The first time that he hit her, Mona was too embarrassed to really think about it. Poor, uneducated women got slapped around by their husbands, but it just wasn’t, well, it just didn’t, well, it just shouldn’t happen to women like her. She was educated, cultured as only the daughter of Southern socialists could be, and shame like that wasn’t a part of her world. She drank her coffee from transparent china cups, and she grew camellias, and she protested at civil rights rallies, and she translated Rimbaud. Jimmy wasn’t going to change that just because he got temperamental at times.
The second time that he hit her, Mona called a counselor. She was going to fix this just like she fixed the leak in the septic system, the ants in the pantry, her boring inability to remember the rules of bridge, and the STD that Jimmy brought home from what he swore was a once-and-only encounter on a business trip with a whore. Jimmy didn’t want to go to counseling, but he went; well, he went when she told him it was that or no sex.
The third time that he hit her, it was because he’d refused to go to counseling and Mona’d refused to have sex with him. That time, the bruise showed and Mona had called in sick to the museum three days in a row, skipped a PTA meeting, and invested in real foundation. Jimmy swore it wouldn’t happen again, cried, brought her yellow roses, cleaned out the garage, had his sister, Grace, call her, went to a Robert Bly weekend, and Mona forgave him.
The fourth time that he hit her, he also hit Jimmy Jr., who ran into the room yelling, “Stop hurting my mother!” Mona packed a few of her clothes, all of Jimmy Jr.’s things, and the envelope full of saved grocery money that she’d kept under the sink. She got herself and Jimmy Jr. into her Honda Civic and simply started to drive with no known destination.
In New Orleans, they stayed at a Marriott that had waffles for breakfast. Mona wiped all the silverware before they used it and told herself that this was only temporary, just until she could find the right town, get a job using her art history skills, and rent a nice home with a porch and a garden. Maybe get a woman to come in once or twice a week and clean. Jimmy Jr. loved waffles and he’d been willing to look up from his iPad when they took the carriage tour through the New Orleans cemetery. He asked a few times whether Daddy was going to be mad at them, but Mona just kept telling him that they were having an adventure, just like in the video game.
In Mobile, they went to the Botanical Gardens and checked into a Holiday Inn. It had a pool and Jimmy Jr. had loved his evening dip, found some other kids to play Marco Polo with in the pool, and then fell asleep exhausted after the activity. The breakfast there was bad: mostly cold cereal, almost sour milk, soft bacon, and some unripe green melon. But they had decent coffee for Mona and Jimmy Jr. ate an almost-stale muffin before asking, again, “Is Dad going to be mad at our adventure?” That was when Mona decided it would make sense to go ahead and tell him now: “We’re not going home. I’m looking for a new place for us to stay, a place to start a new life away from Dad. I know you’ll miss him, but I can’t keep taking the chance that he won’t really hurt one of us.” Jimmy Jr. got very quiet and wouldn’t look up from his video game at all as they drove from Mobile to Asheville. Mona passed him crackers with pimento cheese spread and apple slices.
They stayed in Asheville for several days and, truth be told, if the rents weren’t so high, Mona’d have been glad to settle down there. By Asheville, the tiny clink that the Honda made going up hills had become a noisy clunk and Mona’s funds were running out. Jimmy’d cut off her credit cards, well, all except the one he didn’t know about, but Mona knew it wouldn’t be long before that bill would show up in their mailbox and Jimmy would cut that one off, as well. Asheville seemed full of kindred spirits: women interested in the arts, street performers, people who didn’t make their minds up on Sunday mornings at the local Baptist church. In Asheville, they ate at good restaurants: Plant with its vegan chili, Chestnut for the pork tenderloin, and Tupelo Honey Cafe for the biscuits with blueberry compote. After a week of bad meals, Mona felt they deserved real food, on real china, with real cloth napkins. And, besides, Jimmy was going to cut this credit card off soon, anyway, so she might as well make the most of it. Mona took the Honda into the shop, was relieved when her card went through for the $600 repair, and drove out of town with Jimmy Jr. in the back seat, reading a Big Nate book that she’d bought for fifty cents at a rummage sale.
Mona drove like crazy for two days and got them to Baltimore just as Jimmy Jr. finished his book. Almost out of courage, she checked herself and Jimmy Jr. into a run-down motel just outside the city and ordered soft shell crab sandwiches. Jimmy’s texts chipped away at what was left of her self-confidence: “Bitch, I am giving you exactly 48 hours to bring my son back to me and to crawl on your knees in apology and then I am going to unleash the police and lawyers on you in ways you never imagined.” “Mona, I just got off the phone with your grandmother who cannot believe that you would disgrace her family like this. I will, because I love you, forgive this, but you must be home, with Jimmy, Jr., in the next 72 hours or I will ruin you.” “Cunt, you will live to beg my forgiveness for the day you defied me like this.” “Mona. I am warning you. Answer my next call or, when I get custody, you will never speak to Jimmy, Jr. again.”
It took all of Mona’s courage, or maybe it was her Southern Belle’s ability to ignore reality that she didn’t like to acknowledge, but she never responded to Jimmy, Instead, on Tuesday, when she took Jimmy Jr. to the Baltimore Museum of Imaginary Arts, she started a discussion with one of the curators and, Steel Magnolia courage to the rescue, landed a job as an assistant junior curator, which apparently mostly meant running the cash register in the gift shop. It would be three weeks before she saw a paycheck. And, in the end, she and Jimmy Jr. wound up living in the Honda on the outskirts of Baltimore for almost a month before she had the money and the references to rent a small apartment. She registered Jimmy Jr. in the local school. Bought herself a second white blouse. Changed her cell phone number. Got an internet subscription. Bought a tiny pot with a large pumpkin vine growing out of it.
Shrugged and looked forward instead of back.
Picture found here.