Chapter One: mary ann
"Mary Ann!" My father's voice roared up the stairwell and startled me out of my trance. "You better get a move on or you'll miss the bus!" he said as I was enthralled in the mishaps of a blue jay on my windowsill. The same blue jay that had visited me on a regular basis for the past two years.
"I'm coming, Daddy!" I got up off my bed and threw a stack of journals into my duffel bag. I had already managed to cram most of my meager wardrobe into the trunk my mother gave me -- a hand-me-down that once belonged to my great-grandmother. My duffel bag held the most important items though: all of my favorite photographs, my collection of show ribbons I won over the years in junior horseback riding competitions, and my journals.
There was no way I would leave my journals behind for my younger siblings or, God forbid, my parents to find. My life had not been all that exciting up to now -- in fact, I wished I had more scandal to write about. Still, the pages contained my private thoughts and my personal history. They were for my eyes only.
"Mary Ann, don't make me have to come up there and get you!" Daddy yelled again. He was obviously more nervous than I was about my leaving home for law school in Washington, D.C. He had been worked up for more than a month, trying to make sure I had everything that I needed for the trip. Granted, moving from South Dakota clear across the country was a major undertaking for me. I had never been outside my home state. I did my undergraduate work at a local college so I could stay close to my parents and help them out with the chicken farm and in the raising of my rambunctious sisters and brothers. I am the eldest of nine. I felt guilty about leaving them all behind but attending Hartsdale Law School had always been a dream of mine. I had worked hard to get accepted, basically giving up my social life to make sure I had good enough grades. I lucked out. I was offered a scholarship so I was flat out of excuses not to leave.
The night before my departure, my twelve-year-old sister Caroline came into my room and pleaded with me not to go. It was one of the hardest conversations of my entire life and ended with both of us in tears. By the time she returned to the bedroom she shared with Liza and Amelia, I think I had managed to convince her that I was doing the right thing. Nonetheless, I was dreading going downstairs to say goodbye. I just knew it would be emotional and depressing.
"Mary Ann!" I could really hear the irritation in my daddy's voice. "Get a move on! Now!"
I grabbed my duffel bag off the bed, looked around my cozy bedroom one last time, and tried to let it all sink in. I took a mental photograph of the teddy bear collection on my window seat, the flowery pink wallpaper, and my thirteen-inch television that had seen much better days and was missing an antenna for more than three years. I knew that my parents would reassign my bedroom to some of my siblings, so it would be drastically different by the time I returned home for a visit. The scenario would not be one where I would come back ten years later with my husband and children and everything would be exactly as I left it. That only happens in movies.
As I made my way down the steep set of stairs, I tried to fight back the tears. I was twenty-two years old and had no business acting childish about the situation. This move was my decision and I had to live with it. I reached the bottom of the steps, expecting to see several sets of pouted lips and soggy eyes. Instead, I had the shock of my life. A chorus of cheers began.
"Mary Ann! Mary Ann! She's our woman! If she can't do it, no one can!" All of my family members had raised their voices for me and I was overwhelmed. They had painted posters and draped colorful streamers all over the living room and dining room area. Each of my siblings took turns giving me cards they had made for me and presents.
By the time I walked out onto the porch ten minutes later, my duffel bag was filled to the brim with everything from a spinning top and black baby doll to a small collection of baseball cards and the sack of country-ham biscuits my mother made me for the bus.
I hugged all of my siblings in the house. Only my mother followed me onto the porch while Daddy went around back to get his pickup truck from the detached garage.
I turned to face my mother but had trouble making eye contact. "I'm going to miss you, Momma," I stated in a barely audible voice. "I'm going to miss everybody so much." Somehow I had managed to stay dry-eyed through the well-wishing inside, but not now.
My mother lifted my chin, forcing me to look into her eyes. "We love you, Mary Ann. Your father and I are extremely proud of you."
"I know that, Momma." I gave her a huge bear hug and whispered in her ear, "I'll continue to make you proud of me. I promise."
She pulled back from me slightly and gathered my head in both of her hands. I noticed the age lines on her face for the very first time. But she was still beautiful with her perfect mocha complexion, deep-set brown eyes, and high cheekbones.
"Mary Ann, I know that you'll do your best at law school and that's all we can ask from you."
"But the kids, Momma," I protested. "How will you and Daddy manage without me?"
She started giggling. "We'll miss you dearly but, trust me, we can handle that group of rowdy chaps in there."
I laughed along with her. "Yeah, but you have to admit they can be a handful."
"No more so than you were." She kissed me lightly on the cheek. "In fact, you were two handfuls."
I glanced at my watch and realized I had less than an hour before the bus left. It would take at least forty minutes for Daddy to make it into town. He drove at a snail's pace.
"I have to go, Momma." I gave her another hug and clenched my eyes shut. The tears were flowing whether I wanted them to or not. "I'll call you as soon as I get settled in the dorm."
I ran down the porch steps just as my father was pulling around the house. I leapt into the passenger side, slammed the door, and covered my face with my hands. I didn't want my mother to see more crying.
