When I finally did meet Bella she was the one who asked all the questions. Maybe her curiosity was the reason her friend Perry found her so compelling. She kept me on the hot seat for several hours. She kept saying she found my story fascinating and wanted to know more and more.
I did not think my story was so out of the ordinary. I told her that I was a bright child who learned to read very easily and was soon reading adult fare. I told her I read the Grapes of Wrath when I was still only eight years old and thought John Steinbeck understood country people quite well. But I told her that the reason I was probably held up in my progress was because I had to consider that my own death at a very young age was entirely possible. I fell ill when I was around ten of a mysterious virus which about a year and a half later culminated in a bout of severe fatigue which I thought might be heralding a fatal illness. Just in case, I thought I had better prepare for an early demise.
How was I to go about doing that? Scientists did not believe there was an after life. There was no proof that one even existed. A great deal had been deduced about the mysteries of the universe, but nothing had ever been sighted of an after life where people like me could expect to go in case death took them off at an early age.
By the time I was twenty, because of my fragile health I thought, I had at least two near death experiences. When I was fifteen I went into shock after a tonsillectomy, a rather bizarre experimental procedure done with only a local anesthesia. My mother eagerly offered me up as a guinea pig which annoyed the doctor after I nearly died. He said he would never have chosen me to experiment on if he had known my nerves were so bad.
My mother should have known my nerves were bad, but I did not confide in her, so she did not know a lot that was going on with me. She didn't know about the severe bout of fatigue and the suspicion I had that I was soon going to die. I had determined I wasn't yet sick enough to tell her. I always had a hatred of being confined to the house, so I wanted to wait to tell anyone I was worried about an early demise until I absolutely had to discuss it because I had collapsed or something. Until then, I planned on keeping going as long as I could with my activities outside the home.
During my near death experience I had the sensation of traveling through space thousands of miles an hour until I started to reach a realm I knew was heaven. I was so excited, ecstatic in fact, and then sharply disappointed when I felt myself abruptly being pulled back into my body. My throat hurt. I was miserable. I opened my eyes to see my mother beside my bed along side an oxygen tank. She sounded a little bit disgusted when she told me that I had gone into shock and turned blue. Fortunately the doctor told her to keep watch over me, so a nurse was called and it was determined I had gone into shock. Oxygen was administered and I was brought around.
Since the operation had been 'experimental' my going into shock was ignored as much as possible. My doctor was popular among the nurses and they undoubtedly did not want his reputation hurt.
But I went home puzzling over what I had experienced, the flight through space, the absolute certainty that I was going to a real place. I concluded that my soul or spirit had left my body and had been conducted to heaven in a space ship or I had turned into some kind of space traveler I was not sure. I was to have other dreams about sick people leaving the earth in a space ship. So that was not the only time.
Bella seemed enthralled with this story and asked me about every detail. She said she could understand how this experience interrupted my progress in school, for now a consciousness of death had entered the picture.
I told her that I certainly did not want to die young, so had made every effort to figure out what was wrong with me. I noted that my fatigue which had been with me morning and night started to ease up as soon as I went back to elementary school in the fall where I could sit down most of the day, so it really was related to all the hard work we children had to do in primitive conditions in our home with no electricity or running water. We did not think too much about the effects, since as children do, we thought everyone more or less lived that way. In the next town they had electricity and running water both, but I did not figure out until I was older that the children in that town did not work nearly as hard as many of the children did in our town. I also did not figure out until I was older that many of the mothers would not have worked their children as hard as our mother did who hated housework and started declaring early that since she was having all daughters she should not have to do any housework at all.
This is what I mean by my mother not being very smart. She was not able to tell when she was overworking her children, that is obvious, but she was very overworked herself, often by her own volition. She was just too ambitious for her own good, and if she could not accomplish all the tasks she took on, she passed them on to her daughters.
Bella nodded, and said, "Go on, go on!"
Since Bella was so unusually interested I thought I should tell her that I had also observed by then that my father was not exactly like other fathers. If my perceptions were right, I had suspected since I was five years old that my father was engaged in affairs with other men.
"No!" Bella practically screamed. "Listen to this, Perry! Just listen to this!" Perry was listening but not with nearly as much emotion, so it hardly seemed he was listening at all compared to Bella. "Why would a little girl think that?" she asked.
Hmm. I did not quite know how I should answer that. It was such a long complicated story. Did she really have time to hear it?
