Copyright is held by the author.
ALL RIGHT, maybe it wasn’t the best way to start the conversation.
In my own way, I was trying to take her side. It’s not easy to take her side, and very few people do. She has two, maybe three, real friends in the world that I know of. There’s me, there’s her dog, and there’s Bill.
Now Bill gives off the same kind of vibes that keep people away, and I’m not even sure how they connect. Maybe their negatives cancel each other out and create a weird kind of positive. All I know is that whenever he comes around she lights up like someone dropped a lit cigarette butt into a bucket of fireworks. Her eyes get sparkly bright and that crazy map of wrinkles on her face softens into something resembling happiness.
Anyway, it all started at the hotdog stand in the park.
You see, Bill didn’t use deodorant — what he calls “pit poison.” At times, he was pretty ripe. This was one of those times. In fact, I don’t think any part of him had been close to soap in a while. While waiting in line the woman in front of us said loudly, “Something stinks.” I barely caught Tracey as she lunged forward. The line around us shifted uneasily. I dragged her over to a picnic table and firmly sat her down. “Sit here — the hotdogs are on me.” An hour later, Bill got up, said, “Thanks” and left. I turned to Tracey and said, “You know, it wouldn’t hurt Bill to take a bath before he comes over.”
Yelling, screaming, swearing, jumping around . . . totally out of control. Five minutes later she was in a police car and I was holding the dog leash.
After I’d bailed her out, and she’d downed most of a 26er of vodka, Tracey hung her head and spoke in a low monotone.
As a child, Bill had been her next-door neighbour. They shared the same babysitter when their parents went out together. The babysitter who insisted on bathing them . . . who did things to them in the bathtub. Bad things. One night after bath time as seven-year-old Tracey cried, 10-year-old Billy pulled out his daddy’s big pipe wrench from behind the couch, and slammed it down onto the babysitter’s head. Slammed it hard.
Tracey had never seen that much blood before.
Bill spent several years in a “special” school. Afterwards, he was never the same. He avoided people, worked from home. When flashbacks triggered his PTSD, the bathroom was just not a safe place for him to be — and Bill got stinky.
Tracey looked up at me, her face open and vulnerable. “He saved me,” she said softly.
Afterwards we sat there in silence on the deck in her back yard until the sun came up. Until the darkness left.
Some of the darkness.
And I silently cherished the open-hearted generosity and commitment of a woman whom I never truly knew or understood until this day.