Till the Cows Come Home
As a citizen you were entitled to some things, land or work or a place to live. As a Deleted you weren’t even entitled to live.
My name is Jacob.
We lived just south of the Smokies, near Cherokee.
I was 6 when the revolution/war/insurrection began. In the day time gangs of nondescript and possibly military looking young men with machine guns and rifles, the revolutionary forces of Various Liberation or Freedom Armies came door to door, searching the upstairs, the downstairs, the basements, the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the closets, of our homes, the barns and sheds of our yards or land looking for “volunteers”.
In the very beginning they only “volunteered” you, if you were between the ages of 18 and 50, and your family was known to be a supporter of their side.
After a while it did not matter which side your family supported, if you were male, between the ages of 10 and 18, or big for your age, they took you. They operated on the principle, they could mould young people into whatever they wanted.
They also took young women who were willing, and sometimes those who were unwilling, if they were attractive.
The war had ostensibly begun because there were power outages, food and fuel shortages, and a general infrastructure collapse.
People were unhappy with the government they had.
Opportunists, exploiting the moment, juggling for power, or actually believing what they said, revolted against the government in certain districts, and then began to expand their territories.
Without much gas for vehicles, the national, state and local governments were unwilling or unable to enforce their rules of law across what they had previously called their territories.
Thus, where it could territories be disputed, it became a free for all of competing forces. We, my parents, my family, our friends, our relatives and the neighbors around us were buffeted by the violent contentions.
By the time I was 7, the TFLO (Tennessee Freedom Liberation Organization) took my oldest brother. And when I was 8, opposing forces, the SVLF (Smokie Valley Liberation Front) took my year older brother.
In addition to these armies, there were other intermittent, random Liberation, Restoration, or Freedom Gangs and Forces that appeared, intervened and disappeared only to be replaced or merged with others.
The armies even came recruiting in the night. With the benefit of surprise they hoped to capture those “volunteers” who had so far been evading them. But except for causing fear, terror and chaos with their night raids, even with the benefit of bright stars, clear sky and an almost full moon, they were quite unsuccessful in their night time recruiting. In reality, we were expecting them, and it was easy for evaders to escape into the dark.
Blackness without light was an uncommon experience before the wars. After the wars started it was dangerous to have any light at all. Windows were boarded or heavily covered up. But the safest strategy was to have no light at all. There were always light leakages, even with only a small fire in the wood oven or fireplace. But we sometimes had to risk at least that much to keep warm, or cook.
Some nights, we would be sitting peaceful, in the almost dark, and then suddenly we would hear a sound, a whisper, which soon became a whistle, a shriek, a flare, a flash of bright light, and then terrible earth shuddering convulsions, wracking our nerves over and over.
“Close but not quite,” was always the thought said or unsaid.
But we were never sure how close till it was over.
After what seemed like the hundredth house invasion, and the abduction of my ten year old brother, my mother said, “We have to leave, we have to get out of here, before they take….”
My father said, “Where? What can We do?” “Where can We go?”
My mother said, “My ancestors, on my grandmother’s side, fled the Trail of Tears for the Smokies. We can do the same thing now!”
“We don’t know how to live like that!”
“My great grandmother was Cherokee. My mother had some Cherokee in her, not enough to be recognized as a First Nation person, but enough that we used to visit. I still have cousins, aunts and uncles in those mountains. And I remember my grandmother and mother’s stories, about how her family fled and survived in the mountains. I also remember what I learned as a child.”
My father said, “It will take us forever to get ready and leave.”
My mother said, “We leave tonight.”
“What? How can we?”
“The longer we take, the less chance we have. There’s nothing we own that is more important than our children and our own lives. I know that from experience.”
And so we fled almost immediately, with hardly any preparation, as if fleeing a burning fire. We ran without scarcely any preparation into the night.
My father left reluctantly, but he came none the less. My mother was much more decisive, impatient and anxious, fearing interference. She would not relax, not even a little, till the town was out of sight.
We ran, we disappeared, we fled, up the hillsides, straight into the darkness with only what we were carrying on our wagon and our horses. We disappeared into the forests and the mountains, as my mother said her ancestors had done a century or more before.
With the clothes on our backs, a few tools, and seeds, a little food, and warmer clothing, that my father had thrown onto the wagon, and tied in bundles on our horses and our backs.
Going up, up, but not only. No sooner had we gone up to the top than we were going down, up hill down valley, up in the direction of the next hill, then down again. Exhausted, we kept going up and down, ever higher, ever steeper in direction, physically, consciously planting one foot after the foot, willing one more step on. I thought we would never stop.
We had told no one we were leaving. Because my mother made sure, we did not have time to tell anyone. We did not know we were going. I thought perhaps my mother knew, perhaps she had been thinking, preparing in advance in her mind, but if she was, she had never told us about it, and did not discuss it then or later.
My mother did mutter to herself, as if in complaint, “We should’ve left long ago, like I wanted.”
Who stopped her? our father?
“I was afraid. And I hoped it would be over.”
And then she said, “But we couldn’t risk staying any longer. We can’t risk any more of our children.”
And my father said, “But did we have to leave so abruptly? With a little time I could’ve been much better prepared.”
“We couldn’t risk anyone noticing, or you or the children talking.”
“Are you saying, I’d talk.”
“You might, you might not. I wasn’t willing to risk it. Delay, procrastination is our enemy. There was no room for mistake.”
One day we were in the village. And the next morning, it must have been a complete surprise to the village, we were gone.
We walked all night. We had walked up hills on ground we could not even see, feeling with our feet, and then down valleys throughout the night up and down, through forest, across stream, through trees, up more hills, stumbling, walking, on my mother’s command, as far as we could go. And then, when the sun came, we hid deep in the thickest forest, my mother insisted upon it, and we slept through the morning daylight.
Even when we woke, my mother made us stay hidden, covered under a blanket, under leaves, hiding in the bushes, in the forest, in the daylight. “The most important thing,” she said, “is, we must not move. That is why animals only come out in the twilight, dusk, dawn and night.
