- The Speed of Memory
The man who raped my mother may not have been from Indiana, and he may have never lived there, but he drove through there. He carried a switchblade knife in the front pocket of his jeans where he could access it easily. He drove a small red car. He had brown hair, a bit disheveled, but had nice-looking features and seemed nice. He wasn’t very tall. He smiled. Sometimes he wore a red flannel shirt, or at least did so once, when he drove U.S. Highway 41 in southwestern Indiana toward Vincennes. He drove behind a black four-wheel-drive Chevrolet Blazer that was pulling a brown horse trailer. He followed the Blazer and drove into the lane beside it. His windows were down. It was summer, warm and clear, late morning. From the left lane he motioned and got the attention of the woman in the Blazer, and he was saying something to her and pointing toward the back of the horse trailer.
“Like there was something wrong,” my mother said. My father, my sister, and I had met her in the kitchen; she had just returned home, it was evening, already dark. She had told us the trip was fine, and sat down at the table, still in her boots, her purse still on her arm. “There was something weird that happened, though. I mean weird. This guy in a little red car drove up beside me and started waving at me and he kept pointing at the back of the trailer, like there was something wrong.”
“You didn’t stop, though?” my father said.
“No. I wasn’t going to stop, I just kept driving. But it was so weird. After that he dropped back for a while, and a few minutes later he drove up beside me again. It was scary. And it was so bizarre—the man didn’t have any pants on.” She soaked up our reactions and told us that she’d sped up, that she drove over ninety miles per hour, that the man in the [End Page 202] little red car finally dropped back and took an exit, and that she didn’t see him again.
I was eleven when my mother told this story, the first lie I remember her telling, and the first of many more she would have to tell to uphold it. I stood by her that night listening, confused about the man in the red car, his nakedness, about her awed and almost smiling disposition as she spoke. I couldn’t understand—why a man would do that, what he felt he could gain by it, or why a woman would tell of it the way my mother did, her story hopelessly unfinished, her body language mismatching her words.
When my mother and father were children, they both loved horses without ever owning one, and both resolved to raise horses when they reached adulthood. My father was a self described “city boy,” raised in small towns in southern Illinois by his father, a Pentecostal preacher, and a stern, often unfair stepmother. He enlisted for Vietnam so he could leave home, and after a year of duty he chose to stay six more months instead of returning to his family. My mother grew up on a farm in Massac County in southern Illinois, the youngest of four children. Most snapshots of her show her in the yard with animals: dogs, chickens, goats, a pet squirrel, a duckling. She was a tomboy, preferring to work outside with Grandpa, in the garden, with the cattle and hogs, than inside helping Grandma with household chores. She hunted and fished with Grandpa. One time she fired twice and shot four ducks flying from a pond. When she was twelve, one of her brothers saw her bathing in the metal tub in the shed and made fun of her to schoolmates and she hit him in the head with a brick; Grandpa gave her a spanking she still remembers. She was fourteen when they got indoor plumbing. Though she was an aggressive tomboy, she was also thin and sickly, with allergies...