Lubbock, Texas. 2000.
“No one understood why I took him back, not even me. He was like a drug that I was hopelessly addicted to. I was weak without Diego. I didn’t know where he was, if he was alive, and suddenly, the idea of raising my baby alone was more than I could bear.
“Mom started doing better, so I went back to Nebraska after Christmas. Tex went with me. There was still no word from Diego. It had been nearly two months. I hid the fact that I was pregnant from Tex. I let him think that the baby was his. He was thrilled to be having a child. He worked hard in AA and stayed clean and sober. I finished out the school year, resigned my position and we moved back to Lubbock.
“Danny was born July 14, 1982. Mama died a week later. I was so busy with Mama, I didn’t see the changes in Tex right away. Back in his old party environment, he started slipping. He didn’t go to his meetings like he should. He’d ditch calls from his sponsor, and started drinking the occasional beer after he got home from work. Soon, it became two or three, then six. He’d binge with drugs, and come home high. He never hit me, but he yelled a lot. I was terrified that he’d do something to me or the baby, but I couldn’t get a single judge to listen to me.
“Danny was four months old when Tex hit me again. He was cutting teeth, and having a tough time. I kept his gums covered with Ora-gel and gave him cold teething rings and Tylenol, but nothing helped. He was miserable. Tex came home one night, drunk, surly, smelling like cheap beer and cheaper women. I tried to keep him out of the house, but he broke a window and climbed in. I called the cops…. It scared the baby, all the noise and yelling. Danny cried and cried. Tex threatened my son. I stood up to him, and he hit me. He beat me until I couldn’t stand. He was standing over the crib yelling at the baby when the police came in.”
“Off to jail again,” Flora said. “What a bastard. Please tell me you didn’t take him back.”
“No. But I still couldn’t divorce him. I tried. But there was no way to make him sign the papers. It was the one thing he could do that really hurt me.”
“What about Diego?”
“I didn’t see him for nearly two more years. A phone call or two, then those stopped, too.”
“Why do long? Did he…. ” Flora leaned over, whispering. “Do the job?”
Janet smiled, nodding. “Yes. He found the men Coffey sent him after. Then there was another job and another…. Each job mired him in more. He hated what he’d become, but by then, he didn’t know how to quit.”
“But did he come back for you?”
Janet gave a quick nod. “It took some time, but he did. Danny was five. We lived with my father. I was teaching high school again, A.P. English. Sookie was married and expecting her first baby, a little girl….”
Lubbock, Texas. June 1988.
Danny was in the fenced-in yard playing with the dog. Janet kept an eye on him from the front room while she worked at her computer. She didn’t notice the car pull up, or the man who got out, until she heard someone talking to Danny in the yard.
“Is your mother home?”
“I’m not ‘posed to talk to you,” Danny said loudly. “I don’t know you.”
Janet got up, running to the door. She knew that voice.
“Diego?” It came out like the cry of a wounded bird. “Tell me it’s really you!”
He turned to her, smiling, arms wide. She ran to him. Diego lifted her spinning her around and around.
“You came back,” she murmured. “You came back….”
“I tried to get here sooner. I tried…. I’ve thought about you every day.”
“Mona said…. She said, you and Tex?” The pain in his face made her cry.
“For a little while, we tried. It didn’t work out. He’s back in jail.”
“He hit you again?” He tightened up, his face taking the look of a predator.
“It’s okay. I’m okay….” She reached her hand toward her confused son. “Danny, I want you to meet my friend Diego. Diego, meet Danny….” She didn’t say it, but he could tell that she was introducing him to his son.
©2020 Dellani Oakes