Staying still was a near impossible thing for me, but my mother enforced it, and I was still so tired I drifted in and out of sleep, thankful not to be walking, not to be carrying. And if I or any of us did awake, she would not let us speak. She would glare and then she struck. The first strike was followed by a quick suspended, raising of her arm, over her head, daring us to whisper, or cry out again.
We walked and slept thus, day after day, night after night, until my mother thought we had gone far enough. How far was far enough I did not know. To me, as I walked as I deliberately put one foot in front of the other, it seemed and felt like we were going to walk forever. I had lost all sense of time and space. I had no idea how far we had gone, it seemed “millions of miles”, or where we were going, or when the walking and climbing was going to end. We had left the wagon and some gear back in the trees far behind.
My mother said,” I hope they’re not found.”
My father said, “We could come back for it.”
My mother said, “That might be a trap. It might be better to forget about it. If a wagon can make the route then someone can follow. If I’d thought about it more, I would’ve left the wagon and all this stuff behind, because it doesn’t help us and marks our trail. But we had to leave fast and I didn’t have time for thinking.”
By this time I was almost oblivious to where I was, there was up and there was down, and I was not really looking where I’d stopped, I was not looking at trees and hills and mountains, I was bent over, carrying my pack, looking down. My skin had been raked and scratched by trees, my feet were blistered, my shoulders hurt, my muscles, and my jack knifed back felt it would never straighten out again.
And then we stopped, on a mountain top.
The first thing, after I fell to the ground pack first, after a brief rest, after unloading the most important things we had carried, the first thing my father had me do was help him put up tarps, temporary over head and side shelters against wind and rain, tied to trees with ropes.
We created an area for sitting, an area for cooking, an area to keep dry wood. I imagined it almost like home without doors, or walls. We could sit or cook by the fire in the rain, without getting wet, unless it was really pouring. We had protection from the worst of the mountain top wind. And when it was really wet or bad my father had a small tent we all crawled into.
My mother, glaring at the conspicuous tarps, said, “We’re lucky we can do this. If they’re still flying we couldn’t. But now they have to come up the mountain to see us. The underbrush is thick, and we’ll hear them, we should be able to get away with it for a while.”
On the Mountain Top
We lived in the mountains. We hunted, we fished, we trapped for food.
But we likely would have never have survived, if my mother had not found her relatives, living not too far away. My mother didn’t say how she knew, or that we were always heading in that direction, but we had seen her map as we walked, and she was always staring at a compass, which we did not understand and so it turned out she knew where we were going, and plotting our direction, all along. It had not been a random flight.
We had been walking into the direction of her memory, into the direction of her ancestral relatives, without us knowing it.
But my mother knew. She obviously had a good memory. I never would have found the way, if I had only visited as a child.
My mother said, “I’m not sure my relatives will welcome us.”
They did not. They were angry we had appeared. They were angry at our intrusion our bringing danger into their community. But there were some who remembered my mother as a little girl.
The declaration was made, you are not allowed to live, or be near the village.
“It’s too dangerous,” my mother’s grandmother explained. “But we’ll help you, at least some of us will, we’ll show you what to do, how to survive, as long as you keep your distance.”
We returned to the flat top of the mountain.
The mountain was my mother’s idea. She remembered it as a child. Strictly speaking, from a practical perspective it was inconvenient. We had to go down for water, down to find food, down to do anything anything, and then climb back up, and the wind on top was often wicked.
But my mother said, “Yes, it is inconvenient. But no one else wants to live up here. There’s more shelter in the valleys, and probably more food and its warmer too, but it’s easier to be taken by surprise, and more competition for territory. We want to stay out of people’s way. I want to be able to see if anyone’s coming.”
And so we settled high up, with a cliff falling steeply behind us. We marked out a descent. We had an escape route set up. And if anyone followed, we could pick them off.
Our relatives from my mother’s common ancestors helped much more than they said they would, much more than we had a right to expect. And the result was, with their help, we survived.
“We came at the end of summer,” which my mother said, “is not the best time of year. “The Best time,” according to her, “would have been in the spring, when we could have planted, when we could have, cleared some land, built some real shelters, knowing it was only going to get warmer, instead of colder and colder.”
“The worst time,” she continued, “would have been the winter. And the fall would have been almost as bad. That’s why we had to leave now! So although this isn’t the best time, it is better than that.”
It was a good enough time. And I actually found living in the mountains to be the most exciting time of my young life. We built a more permanent wooden shelter before the snow came. And we were even able to clear some land for spring planting. And with the help of our relatives we prepared and hunkered down for the winter.”
In the autumn the leaves turned the most beautiful oranges and reds up and down the mountainsides. I felt I was living in a candy colored paradise. And one night I awoke in the moonlight to the most incredible sight. Looking down from the mountain top I swore I could see magical lakes that had never been there before. “Where did those lakes come from?” I cried out.
“They’re just clouds,” my mother said.
And although they may have been clouds, as my mother stated, they still appeared to me to be lakes. I was staring and staring, with my eyes wide open, at the shores of the most beautiful silver white moonlit lakes I had ever seen, with water riding up against the shadowed, almost golden mountainsides.
In retrospect, I realize now, as I never really realized before, how close to dying we were. We had barely escaped a great danger in the village, and we never would have survived the winter without my mother’s relatives. We came without food just before the winter. We did not know how to go about getting food or storing it. We were not prepared. But with our relatives’ help, we survived and had enough. And with my dad learning to hunt and trap and my mom already knowing, we got by.
We ate anything that moved, squirrel, rabbit, bird.
Late in the fall my father killed an Elk. And just before their hibernation my mother killed a bear.
That was a big thing for her. Killing a bear is a rite of passage in this land, when a boy becomes a man. In her relatives’ families, all the young men had killed a bear.
But my mother, being a woman, had not, but now she felt more equal, and connected with and to the bear spirit. My father just saw the bear as dangerous food.
The cold came quickly after the bear killing, and we were able to freeze much of the fat and meat.
And what we could not eat, we shared or dried.
My mother’s relatives helped us through all of this. But surprisingly to me, my mother seemed to already know much, and when I asked her how she knew, she said “I learned these things as a child.”
