Louise was a real character. She was a rough and tumble biker chick who knew how to not take any shit from anyone. Before she shacked up with my dad, she used to hang out with the Hell’s Angels and was known to even be seen on the back of Sonny Berger’s bike from time to time. Now I am not saying that makes me Jax Teller or anything, but I’ll be damned if I don’t feel cooler sometimes knowing I was in part raised by someone who knew she was part of such infamous legendry.
Sometime in her late teens, she and a few other ladies in her sisterhood got into a terrible accident resulting in oil burns across their bodies. I knew these scars well, both on my stepmom and some of her sisters, for we frequented swimming holes as a kid, and those splashes of terribly warped flesh were there for all to see in their swimsuits. They were all broken people, sure, but they had started with some kind of deep inner strength that kept them proud even having been torn from the ranks of “beautiful young women” far too early. Something in them was so unyielding they knew they were still sexy even though there was evidence to the contrary.
And the men around them, broken and strong too, the men such as my dad, preferred their women like this. Someone who could take a beating and still show up for the party. Someone who could look trauma in the eye and give it a coke-trembling grin while they tried to choke something worth having from the tyranny of tragedy that was their life. A life that hunted them like a beast, and took everything it could from them the moment they let their guard down.
I hear she died still devoted to her excess, still trying to find the party in the war. I remember the last few times I spent with her, years before she passed, before she and my dad broke it off for the last time. As a kid, it was just do my chores , go play, and leave her alone to read the day away. But eventually, I was a young adult, and she and I could talk about the books we had in common. We’d talk about riding dragons with Anne McCaffrey and being vampires with Anne Rice. She had a wall of fantasy books that I could draw from. Something I will always be grateful for.
I remember one time when she and my dad were fighting, which was the usual, she said something awful about my dad to me, something I don’t quite recall but certainly was aimed at reducing his manhood to nothing. It didn’t phase me because I guess I don’t care what others think of my dad (he doesn’t seem to either). But I cared about Louise, and so I said gently, “if ever it would help for you to talk about it, just let me know.” She didn’t seem to care at the moment, rightly so, so I turned to go, but then, “hey,” she said, so I turned back. “You’re a good one Gabe.” I said thanks, and meant it, but was sad because I knew this meant we would never talk about what was really going on.
And she faded from my life like that. She gave me so much. She showed me how to be proud and strong, even with a mangled body. She once told me she was proud of me because I was the only one of “her kids” to make it into college. She had been a part of raising quite a few kids from different men. I didn’t have the heart to tell her when I had dropped out.
And so I read those 216 words, and I cry. But today, I finally know why I cry. I cry because while I told Louise, “I love you” all the time, I never told her what I really wanted to. What I meant to say was thank you, Louise, for being one of the few who could ever understand me. For showing me that broken and strong is possible.
The broken and strong don’t tell each other with words how to do it, we stand up and show you.