"Of course I have time to hear it," Bella said, reading my mind quite accurately. "What do we have in the hereafter but time, plenty of time to sort things out, so that is what we are doing."
"Is that what we are doing?" I asked. "I hope so. I always thought we needed a hereafter to sort things out especially when terrible things happen and children as young as five are murdered."
"Were you almost murdered?"
"Yes, I thought I might be," I said. "Not by anyone I had ever known, but by a stranger my dad took up with and started visiting. He took me and my sister with him. I was able to observe their behavior very closely, and during the winter I finally deduced that he was doing something with this guy that I had really never thought of before. It was the first time that I ever had to consider whether men had sex with one another. But from how they acted and from an obscene thing the other man said to my father, a bunch of circumstantial evidence actually, I came to the conclusion that my dad was doing something he would not want my mother to know, and did not think I could figure out at my age."
"But you did figure it out, yes?" prodded Bella.
"More or less, but what cinched it for me was later on in the summer when this man got very angry at my dad and while he was gone one day after he came to work for him, he seized my hand and more or less dragged me down around the hill to the corn where he molested me. This is when I thought I could be killed."
"Oh yes, a great many children have been murdered by such abductors," said Bella shuddering. "I have seen the victims here, many times."
"Oh dear," she went on, "Now I see there was no chance of you having been wrong. This story has taken a very dark turn. Now it will be painful for me to listen to it. But obviously you were not murdered, since you have only recently passed into the hereafter as an old lady. You look young, I assure you, but you had reached an advanced age, I presume?"
"You would presume right, but of course after that I did feel that I had barely escaped death, since he abducted me three different times before I could get my wits about me and do something concrete about it."
"Why didn't you tell?"
"There would have been a murder, an attempted murder I believed. This man was very cheeky, very bold. He would say anything. I thought my dad would be frantic to kill him so he would not tell their secrets."
"Oh, the fact that they had been having an affair."
"I think my dad would have been very upset at very thought of what this guy might say in custody. He might lose his family, and of course I did not want my dad to feel desperate enough to want to kill someone so they could not talk. To say nothing of his rage at what I had to go through at this man's hands."
"You thought all that while you were being abducted three times?"
"Well, yes, I thought my mind would break with the strain of it all. But I finally determined to try to take of the problem myself so I would not have to tell at the time. Which I was able to do so that he could not get access to me. I stayed within about ten feet of my mother from then on until he was no longer living on our ranch."
"Decisions, decisions, even children must make terrible decisions, but if there is great danger even children have to try to save themselves and their family members."
"Yes, they do, and people must remember that thousands of murdered children must go through a terrible unthinkable ordeal at a very young age. That is my point."
"A very good point you are making, too."
"But if people don't see great danger lurking they tend to think it is not there, never was there. I have never discussed any of this with my father to this day."
"Oooh,' said Bella. "So the story continues. Do you know where he is?"
"I heard from a male cousin he was in the hereafter for gay men, but I can't imagine the changes he must have gone through to ever go there since he was in such denial."
"Denial that he was bisexual?"
"That anything was going on with anybody that was not normal. You have no idea how many bisexuals commit themselves to denying everything. I have studied these men. I know what they do. They deny, deny, deny."
"Then you think admitting to being gay or bisexual is a relatively new development in the history of man?"
"I know it is. I am sure very few men down through history would ever have conceded to being bisexual or homosexual. Especially if they had wives and children. I could not breathe a word to my mother because if she believed me and accused him he might have murdered her."
"It would not have been considered important for women to know these things for centuries, when in so many cultures women are not regarded as equals to men," said Bella.
"Yes, that is what I am thinking. Confirmation for what I believed was going on actually came from my mother years later who had suppressed a memory she had of seeing him practically in an act of sex. I am sure she suppressed the memory from a protective instinct. This was something she never should have seen and could be very dangerous for her to reveal."
"You are probably right," said Bella. "Oh yes, people think we have advanced so far, when in actuality we are still in the dark ages, if not in one place in another and another. People become more sophisticated in certain advanced cities, but in the backwoods conditions stay the same for centuries. Wouldn't you say so?"
Bella got up. "I have heard enough of your story for tonight but it appears that you have fought hard for women's rights during your life time. I am always interested in women's stories who understand how hard we women must fight to keep any advances we make....."