We lived and eventually made it through a long cold winter. We had survived. We celebrated.
Spring came in fits and starts, advanced, retreated and eventually remained.
The only thing that was really disturbing and upsetting my mother at this time was: she did not know if my brothers, were alive or dead. And if alive, she did not know how to contact them, and let them know we were alright.
My mother worried, and fretted about my brothers every day. Sometimes she said to me, “Are they still alive, are they ok, have they had made it through another day? Will I ever see them again?
And then later she would say, “I can only pray and hope they survive and that once the war is over I can put word out, and we will be reunited.
Once spring had settled in, we planted and grew what we could. It was a godsend that my mother already knew how to grow.
The war lasted ten long years.
After the war ended, the winning side, in our area, formed the new government of Blue Ridge Territories.
In its wisdom the new government declared, “The people who supported us in our struggle are our patriots and our new Blue Ridge, Citizens. And those who opposed us or fled, are neither citizens or patriots and shall henceforth be called the Deleted.
“That is, if they are still alive. And, if they are dead. Well then good riddance. We can forget them.”
Nevertheless, pardons and clemency were sought and possible in certain situations. And my parents discussed it. We could be eligible for the Right to Return, and Right to a Pardon, based on the fact one of my brother s was fighting for the winning side. In a manner of speaking they owed it to us.
But our land and house had already been seized and it seemed very unlikely we could get them back.
My mother said, “I’m not asking anybody for anything. I don’t trust them. I don’t trust the peace. And we’ve already grown accustomed to our way of living, so we’ll stay here.”
As said most of the others.
By this time we had been joined in our valley by many more fleeing families. We helped these families survive, as we ourselves had been helped, so we could better survive together.
Many of the New Citizens from our former home, now openly called us traitors. And there were some amongst them who sought our real physical Deletion. “If, we can only catch and kill them.”
As far as the government was concerned, they had declared, “The Deleted no longer exist.”
As my mother ruefully remarked, “After the winning side had killed all their enemies, and all their and rivals and settled all their old outstanding scores, they claimed they were us offering leniency by not hunting us down, and ignoring our existence.”
“So long as they don’t disturb us,” the officials officially proclaimed, “We can pretend they don’t exist.”
“The truth is,” my mother said, “They can’t be bothered to hunt us down.
Although, the official announcement only stated, “So long as the Cowards and Traitors who fled do not cause disturbance, we will forget their existence. They will be deleted from all citizen records.”
But it was rumored they kept secret records in files called – the Deleted – for tracking purposes.
As to the details of the official laws, pertaining to the Deleted, my mother said, “It has been declared: The Deleted have no rights. No right to existence. No right to Life. Any public acknowledgement of the Deleted’s existence is forbidden.”
“As The Deleted,” my mother continued, “We can be killed without penalty by anyone who wants to do so.
And we heard reports some of us were killed for sport.
There were, nevertheless, more than a few amongst us who desired to return to civilization, and they did seek clemency. Some of these were successful in their efforts, but many were killed or murdered.
Sometimes the murder was called punishment for crimes committed, other times the murder was called a reprisal for some thing that had been done, which thing, seemed to comprise injustices, both real and imagined, and sometimes the murder was a squabble over land, and still more frequently someone just felt like killing.
Since we had no rights, it was not called Murder, it was not even called killing or death.
There were even citizens who declared, “It is our god given right and duty to exterminate the Deleted from the face of the earth.
My family stayed in the mountains. Even with the offer of amnesty my brother had obtained for us my mother declined to allow the family to return to apply for it. We were thus officially expunged from memory. Deleted in the records, but not dead.
We were, The Deleted Who Still Lived.
If you met us you could kill us.
I woke up.
And every day this was the strangest thing. I awoke. I was alive. I was here, in this place, in the mountains. And this wonderment had been going on now for almost ten years.
And then the day begins. There is the fire. My mother is cooking. There is something warm to drink and eat.
Some days, depending on the time of year, I go with my father, or my mother, hunting, or fishing. Often I go alone. We can each cover more territory if we go separately.
We have our some small plots of land we have cleared where we plant, grow and care for corn, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, and even carrots and potatoes in boxes. Usually these plots are respected by others, but sometimes they are raided.
Sometimes in order to obtain the seeds we have raided local farms.
My mother stated, “We make it a point to never to take too much from any one farm or family, in order to limit or curtail resentments and hostility.”
But the Citizens didn’t see it that way.
My mother also griped, “After taking our house, our farm, our land, some stolen seeds, and tools, is the least the village can do for us.
But the villagers did not share her perspective. We were loathed, despised and hated, even before our raiding. Raiding only made it worse.
Our Cherokee relatives had repeatedly warned my mother against it. But in her heart my mother felt anger and entitled to her little revenges.
Sometimes in the early years we even stole a calf, or a baby goat. And there were times we just needed a mate for an animal we already possessed.
My mother, nevertheless, did take her relatives warnings into consideration. This was the reason our raids were limited, the reason we were only used to raid as an extreme last resort. But not everyone who fled and came to live near us in the mountains shared my mother’s caution.
And if you were to go into one of the local towns or villages you could hear them talk about us as if we were mass murderers. No one knew ever considered we did not take much, we could have taken more, we only took what we needed, from those who already had more than enough.
As far as the general population was concerned we were mass marauders who pillaged and took all we could.
And therefore, it was on account of this, and the general hostility that was felt towards us, that we generally stayed away from the Citizens and all their land and territory, for the most part.
We lived independently as much we could.
At 16, I participated in the ritual bear killing that marked the point where I became a man.
My mother said, “We live much as the Cherokee used to.”
But this was not entirely true. We took liberties the Cherokee never would. And since we behaved mostly white, we were never completely accepted by her people.
Out of memory and respect for Ancestry my mother’s extended Cherokee family acknowledged her existence. They still remembered she had lived with them in the summers, and played with them as a child. But she remained white. They generally kept their distance from us. We had white habits and continued to endanger and contaminate their existence.
Summers were good.
