Chapter 3: Independent, Free, and Wild
She knew he would be thinking about her. She wrapped her slender tendrils tighter around the steering wheel of her Jeep Grande Cherokee, brand spanking new, right off the lot with seven and a half miles on it. Red and shiny and worth a little bit of money, the kind of thing a woman needs to feel good about herself. Well, maybe not every woman, but Isabella Moretti-Jones needed it. She turned her head to let the air fling her hair back just enough to remind her that this was her reward for leaving her husband, Wesley Jones. Drove right off the lot with his last paycheck, and quite a few before that. Paid for in full. Owner: Isabella Moretti-Jones. Iz.
She felt now more powerful than she had ever felt, those tendrils revealing a tan line so liberating. She thought she might change her name back to Isabella Moretti. Powerful. Independent, but weeping inside. What had she done? Left Wesley? Left little Jack and Antonio. Oh, Antonio was getting so big now. He was in second grade and little Jack just started Kindergarten. She wept, but she had no other choice. She had to leave.
She had already tuned out the Britney Spears songs, and threw on some real music, Alanis Morrisette. She slid the old CD in the player. She needed to feel angry. She needed to feel strong. She needed to feel like that independent rocker chick who could say, “Screw the world,” and get away with it.
She used to be independent and strong. What had happened to her? The last ten years had dwindled away at her. It made her less of a woman. He made her less of a woman. It was 2005. Women were independent now. They were equal now.
Sure, she had stuck to a traditional female role in her career, elementary school teacher. Her life belonged to those kids though. Dean Road Elementary School in Auburn, Alabama, was part of her. She woke up every day with a gloomy brow, but her eyes widened when she drove up to her space in the parking lot. Seeing those skateboarder shoes (which had just recently came in style in Alabama), those flowered dresses, and the ripped jeans on the little bodies of people who have yet became corrupt gave her her only joy. Even her little crumb-snatchers at home couldn’t compare. She didn’t understand this. She wanted to love her children, she did love them, but living in that house…
It made her regret having them, at least with the man she married. No, not the man she married, but the man he had became.
Creek Hill: 13 miles.
Yes, he would be thinking about her, she knew it. What would she tell him? Jude Taylor. She never gave him much thought, except around this time of the year. November 11, was just three weeks away, minus a day. They had to make plans. But what would she say to him? He would ask about Wesley and how the kids are doing. He would look forward to seeing them when they made the trip down with her in three weeks. Would they be with her? Does she want them with her? It was too much to think about now. Well, she had 12 miles now to come up with an answer. Or a cover-up.
The truth could only stay hidden for so long, it always comes out. She decided she’d be up front with him.
What was is about Jude that made her want to be so open with him? Maybe it was that love that never was. No. It couldn’t be that. He was just a really good friend. He had always been someone she could confide in. But, they were not that close. Could she open up to him the way she used to? Would he feel real sympathy for her, or would he be ready to…
No. He he’s not that kind of man.
Isabella was confused. She was confused about her unstable marriage, if there was even a shred of that left. She was confused about her career. How could she teach there every day with her kids there, knowing that she left their father? She was confused about life. Why did it have to be so complicated? Nearing thirty, divorce papers in the mail, white tan line on her dark finger, what kind of a life was that?
God, what was she doing with her life? It was much simpler back in high school. There, she knew where she stood. She would bring home her report card every six weeks with A’s across the sheet. She would date a few guys, but not get too attached. She didn’t want to be someone’s. She belonged only to herself. She would be class President. She would lead the school Bible club, but not be anti-teenage life. She would be in the Future Business Leaders of America, the Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, and every other club the school had. She would sell Skittles, chocolate, and candles. That perfect all-American high school girl. She’d grow up and live in a big house with the perfect husband with lots of perfect children in the suburbs of a toxin-free city and she would present knowledge to small children in just the right amount so as to not overload their minds and they would love her for it. She would have the life she always wanted.
Life doesn’t work like that. It’s funny like that, isn’t it, she thought.
