearing his old hoodie. He’d been cleaning the guns and was covered in oil. Nathan had wood shavings stuck to his shirt.
“I’m sorry boys; I didn’t mean to interrupt you.”
“Nothing. Just an old memory.”
“Wanna talk about it?” Nathan blurted.
She and Eric both jerked their heads at him.
“Actually yeah, I would like to.”
They looked at each other before turning their attention back to her and made themselves comfortable. Funny how much they said without words. She scooted back so she could see both of them as she spoke. She sighed. She hated being a weepy mess but she was sure she was gonna cry at some point.
“I haven’t told you much about myself.”
“Everything I’ve told you is- was- true about my family, but there’s a lot I haven’t said.”
They both kept looking at her. She could picture them as children so easily. More tears welled. She would have given anything to have been there for them when they were little.
She took a breath. They deserved to know about her.
“I had two older brothers, three younger brothers, a mom and a dad. You have to understand something, my parents were ambitious people, stubborn and strong willed, their careers meant everything to them. They argued –a lot. Things were always tense at home. Growing up I spent as much time as possible at my friends’ houses. Two: My older brothers were fifteen and sixteen when I was born. They resented my existence and made sure I knew it.”
Eric caught Nathans eye, Siah had talked about what the world was like before the Ruin a lot, but aside from her scar story, and a few passing comments, she’d never talked about her own past.
“When I was a teenager, they suddenly became Christians. I had thought they were finally going to divorce, instead, they got Jesus. My house went from being tense to being very, very weird. They were praying and having people over to study the Bible.
I thought they’d joined a cult.
They wanted me and my younger brothers to come to church with them. None of us wanted to. They made us go. My parents, who had always been so combative with each other, had suddenly become a united front.
You need to understand something else boys, I was a brat.”
Both boys raised a brow.
“My brothers and I wanted what we wanted when we wanted it and up until then, we had mostly had our way. My parents had always been so busy with their careers and being angry at each other that us three younger kids were left to ourselves. It was a lot of what is called benign neglect. I was simply left to myself, a lot. We were lucky if the housekeeper was there to give us affection.
Now that they were actually paying attention to the monsters they’d created, my parents saw quick they were going to need some help; so they brought in reinforcements; My grandmother from Puerto Rico and my grandfather from El Paso. They were both very…”
How should she put this?
“…old School, in how they expected children to behave. My Mexican grandfather was the same size as my youngest brother but you didn’t dare cross him.
My grandmother had been a Christian for years. I found out later that elements of her faith were what had led to the rift between her and my mother. I had never met her before my mom flew her in from San Juan that summer.
I also had never spoken any Spanish before that summer. Every day after school, my grandfather took my younger brothers outside and taught them about carpentry and how to fix cars. My grandma would teach me how to cook and sew; how to properly measure and cut a pattern, how to baste and back-stitch. I did not want to be there.”
More tears fell. She had to pull herself together. She wiped her face.
“I never said or did anything mean, nothing like that. I knew better, but I did not want to be there, learning something so old fashioned and domestic as how to sew and quilt by hand and she knew it. Sometimes my mom would get off work early and would join us and eventually the three of us would make dinner together then the whole family would eat together. I hated it.”
She drew in a breath.
“You have to understand, this was completely different from how I had been raised up until then. Before then, my mother and I had never had a real conversation. I had never seen her have a conversation with her mother. I had never sat down in the same room for that length of time with either of my parents before.
I didn’t have a space in my brain for how my family had suddenly changed. I couldn’t deny it was for the better. They were, peaceful, like I’d never seen. I figured it was all good for them, I just didn’t see a need for it in me.”
Siah drew in a shuddering breath as she kept her eyes fixed on the fire.
“There was a girl in my school that I’d known only in passing. I’d later seen her in the church youth group my parents had dragged me and my brothers to.
She wasn’t the type of girl I would have normally hung around with. She was obviously poor, she didn’t have nice clothes, but I was surprised at how confident she seemed, especially since she was there by herself. After meeting her at church I was curious. I got to know her a little. She let me ask her questions about church, about God and she was actually able to answer me. When I got to really know her, I was impressed.
Her parents were drug addicts. My parents may have ignored me but at least they provided for me. Her parents didn’t even do that. She did everything herself. She had an after school job She had a lock on the inside of her door to keep her dad out. She made sure her little brothers slept with her in her room every night. I wanted her to spend nights at my house but she didn’t want to leave her little brothers alone. I didn’t blame her. They were only six and ten. We may have been the same age, but she was already an adult.