But every winter of the last 8 years was hard. It became once again cold, and dark, or blindingly white. We mostly stayed indoors. There was not much to do. It was hard even for the animals to live.
We hunted and trapped for food in all weather in the winter, but especially when it was sunny and warmish.
In the bad weather, even the animals did not like foraging. But on a warm, sunny, winter’s day, there were animals to be seen everywhere.
One day, in the spring, after I was 16, while I was out foraging at dusk near the settlements, I saw a girl. She was herding the cows in. And instead of running, or calling for help, she and smiled and waved. It seemed so natural, and inviting. Without thinking, I smiled back at her.
The next day I awoke. I did not think of being in the mountains. I did not think, “I am alive. I am here.” I did not think of myself at all. I thought of her. Indeed when I thought of my dreams, I discovered I had been dreaming of her all night long.
The next evening I returned to the pasture where I first saw her, just as dusk settled. She saw me, and we smiled and looked at each other across the distance.
But I dared not go closer. She was a citizen. And I was a Deleted. We were not allowed to meet or mix. I could be shot on sight without a reason.
Thus it went on for some time, we were smiling, looking, longing from a distance, as the weather became warmer, sunnier and even hot. Eventually we were sitting side by side talking.
From there, it took me by surprise, how quickly things progressed, we became lovers. She initiated. I was surprised by this. She seemed much more ready than I, who had scarcely dared to dream or fantasize.
I did not know what I was feeling, what I was thinking. I did not know what I was doing.
But I loved the way she looked, her skin, her face, her shape, the curve of her neck, her shoulder, the shape of her waist. They made me feel safe, warm, happy, welcome. And I could not stop thinking about her.
Where my juvenile friends talked about women’s breasts, or asses and various other parts of their body, and they had not even been with a woman, I found there was so much more than just those parts.
And even in considering her physicalness, her shape, her form, her figure, she seemed to embody the very essence of her soul, spirit, and personality. As if, I had never really met a person’s spirit before. And it was that spirit, that soul essence I sought to know and possess.
We had become lovers quickly, in so far as span of time. But in so far as being lovers, we seemed to move at an infinitely slow pace, discovering each other gently across time, even when we were behaving most passionately. There was so much longing.
Her name was Vera. I called her, “The girl who brought the Cows home.”
And when she began returning late, I said, “Won’t someone worry or become suspicious?”
And Vera said, “Because I bring the cows in at the end of the day, and sometimes one’s stubborn, it’s not unusual that I stay out rather late. And everyone knows I like to linger in the twilight. I’ve often been reproached for it.”
We would slip into the forest in the dusk at the edges of the meadow not to be seen.
But eventually her tardiness, her manner, a general indifference towards the customary, in her behavior and attitude, was noticed. And her brother was delegated to spy on her. He reported the discovery of me.
My brother had already discovered us much earlier. He had railed at me, “You could be killed.” And he kept warning and cautioning me, “She’s trouble.”
Her father and mother’s reaction to the news was decidedly more extreme.
“My father, said, he’s going to take a rifle to the pasture today and shoot you.”
Perhaps he would have if he had not told Vera about it first.
I screamed at him. You will not. Or I’ll run away and you’ll never see me again.”
She said, “That stopped him, and he changed his mind, because he knew I’m capable of doing it.”
But me, I was not so reassured.
But I was not killed. Though, that was not the end of the threats from her father, mother and brother.
Repeatedly, in the next few days, I came out of the woods, or from around a hill, to be met by the sight of her father, mother or brother in the distance, pointing a gun at me. Several times shots were fired.
I ducked for cover, and I convinced or told myself that probably they didn’t really mean to kill me or they would have. But it occurred to me, they might just be bad shots. I hid in the trees thereafter waiting for Vera, becoming much more cautious about our meetings and emerging into the open.
Vera told me, “My parents are threatening me now, not threatening to shoot me, but talking about sending me away, telling me, if the village ever found out, if people came to know… You could be banished, you could even be stoned. The whole family might be punished.”
My father said, “Sooner or later, someone’s going to kill that boy, just for hanging around. And if they don’t kill him, they’ll hurt him real badly just to teach him a lesson.”
It seemed to me, it was escalating out of control.
One day I met her father waiting with a gun in the trees. He yelled, “I’m going to kill you.”
I was rattled, disorientated. It was more than a little disconcerting.
I had no rights. It was quite possible he could and would kill me.
I remained fearful. But I kept visiting “Vera by the meadow” anyway. I was in love and reckless and could not really believe anything bad would really happen.
Nevertheless we became much more cautious.
Her parents and brothers no longer saw us together
Therefore the threats and the harassment of Vera intensified. They knew it wasn’t over. She was sneaking out, as soon as their backs were turned. Her brothers were always looking for her, but we had new meeting places. Vera had been relieved of her cow herding. And even though it was increasingly difficult we continued to meet.
She would report to me her parent’s latest attitude.
“My mother keeps saying, ‘How can you do this? How can you do this to me, to us, to your family? What are you thinking? You know the risks. I’m so angry at you.’ ”
In spite, or because of, her parent’s anger, fury, fear and their rage, they were very careful to try to keep the family business hidden from the village.
“But you’re so reckless. We’re afraid you’ll be caught. We could be banished. We could be deleted too!” her mother said.
“At the very least we could lose our house, our farm, our livelihood.
“And therefore,” her mother continued, with complete conviction, “I don’t understand how you could continue to put us in this position? We raised you better than this?”
Her parents were especially terrified of the village’s discovery, of Sex with a Deleted. Apparently they had a real taboo against that. And on account of her parent’s fear, and their ongoing loathing for me, and the sex I was having with their daughter, they kept escalating their threats and intimidation day by day, in their efforts to end it.
The result of these escalations, when next we met were, Vera said, “I decided I’m going to leave with you.”
“Now. I’m never going back.”
We were in love. And we fled together.
Having previously experienced flight in the middle of the night I did not believe in long preparations.
Though truth be told, I had been secretly preparing, half in my mind half in reality, for this possibility for weeks, but I had told no one, not even Vera. I did not really believe she would leave with me.
Therefore, upon hearing these words, I was ready.