No, life didn’t offer her the perfect husband. His career playing the stock market was failing. What was he thinking, playing the market in Alabama? She didn’t feel loved any longer, not since the downslide in his career. Her children were not perfect either. The little eggs had sprouted into window-breaking-food-dropping-cuss-word-learning-brats. Mostly, they were the run-of-the-mill offspring. The air wasn’t all toxin-free, but it would do. She didn’t get her dream house. Wesley, “saving up,” decided it would be better to rent out an apartment for a few years so they could buy a bigger house than she wanted. She felt that only a few of her elementary school children actually came out a better, brighter student when she shoveled them up to the next grade level.
No. Life didn’t work out like she planned it. Five more miles, and where would she go after that? The hotel she was staying in was becoming expensive. Her sick days at Dean Road Elementary were running out. She’d have to go back to teaching. She’d have to go back to dealing with life. Life, that funny thing. It was that thing that kicked her in the ass and then dropped with an elbow to her rib cage while she was still lying there. Sometimes, it dropped a hand to help her back up, but usually it let go halfway back up. Then it laughed, teasing her. Life, it’s a funny thing isn’t it?
Life wasn’t working on her side. Fate wasn’t. God wasn’t. She needed a reevaluation on that funny thing. She needed to get up herself and kick it in its backside and rub its face in the dirt. Isabella Moretti, an independent woman, kicking life in the ass. Self-determination would be her new motto. There was no reevaluation needed. Right then and there, she decided fate had no part in her life. She wasn’t going to deal with the randomness it threw at her. She would control all consequences in her life from here on in. But, wasn’t she already doing that? Did she not already control her consequences? No, she controlled the choices. She had let fate take care of the rest. No more of that.
Creek Hill exit nearing, the exit ahead sign was glistening from the morning sun. Turning up Alanis, sticking her head out of the window, and a fist in the air, she let out a whoop loud enough for the bypassing interstaters to feel the reverberant tone of an independent woman. Horns honked from two passing cars and a double honk tooted from an 18-wheeler. She let her hair feel the wind long enough for her eyes to water up and brought her head back in.
What was she thinking? A 27 year old woman acting like she was headed down to Panama City for Spring Break. Spring Break, that’s a nice thought. Maybe she’d go next year. It might be liberating. Isabella was in sync with the world again. She was getting back to being Iz. Izzy. Isabella Adriana Moretti.
She rolled up her window and turned the AC to high on the dial. She was giving up her freedom, her independence, her oneness with the world, but the late October heat was still lingering and her back had started to stick to the seat. At least Alanis was still blasting full tune. She might want to turn that down to. She couldn’t be too un-cool rolling into Creek Hill listening to music that died out in the mid-nineties. Well, that, and the fact that near thirty year old women didn’t ride through rattling windows of their old home town. She was still glad she got the entire package with her Jeep, stereo and all.
Creek Hill, home sweet home. All she could think about was high school, the most memorable years of her life. Then, she didn’t have to struggle through homework, eight and a half months pregnant preparing for finals. Then, she didn’t have to grade tests until two in the morning and get back up at six. Maybe she did have to get up at six back then, she had to look presentable by eight o’clock. She thought of the sweet smell of the trees, the burnt smell of the lunchroom cafeteria, her neatly organized locker, and the toilet paper lining the floor of the girl’s restroom. It was all the same to her. It was the best years of her life. She’d give anything to just go back. For one day, she’d give, at least, a finger. Maybe more than that. In high school, she was the queen. She made boys cry and girls talk trash. Teachers loved her. Parents loved her. Guys loved her. Some girls loved her. A lot didn’t. But that was high school. The greatest years of her life.
Jude loved her, but she didn’t know it then. She thought it was just another teen male infatuation, especially since he ran right back to Angela when things got tough.
The first stop light, the only stop light came into view, dangling from the line with a couple of rolls worth of toilet paper flung over it. The light shone through the thin paper just enough let traffic know its color.
She ripped the pavement with new rubber, just to get the day’s wild thoughts out of her system. She felt like a teen again. Free and wild. Independent. She wore her ripped DKNY’s today. The legs were faded and had a hole over both knees, one small rip and one that hung out and opened like the mouth of Hell. Tattered strings scattered over her sandals, showing her faint orange toenails that complimented her pedal-pushers. She had a tight orange shirt that simply had one line on it, “life is good.” Her dark black hair was let loose and a few strands dangled over her face. She was ready for the world, white-striped finger and all.