Daddy pulled off with a jerk and didn't say a word to me until we got on the highway a good fifteen minutes later. I had managed to calm down some, but my breathing was still shallow. He placed his hand on my knee. "Mary Ann, it's going to be okay." As I looked over at him, he had a cinematic smile on his face. "I hear Washington, D.C., is a great city to live in. Full of opportunities for lawyers."
"I'm not a lawyer yet, Daddy," I managed to utter. "I haven't even officially started law school yet."
"True, but in three years you'll be a lawyer. A damn good one at that."
I grinned at him. He always managed to brighten the darkest of days. "I'm glad you have so much confidence in me."
"Hell, you're a Ferguson and what a Ferguson wants, a Ferguson gets!"
"Daddy, if that were true, then I would be able to stay in South Dakota and attend Hartsdale Law."
"Well, a Ferguson gets almost anything they want." He chuckled. Both of our moods turned solemn and we fell silent once again for a few seconds. "Hey, have you heard the one about the bald chicken and the blue pig?"
"Oh boy, not another joke!" I wasn't really in the right frame of mind for his silly chicken jokes but I humored him. "Go ahead and tell it, Daddy!"
He had me laughing all the way to the bus depot, babbling on and on about chickens. Beyond his family, chickens are my father's entire life. In fact, chicken farming has been the occupation of my family for generations. My great-grandparents lived in the same farmhouse where I grew up. I was going to miss home something terrible: the ten-foot-high ceilings, the fireplace in the dining room, the view of the sunset from the loft of the barn.
We arrived at the bus station ten minutes before bus 1013 was due to depart. My daddy rushed to get my trunk off the bed of the truck and underneath the bus before they slammed the cargo section shut. Afterward, we stood on pins and needles, neither one of us wanting to say goodbye.
"I don't have to go, Daddy," I blurted out.
"Yes you do," he quickly replied. "This is what you've always wanted. You've worked hard for this and, gosh darnit, you're going to go as far as that brain of yours will take you."
"What if I'm not good enough for them?"
"You're good enough for everybody. You're just not for everybody. Don't let anyone tell you any different." He threw his arm around my shoulder and pulled me close. "Now get on that bus and call us when you get to D.C."
I grasped onto his waist for dear life. "Thanks for bringing me into this world, Daddy. Thanks for everything."
"No, thank you." He brushed his lips across my forehead and then pushed me away from him toward the steps of the bus. "Get on now."
I was halfway up the steps when I turned to look at him one more time, all six feet five inches of him. I toppled back down the steps, threw my arms around his neck, and gave him a big wet one on his left cheek. "Bye, Daddy!"
I got settled on the bus and waved at him as he got back in his truck and abruptly pulled off. I guess watching the bus depart would have been too much for him. My daddy hates to show emotion. He thinks it is a sign of male weakness. I think showing how you feel is a sign of sincerity, but he is one of those old-fashioned men who could never comprehend such a notion.
No sooner had the bus pulled away than I spotted Clarence running around the corner by the feed store flailing his arms and screaming my name. "Mary Ann! Mary Ann!"
I placed my palm up against the cool glass of the window and then waved at him. He looked frustrated, depressed, and disappointed. I guess he thought he might have changed my mind the last time we were together.
Clarence was my high school sweetheart and the only lover I had ever had. While I didn't think he was an exceptional lover, I didn't have anyone to compare to him. I probably wasn't exceptional myself. After all, I was very timid when it came to sex. Good girls don't engage in lewd sexual acts. That's how I was raised. That was the bottom line.
Clarence and I had gathered up enough nerve to watch some porno films on a couple of occasions. They seemed to make him uncomfortable. But I, on the other hand, was enthralled by sexy movies. I couldn't believe women actually performed certain sex acts without passing out or gagging on the huge dicks of the men in those flicks.
Saying goodbye to Clarence was difficult. I wished I could have taken him with me to D.C. but it just wasn't fathomable. He was in training to take over his father's carpentry business and there was no way he could leave town. We were together for the last time three nights before. We spent time together in the small, cramped apartment he rented above the local convenience store on Main Street. He begged me to stay and I begged him to stop begging me for something I couldn't give him. We fell asleep drenched in each other's tears and sweat from making love.
Seeing him standing there on the corner -- finer than frog's hair with his curly black hair, bronze complexion, and sparkling hazel eyes -- made me want to tell the bus driver as we pulled away to stop and let me off. I couldn't though. I had to do what I had to do. In time, I would get over Clarence. I didn't have a choice.
I settled back into my seat and spoke to the elderly white woman who had claimed the aisle seat beside me. She seemed friendly enough. She was headed to Alexandria, Virginia, to see her four grandchildren. She almost talked my ear off, bragging about them and flashing their wallet-sized photos at me. I fell asleep a few hours later, even though it was only mid-morning. I had a long trip and an even longer law school experience ahead of me. I hoped I could handle it.
Copyright © 2003 by Zane