Vera left immediately, in that moment, without going back for anything, though she had already stashed a few things in the forest, and disappeared with me into the mountains, into the trees. We were fleeing both her family and mine. I knew my family would be disapproving. “Think of the danger,” my mother would say. “You’re being reckless. You could get yourself killed.”
I took her to the mountaintop location of our family’s first shelter. It had worked once before, and it had the advantage, my mother had noticed, we could see anyone coming from below, we could descend the cliff behind us, we could shoot anyone that came down the cliff to follow.
Life was hard, especially at first, but it was ours alone. We were independent. We made our own decisions. no one was telling us what to do. And it was good to be alone, independent with Vera, my woman. We were happy. I was happy at least. And Vera seemed to be. And of course my family did help us, even if only reluctantly.
And thus we lived for many years. The only time Vera seemed morose or unhappy was the times I mentioned children.
She said, “No, that will never be.”
But I was unwilling to accept this. I always thought maybe, eventually. Perhaps by accident. She’ll come to terms with it.
But Vera did not become pregnant no matter how much I hoped and longed for it.
One day, after about five years, Vera said she had a longing to go home. “Just to visit, not to stay.”
I objected. “It’s dangerous! They might not let you return. You could be killed. They might harm your family.”
But she would not relent, she said, “I think it’ll be alright. And I’m going to go.”
I did not control her. I hoped I had more than a little influence, but her decisions remained always her own. And she said, “I’m going.”
And so eventually I conceded, I agreed to ‘allow’. “If you go very carefully, and cautiously.”
We returned to the edge of the meadow where we had first met. I stayed in the trees at the edge of the forest.
She said, “I’ll be back in 7 days and 7 nights.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
And then she walked through the field, towards the village and into the town.
I waited for her, at the edge of the meadow, for one whole month, but she never did come back.
My brother and family said, “Good riddance. She’s gone. Give up on her. You’re well rid. Settle down here for good.”
But I could not. At dusk, I waited in the forest, by the meadow for two entire months.
And then I decided, it came to me in a flash, “They’re holding her prisoner.”
I was friends with the night. I could see in the pitch black. And so I waited for a dark night without moon, till almost all were asleep, and I went into the settlement. I knew where she lived. Vera had shown me from the hills long ago.
I found her house, I found her window. I peered through and I saw her. Rather than knock, which would make a noise I slowly opened her window. She gasped for a moment. And I had found her.
I was happy. And Vera was most delighted to see me. And I said, “Come, let’s go.”
But Vera said, “No.”
And I said, “Why?”
She lit a candle, and pulled up her night gown.
I could see her Belly swollen.
And in that moment I realized, she had lied to me.
She never ever intended to return. How could she do this? I was angry, enraged. How could she lie to me?
I could not reconcile that the Vera I loved and trusted with all my heart completely would lie and deceive me, so deliberately. I had trusted her completely.
“It’s mine,” I said.
And Vera said, “No it’s not. It’s mine. And don’t ever say that. If anyone ever heard you, they’d cut the baby right out of me, before it was even born. I might even be killed.
“But why won’t you come with me?”
“It was fun but I never ever intended to live like that permanently. It’s not the way I want to live. It’s not the way I want to raise my child.”
“My child too!”
“No, not yours.”
“But you knew. You lied.”
“Yes, I did.”
“How could you?”
“I knew you wouldn’t let me go.”
“But what of your family?”
“I told my parents, I ran away before because I was angry with them, for threatening to kill you.”
“And what did you say about the baby?”
“I told them, ‘the father is a boy I met in another town. A person and town, I will not name.
“I don’t think they really believe me, but they are glad to have me home, and the town has accepted the story that I have returned and you are gone. There is talk. But they are mostly just happy to have me. They would never accept you.”
I left, but that was not the end of it. I kept returning in the darkness.
Vera said, “Go away. Stay away. Don’t come back. You’ll ruin everything. Stay away or I’ll report you.”
I was angry and furious, and hurt! How could she report me! The father of her baby!
In my frenzied agitation I became increasingly disturbed and reckless.
One night I returned, and was immediately captured. They were waiting for me. Vera had informed. And I was caught.
I suppose, I could have betrayed her in turn, though I am not sure what that would have got me.
Perhaps something, but I was never going to do that.
They kept questioning me. “Why are you here? What are you doing here? What is your purpose? Are you visiting someone?”
I think more than a few had guessed.
And If I had been a vindictive man, without any integrity, I could have betrayed Vera and exposed her and my child, but what kind of man would that be, and what good would it do? And what would happen to our baby?
I kept silent, and remained imprisoned. Throughout the town there were loud outcries, clamor and protestations against my villainy and perfidy. And through the window of my cell I heard many loud vehement and public denunciations. I’m sure they were yelling where they knew I could hear. They were predicting death, torture, burning, hanging, dismemberment, not necessarily in that order.
There was a trial of sorts. I was publicly repudiated, denounced and reviled by many different people I had never met or seen before. I was blamed for every theft, every missing animal, every missing farm implement that had disappeared in the last ten years. There were shouts, “Hang him.” “No, torture him first. Rip his fingers off. Find out where they live. Let’s be rid of the Deleted forever. We’ll burn them out.”
Vera’s father said, “Hang him. We need to protect our daughters.”
A vote was called for.
And it was decided, then publicly announced, and then declared to me, “You are to be permanently Deleted.
“In the trees, in the meadow.”
Where we first met.
Where the cows go home.
“Where all the Deleted can see.
“At noon tomorrow.”
I had seen many such hangings there in the past.
“It’ll be an example and warning, to all of them!”
I was put back into jail and awaited with dread the coming morning, which seemed simultaneously both too far and too close. I would drift off to sleep for moments only to awake in a sweat, thinking an eternity had passed. I was in dread terror, and wanting to get it over with immediately, and in fear of my death, because I was not dead yet, and still thinking and plotting ways to escape, and all I still wanted to do in life, and never would. And then, after all that, I was mourning the loss of my love and child, and the cycle of rotating emotions, began all over again.