The Sandwich House, old Martha would be excited to see her. Benji, the cook, Caroline the head waitress (the only waitress on most days), and Martha’s wild grandchildren would all run straight to her and give her a hug. Okay, maybe not Benji, he wasn’t much for hugging. Plus, he’d be stained with grease from baseball cap down. Isabella could smell the turkey, ham, cheese, and the fries in her nostrils. Just a few miles down the road, she could smell it. Her nostrils were triggered by a lifetime of evenings spent with friends chatting away at the outside picnic tables, by years of horny boys glancing her way and smiling, by Martha stopping from table to table to gossip on the town’s current scandal. She could remember Ed sitting in his corner booth just finishing his three-hour lunch just as the local teens scattered in after seven hours of mind-numbing torture. She thought of the windy afternoons blowing the napkins across the parking lot from the tables. There were so many memories there. So much history.
Jude Taylor asked her out for the first time there. She remembered it like it was yesterday.
“Oh, hey Jude.”
“How’s it goin’?”
And all the trivial stuff that came along after that led him up to the question, all the talk of teachers, school, sports, clubs, music, movies, and everything else the frightened 16 year old boy could think of. Until, he finally ran out of trivial stuff to talk about.
“Okay, I’m just going to go ahead and ask you…”
“Ask me what?” She knew what he was going to ask, but she couldn’t help but make it worse for him.
“Do you wanna go out with me sometime?” He lingered over the question and told his knee to stop bouncing.
“I don’t know,” she was just being a bit cruel, but she had to make sure he was really ready to take on the challenge. She wanted to see if he was man enough to take it. “It depends.”
“Yes. Like, where would you take me? What time would you have me home?” And she drilled him with all the questions that an overprotective father would ask a lustful teen male who stepped in his house ready to take out his little girl.
“I see, you just wanna tease me. Is that it?” He had caught on after a few of the overprotective father lines.
“Okay, I’ll go out with you. Friday night at seven. Be there on time. And practice your answers for the questions I just gave you.” Jude looked a little bewildered at the last statement.
“You’ll have to be prepared for my father.”
Yes, she remembered it just like it was yesterday. She controlled the fate of boys. She controlled the fate of Jude Taylor as he got up from that table and walked back over to his friends.
She knew that he was no longer the boy who asked her out that Tuesday afternoon. He had now become a man. But, they weren’t as close any more. Each year, for the last ten years, he seemed to grow more distant, but that’s life. People grow apart. They had grown apart. She thought that they needed to rekindle their friendship. She needed to renew that lost friendship with a lot of people. She only saw them this one time a year, and they were no longer friends. They were old friends. They were old acquaintances, merely passing by each other, once a year, in the road of life.
Martha was already making her rounds with the Saturday crowd when Isabella pulled up to the Sandwich House, table to table. Ed was peering out of the window in the corner from inside as he always did. He was still on still on his breakfast, two hours now. A few teens had managed to get out of bed early enough to get their bacon sandwiches and coffee, an important remedy for their previous night’s leftovers. Caroline’s shirt was already damp. She had began her shift at six a.m., and leaving the kids at home to watch football with their dad. Martha’s grandchildren, were circling tables with sticks in hand, while one sat sheltered inside with his Game Boy, the other two had now moved up to the early morning teen crowd, too cool to run around any more.
Isabella thought how nice it would be to see Jude sitting there, just like he used to sit and wait for her. She had already decided to let him on her secret of the separation, probable divorce, or whatever it was. She was going to let him know that she was an independent woman now, and she had a shiny new red Jeep to show it. She thought about letting the whole town know. She wouldn’t have to see them for another year anyway. Just hop out of the car and shout it, let the world know. Let the world know that she was, once again, Isabella Adriana Moretti, an independent woman who was free from the conventions of society. She could shout it, “I’M ISABELLA ADRIANA MORETTI! INDEPENDENT! FREE! AND WILD!” Let the whole world know. She could do it, but instead she shut off the engine of her new toy, and stared out at the best years of her life. She was stepping out into the great unknown for the second time in her life. The first time was leaving this place. Now, it was coming back to it, Creek Hill.