In spite of the squalor she grew up in, she got herself and her brothers to school every day, clean and with a packed lunch- and she carried herself with dignity. More than I did.
Before Jesus, she was the kind of girl my mother would never have wanted me to be friends with. That first time I brought her home after school, my mother insisted that Acera was welcome in our house any time. I was shocked. Befriending her had been mostly rebellion on my part; I didn’t think my parents would actually like her. I hadn’t realized until then just how deeply they had changed.
A year later we were still friends, and, for me, that was a record. She had an aunt who moved close by and took care of her little brothers every day and most nights. With her little brothers safe, she and I spent a lot more time together.
That summer, I saw a sense of relief in my friend. She spent almost every night at my house. My mom even ordered a bed for her so we could share the room like sisters.”
Siah felt the tears fall.
“Her dream was to get a good job, move out on her own and take her little brothers out of that house permanently. My dad even offered her an entry level job at his office. For the first time in Acera’s life, things were looking good for her- then everything hit the fan.”
Siah took a shuddering breath. It had been so long since she had last thought of THAT summer…
“Her mom had gone to her aunts, made a big scene and taken her little brothers back home. It had happened before. Acera was used to it. She needed to go get them. I gave her a ride and waited in the car.”
Tears fell down Siah’s face. She did not bother to hold them back.
“I was watching though the front window when she walked into the house, I watched as her father shot her mom and ten year old brother, right there on the couch, right in front of her and the window. She scooped up her six year old brother and ran out the door with him. He shot her in the back three times. The bullets went straight through her and into him. Then he shot himself.”
She had to stop and pull herself together.
“It was her faith, her guts that drew me to Jesus. Her name was Acera Rios and she was my friend.
It was at her funeral that I decided to follow Jesus. I was seventeen. I understood what it might cost me. The Bible talks about having your faith tested. It wasn’t two weeks after the funeral, when mine was.
My second oldest brother, Ysidro, came to “Visit”.” She did air quotes over the last word.
“He was a drug addict, constantly in and out of rehab, jail, prison. That day he came to the house I was the only one home. He wanted me to give him money. I told him no and stormed up the stairs. I thought I’d be safe in my room. I should’ve just left the house.
He grabbed me and slapped me. I was shocked. I’d never been hit before. I remember looking at him, thinking he’d be shocked by his own actions. But he wasn’t. His face was as cold as stone. I pulled away from him and ran up the rest of the stairs. He chased me, cursing me out. He cut me off at the landing and half punched, half threw me down the stairs- I hit the wall, and he kept coming. He kicked me several times. I thought I was dead. Then my grandfather and youngest brother came out of nowhere and sacked him.”
She smirked and chuckled.
“My 72 year old grandfather put him in a chokehold and held him until he passed out. Ysidro had broken my left arm, my left ankle, fractured my skull and cracked three of my ribs. That’s not even counting the internal injuries.”
She took a deep breath as she took her eyes off the fire for the first time and looked at them.
“You boys need to understand something; my parents played favorites. My oldest brother was the beloved firstborn and was treated like it. Ysidro had grown up as the beloved baby for the first 15 years of his life before I showed up. He had never hidden his resentment of my existence.
My parents had spent most of their parenting energy on them. Looking back, that was a big part of why my parents had neglected me and my younger brothers growing up. The squeaky wheel gets the grease; me and my younger brothers had never given my parents any real trouble, so we were ignored. I had just been put into a hospital room when my parents showed up.”
She breathed a humorless laugh at the memory.
“I had thought they would be worried about me, but they actually had the gall to ask me to NOT press charges on Ysidro. That was when I. BLEW. UP. I screamed at them both, blamed them for what had happened. It was their fault for playing favorites, for spoiling him, for paying for everything for him, for giving him chance after chance when he had never once shown any sign of repentance for anything he’d ever pulled...”
“You have to understand, I had never yelled at either of my parents before, I had never raised my voice. I had never bothered. They were shocked as I screamed at them.
‘You care so much about your precious son, what about me? I’m your only daughter!’
I was shouting so loudly, I was so upset, the monitors on me went nuts. Several nurses and a security guard came in. They actually kicked my parents out of the room. I could see it in my parents’ faces, I had hit a nerve. I was right and they knew it. Only my grandmother stayed. She was the only adult family member there that I really trusted. My grandfather was dealing with everything at home.
My grandma just held me as I cried.