But suddenly outside there was a big noise and a big commotion. There was yelling, shouting, arguing, screaming, scuffling, then the call, “Fire, fire.”
I became instantly terrorized. Were they trying to burn me in jail? A jail I could not escape from. I was not ready to die yet. Perhaps they were coming to hang me early. I went to shake the cell door one last time, and I found it unlocked. My jailers had vanished.
I slid out the front door. No one was looking in my direction. And I escaped into the blackness.
I am not sure how this managed to happen. I have often wondered.
Who unlocked the door? Somebody did. Why?
“Was it Vera, her agent, her father or her brother, or mine?
“Did someone bribe someone?”
I did not know, and I was strangely, confused, running and thinking of this, even as I ran and ran in my bewilderment. I ran through back yards, across streets, to make it more difficult, for anyone to follow. Then, far enough away, hoping to have made the trail difficult enough, I turned down dark streets that led out of town. Half suspecting, fearing it was all a big trap. Terrified I was to be caught again, at any moment.
But even as I was running, planning and changing my escape route with each step, I could not stop thinking. And also, I was worried for Vera. Would she get into trouble? If she let me go? Would her family? If it was them? I was glad to be free. But afraid of the consequences. I did not want the price of my freedom to be Vera, the baby, or her family.
Perhaps my escape, was easier for the settlement, better to let me escape than have me publicly killed.
Perhaps there was fear of what I might blurt out. And there were, within the village, Deleted sympathizers. They might be afraid of what I knew. They might feel sympathy. I had once lived in town.
As a boy, from the hills, watching, they knew we were watching, I had often seen Citizens hang the Deleted at the edge of the forest. They did it at the edge of the forest to frighten and warn us. I had fully expected to be hung as many others had. I was not expecting to live. But now I ran, I ran for my life. I ran for the hills. I ran into the darkness, into the fields, into the forest.
I began to feel safe, I began to feel I’d made it, when I heard the dogs baying. They were tracking me. Someone was not giving up easily. Someone wanted me dead. The dogs were following my scent through the pitch black.
I looked back from a hill top. Men were following with torches I could see them now, following in a line behind the dogs. I could hear the baying, closing. I was disorientated, not sure what was happening, why? If I had been released, why were they trying to kill or capture me?
They followed me further into the mountains. The dogs were gaining. The men riding horses were close behind the dogs. More men were following on foot behind. The dogs ran faster than I could.
I was fit. I was strong. I was fast. But the dogs were faster. One of them caught up. I turned. It leapt into the air. I put up my arm to protect my face. It caught my arm and we fought over it.
I had grabbed a letter opener from the desk on my way out of the jail. I found it in my pocket and stabbed the dog over and over in the gut, till it let go, and fell off.
The second dog was slower to catch me, and much more difficult to get away from. He was content to run at my heels and bay.
I was tiring. I turned. I charged him.
The second dog jumped towards my chest and knocked me down. I had left the letter opener in the belly of the other dog. The attacking dog was going for my throat. I put up my arms up to defend. The dog grabbed my left arm, and ripped, pulled and tore on it. I turned onto my side, onto my knees, in order to stand up.
The dog grabbed me by the neck and began to vigorously shake his head.
From somewhere not far above, I suddenly heard a voice speaking, calmly watching, assessing, discussing, calculating and analyzing my situation, to itself.
And then the voice said, “Jacob, Jacob. I don’t care what you do. It’s up to you. You can do what you want. But if you don’t get that dog off your neck soon you’re dead.”
I stood up. And the dog let go. He lunged again. I gave him my left arm, my left fist. I shoved my hand into his throat, which he grabbed like a vice and tried to pull me down. With the other hand I smashed his head, I poked his eyes.
I kicked him with my foot.
He would not release, and kept readjusting for a better grip. I grabbed his windpipe with my fingers and squeezed as hard as I could. His grip weakened. I pulled my arm out of his mouth and shoved him aside. After a moment he was running at my heels once more. I ran for a small cliff edge, and jumped, down into the river, half floated, half drowned, half swam down stream and escaped.
It was only after I staggered up out of the water far down stream, after I had struggled to walk, and walk and walk, until after I reached my brother’s house, opened the door without knocking, walked towards and collapsed onto his couch – that I felt the pain.
Until that moment, of finally feeling safe, or almost safe, I had not really felt anything. I knew what was happening. I had noticed the pressure of the dog’s teeth, the vice like tightness of his grip, his yanking and pulling movements, his tightening and loosening and readjusting of his grip, his hold, with his teeth, but I did not feel pain at all. We could have been fighting over a rope instead of my arm.
But now the pain flooded into me, and when I looked at my arms and hands I was aghast to see they were massively swollen, my arms like Popeye’s, resembled two over inflated auto tire tubes. And there was not a single millimeter on either arm where there were not teeth marks. And there were huge gaping holes in my arms where the eye teeth had held. And my arms hung like rags.
I began to worry about infection, gangrene. I didn’t want to lose my arms.
And I also began to worry, now that I was “safe” they might find me yet. Perhaps they were following my trail out of the water still.
I became so worried about my arms, and the intense unbearable feeling of the pain, and dread, I can’t lose my arms, that I did not know, or realize till my brother’s wife started cleaning me up, I had teeth marks just as bad in my neck. An eye tooth had entered my ear, and pierced the ear drum. The ear canal was swollen closed, infected. The outer ear was torn. I could not hear from one ear. But I was still alive.
I eventually learned the Citizens did not follow. I know this because my brother, after running to nearby houses to recruit men and rifles against invasion, had been on the lookout watching, and when he was sure they were no longer pursuing, returned and told me.
“No one’s following.”
One time, many years later, because I was still foolish, and felt the need to challenge the terror, I returned to the village in the night, and confronted Vera once more.
I asked, “How’s my daughter, how’s she doing?
“Don’t say that! I told you. She’s not your daughter. Don’t ever say that again. She’s doing fine.”
“What’s she think or know of me?”
“Nothing. She thinks, like everyone else thinks, her father’s, a boy from another town, who ran away, and left me. Because he didn’t want to be a father.”
“You told her that?”
“I had to tell her something.”
I left after that. And did not go back.
Now, many years later, my life has moved on, and I try not to think back. I have a new life, a new family, but sometimes I sit by the pasture. I rest where we once sat, and wait and look back on, longing for what I have lost.
Other times from a hill I look. In the distance, I think I see my daughter. But it is not, and even if it were, there is no point in such wishing and longing. Were she to see me, she would by now have been so indoctrinated, so turned against her father and Deleteds, she would cry out in panic. There is no possible way we could reconcile. And so I look and then I go away.
Sitting on Top of the World
Kara: Throughout my life I had believed and been told by my mother my father was dead. But one day a neighbor woman I did not like said to me,
“Why don’t you visit your father?”
“That’s not true. He’s still alive, and lives in the mountains with the Deleted.
“He’s been dead for 16 years, my mother told me.”
“Well then your mother didn’t tell you the truth. I was here when they arrested him. I knew him as a little boy, we lived next door. I was here when they tried him and were going to hang him. I was here when he escaped.”
“That can’t be true! You must be wrong.”
“I don’t lie. You ask around. You ask your mother.”
And so I did, I asked my mother, I said, “Mrs. Waverly says my father is still alive. Is this true?”
My mother did not even answer me. She pretended not to hear. She pretended to be preoccupied.
I repeated, I asked again. “I was told. Is it true, my father’s still alive?”
She changed the subject, left the room for a moment, and then started talking about something else, as if my question had not registered.”
I defer to my mother. We’ve never really had a fight.
The next time I saw Mrs. Waverly she said, “So, what did you find out?”
“Nothing, my mother wouldn’t answer me.”
She sucked her teeth. “You ask around, you see if what I say is true?”
I still did not like her. But, I began to ask others.
My grandmother said, “Mmm. You don’t want to go into that.”
I asked aunts. They each said, “Don’t ask me. I can’t talk about that! You ask your mother.”
I found that the greater the distance the person, I was talking to, was from being a relative, a friend of the family, or related to me, the more likely they were to elaborate details that might be true. This was very upsetting and disconcerting.
After receiving some partial, and inconclusive information, I returned to Mrs. Waverly to ask her more.
Suddenly, she no longer wanted to talk to me on the subject, and diverted the conversation. When I persisted she kept deflecting and began talking about other happenings. My mother or my family must have gotten to her. I was disgusted.
I began to wonder if anything she or anyone else ever said was really, completely true.
But although others had half confirmed or at least not denied, no one had stated absolutely. And no one wanted to be quoted.
And I began to reflect, even if it is true, what am I going to do? I don’t know where my father is, or how to find him. And no one from the village will ever take me up into the mountains to look. And I couldn’t go alone. I wouldn’t know where to begin.
I had been raised my whole life to believe, everyone said, my father was from another town, and had run away and abandoned my mother.
I had been raised my whole life to think my father a coward, and to believe the Deleted were dangerous marauding thieves and murderers, who would kill us in our sleep.
And certainly we killed them when we caught them. They stole our cattle and our sheep. We always killed them whenever one was caught.
One day I was out herding the cows. A young man I had never seen before, came out from the forest, and was crossing the far corner of the field with his dog.
The young man must have seen the cows because he was walking around them, but it became clear his dog had not. Suddenly the dog, a German Shepherd type, stopped, spooked. Compared to his owner, he was actually rather large for a dog, but compared to my cows, he appeared very small.
I was watching to see what was going to happen. The dog seemed startled, outraged indignant even at the presence or existence of cows. Suddenly he barked.
Up this point, I thought the situation funny. I was laughing to myself at the ridiculous little dog glaring at my big cows. But my cows began to run, and stampede in the opposite direction, away from the dog. I became terrified. I was responsible for the cows. What if something happened to them? I would be blamed.
But then suddenly, the cows stopped. They turned and looked. You could almost see the cows thinking. “What is this ridiculous puny little animal? How dare he scare us. They charged. And the dog, and the boy ran for the woods as fast as they could.
I was laughing so hard. My cows ran right up to the trees, and then they stopped. And I could hear the young man and the dog still scrambling deeper into the woods.
It was about a week later I saw the young man again, walking across the same field. I had been looking for him. The first time I saw him I had been laughing at him, but now I was curious, wondering where he was from, if He was one of the Deleted.
And I walked out towards him, who was walking rather obliviously without noticing me, and yelled, “You. Hey!”
Whereupon, he stopped.
“What’s your name?”
“Where you from?”
He waved back in the direction he had come.
“Are you a one of the Deleted?”
He hesitated and shrugged his shoulders.
“It doesn’t matter to me. My father’s one, I think. I’ve got nothing against them.”
After that he began to return regularly. I looked forward to sitting with him, smiling, flirting, trying to get him to talk about his life in the mountains.
I was full of questions. I wanted to know everything I could, but at first he was not much of a talker. He just stared at me and looked. I carried the conversation. I jabbered away and thought, I can handle this, this is easy. He’s not a scary or dangerous Deleted. He’s just a boy who never really talked to a girl before. I asked him where he lived. He just pointed up.
“What’s it like living in the mountains?”
“What’s it like being Deleted?”
He shrugged again.
So mostly, at first, we just sat beside each other without words.
But after several such encounters he became more relaxed and vocal.
After a time he even had questions of me.
He wanted to know, “Do you like living in the big village.”
“Yes, very much.”
Do you like being a Citizen?
How could I really answer that? But I tried. So I said, “Sure, it’s OK.”
There was one thing I wanted to know more than anything. But it was the one thing I was slow to ask, though really it was my whole objective. One day I said to Aron, “Do you know my father?”
“Who is he?”
“I think his name might be Jacob, at least that’s what a woman told me.” I described what I knew of my father, and what I had heard of his family.
“I’m not sure. But I think I might. I think he lives with his wife and family not too far from my own parents.”
“I would like to meet him one day. Do you think you could take me?”
“I can’t take you there! You’d know where we lived. You could betray us!
“I wouldn’t. He’s my father! And I’m not talking about today.”
And we left it at that.