That night I was alone when my father came into my hospital room; my grandma had gone to get some coffee. I remember waking up and seeing him just standing there over me- and in that moment, I thought my father was going to kill me. I can’t even begin to tell you how shocked I was when he knelt next to the bed, took my hand, and begged me to forgive him.”
She wiped at fresh tears.
“He confessed that I was right. He begged me to forgive him for being a horrible father. He told me Ysidro had been booked into the Houston jail and would face charges for his assault on me and that this time they would not be hiring a high powered lawyer for him. They would not be posting bond. He was on his own.
That was the very first time my father really looked at me; that I had his undivided attention. I told him I would try to forgive him. We talked for a while before I fell back asleep. That was the first real conversation I’d ever had with my father.
My mom came in the morning and asked for forgiveness too. I couldn’t have been more shocked that she was there. She stayed with me, in the hospital room, all that day so my grandma could go home and get some real rest. She never took a whole day off work. Ever. It felt strange being alone with my mother, to my knowledge that had never happened before. Without my grandmother there it was, awkward. We just didn’t have anything to say.
That was a paradigm shift for my whole family. My grandparents had only lived with us for a few months by that time, and if I thought things had been weird in my house before, they were really weird after that; I was weird after that.
After the initial outburst in the hospital room I felt a peace in my spirit that I could not understand, that made no sense; it was a peace that allowed me to look at the whole situation objectively.
My grandparents had been spending more time with us in the past few months than my parents had in the first 16 years of my life. They were the mediators between us kids and my parents.
School had already started, but as injured as I was I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I spent that time with my grandparents. Throughout everything my grandparents had shown their true colors and I began to see them the way Acera had. My Grandmother may not have known much English, she may have had a third grade education, but that woman was five feet of steel. She was the rock I leaned on.
I began to see the sewing lessons as being a way to connect to my grandma and make some memories with her. Cooking with her was a way to get to learn about each other and the culture that she came from- that I came from.
My mom actually took a leave of absence from her job and spent every day with me for a month. I could count the times on one hand I could ever remember her taking time off work and none of them had been for my sake. I behaved, I got good grades, she gave me things; that had been the extent of our relationship before all this. But, now, my parents were genuinely trying. My mother, grandmother and I made so many things together. And this time it was different, I was different, this time I liked it.
I like to think that they can see now how well those skills have served me. I don’t have any of the things we made together, not one, but I do have the skills they taught me. I do have the memories. No disaster can take a skill or a memory away.
“We all went, as a family, to a Christian counselor for a year after that. My body healed, I managed to forgive my parents, and to a certain extent, Ysidro too.”
She looked at them and smiled fondly, wiping away the last of her tears.
“I haven’t spoken about this in years.” She looked- relieved.
“Thanks for letting me talk it out boys.” She leaned over and rubbed both their heads before going back to sewing.
Eric and Nathan looked at each other. Nathan slowly leaned over, slowly wrapped his arms around Siah’s shoulders, and hugged her.
Eric felt incredibly awkward, but he leaned over and hugged her as well. She hugged them back and smiled through fresh tears.
It was quiet as they all huddled into their futons for the night. The air felt cool and still as Eric banked the fire. Nathan surprised himself when he asked a question.
“Whatever happened to Ysidro? Did he go to prison?” He asked quietly.
“Yes he did.” She said quietly. “It turned out he had had several warrants out for his arrest. That was why he was so desperate that day. Between his other crimes and what he did to me, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. No parole.”
He surprised himself again. “What happened to him?”
Siah stopped unrolling her new blanket as she looked at him.
She put her eyes back on the blanket before she spoke.
“Several years later he was killed in prison; tore my parents apart. If they hadn’t already been Christians, I honestly don’t think they would have survived that loss.”
The boys stayed awake long after Siah had fallen asleep.
The boys sat up as one. Nathan flexed his arm out of the sling he still slept in. The searing pain of the bullet wound was gone, but he still felt very, aware, of where it had gone through him. He wondered if the soreness in his shoulder would ever really go away.
He soundlessly wrapped one of his new blankets around him and sat next to Eric.
They talked quietly about what Siah had told them. It explained a lot about her, not everything, but a lot.
“What- made you, hug her like that?” Eric asked. Nathan calmed when he saw Eric was serious. He shrugged uncomfortably.
“Just seemed like what she would do.” Eric nodded. It was exactly what Siah would have done.
They both started at an explosive crack of thunder, followed by what sounded like sheets of rain spattering the apartment window.
They looked at each other sideways.
That was weird.