But I had already decided one day he would. I had to get him to take me there, which meant of course, we had to continue as friends.
And, I was angry with my mother, my family and my whole community – the whole world. They had lied to me, deceived me. I felt like my whole life, my very existence, was one big lie. And I was the Fool. Who was never meant to be.
Aron continued to come and visit and talk to me. And I flirtatiously encouraged him in every way I knew.
I decided I liked him better than the boys I knew. He was different. More naive about many things, and less pretentious. He liked me, I could see that, but he wasn’t really trying to impress me.
My anger at my life escalated and intensified concerning what I perceived as my entire community’s unbelievable fakeness and insincerity. They thought of themselves as honest, conscientious, concerned, caring, righteous and just. But really they were condescending, malicious, deceitful and predatory, searching for an excuse to oppress, persecute and prey upon.
I was angry with my mother, my stepfather, my family and my entire community for being so much less than they said they were, than I thought they should be.
Over the summer, while the trees and the vegetation remained innumerable beautiful various shades of green shadow and light, between pasture, trees, shrubs, and bright green moss, Aron and I became involved.
We fell in love.
And it was heavenly. But I always had an ulterior motive.
One day I said to Aron, “I want to go with you. I want to live with you. I want to stay with you forever. And I want you to take me to my father.”
“I don’t know.” he said. “I have to think about that.”
He was so annoying.
He thought and he thought, and he thought some more. I thought he would never stop thinking.
He said, “I want you more than anything. But to take you to where we live is dangerous. You would know the direction, you could betray all of us. And my family and everyone would be furious with me for risking their lives and endangering them.”
“And,” he said. “it’s also dangerous for you. My people won’t like you. And your parents and your village will be furious with you. And although I trust you, most others will not. And I don’t have the right to make the decision for everyone else.”
“So that’s a no?”
He hesitated, “That’s a maybe?”
She became angry. “You don’t trust me? After all we’ve been doing?”
“I trust you. But it’s not just me. Everyone will be angry. Everyone will be worried. They won’t like you, they won’t trust you, they’ll be afraid you’ll betray us to your people. Some of them might even want to kill you.”
“I won’t betray you!” I said indignantly. I won’t betray anyone! Why would I do that? I just want to see my father.”
“I believe you. But think of it from our perspective. You could betray. I would be risking everyone’s life on your promise. Citizens have the right to kill us. You could be coerced into giving us up when you return home. They could even torture you to get our location. There aren’t many who would believe you would stand up to torture.”
“I’m never going home. I’m going with you, and I’m going to live in the mountains with or without you, forever. Even, if my father’s not there, I want to live in the mountains. I hate the hypocrisy of my village. You could blind fold me.”
“It wouldn’t work! You’d fall. The ground’s too uneven. And you would still have a sense of the direction. And even if it did work, that doesn’t mean anyone else would believe it.”
“You know what. Forget about it. Forget about me. Forget about everything!”
“Give me a chance. Let me think about it some more.”
“Think, think, think. More thinking! I’m leaving!”
“We could do it differently….”
I was walking away.
“We don’t have to go where the others are.”
I was still walking.
We can go to some other valley in the mountains. And then, we’ll see. I could try to get in touch with your father…”
“Does he even want to see you?’
“Of course he does!”
“We could do that.”
“I’ll have to think about it.” And I was gone.
Aron, left behind, standing in the same spot while she walked away without even looking back, feared he’d blew it, lost his one chance. He thought he could feel her slipping away. He wanted her to come, and live with him, like she said. But he was very wary of how his parents and the other families would respond. He needed to remember to be cautious. He needed to remember to be careful. This had been drilled into him since he was a little child. And how would her Citizen family react if she left? They might send out a search party. And what about her real father? Was he even her real father? Would he even want to see her? The complications between what he wanted, what she wanted, his community in the mountains and the Citizens, had him feeling confused and desperate.
And, forgetting all that for a moment. Would she really stay with him? Would they stay together? Or would they split up? They were as different as night and day. How would they get along? Would she get angry or frustrated or depressed and go back home? Could she keep her promise to stay? He hardly knew her. Or would she become bored of mountain life just like her mother did and go back home?
That would be most gruesomely awful.
And if she went back home, could she keep their location a secret? That is what everyone would be worried about. So why and how would they trust her, and not hate him.
He knew his family would strongly disapprove. They would prefer a mountain girl, one of their own.
His mother would say, “A citizen isn’t cut out for living in the Forest.”
Jacob did not see her for a week, and he did not know what was going to happen.
But just when he thought he’d given up she did return, and they began talking about her leaving again. And as they talked the weeks passed, the summer was ending, the earliest trees were changing color and they could feel intermittent cold breezes coming.
Just as there is the first flower, there were the first blasts of cold.
She thought she could feel his resistance weakening with the summer coming to an end. And he thought her determination and willingness were growing.
Kara began to prepare. She smuggled clothing and personal items out of the house, and hid them under branches in the forest.
And after the summer of talking and negotiating and her ongoing insistence, and promises made to each other, they both agreed Kara would come to live with him, to make her life, her home, evermore – he hoped – in the forest.
He said to Kara, “I’ve been preparing, just in case. I’ve started building a shelter, in an unoccupied valley in the mountains, where we can be alone together, away from everyone. If that works out I’ll take you to meet your father.”
Kara said, “I’ve been hiding clothes in the forest.”
One night, after the cows went home, she returned in the dark to meet him. They walked into the mountains for several days, to the valley he had chosen, separate, and many miles from his family and the other Deleteds.
Together as the autumn came, they finished the shelter Aron had begun and prepared for winter. But the most wonderful thing was making their own decisions, no one telling them what to do, being together, independent and alone. They felt they could conquer the world.
When the colors became brighter, he took her to a mountaintop to camp for a few days. As they looked down from the mountain top, at the beautiful scarlet and orange autumnal colors in the sunset, feeling the pleasure of the slight chill of winter coming, then sitting by a campfire at night, he said “This is the most beautiful place I know.”
She gave him a look.
“And I’m sitting here with you, the most beautiful woman in the world.”
She gave him a push.
And he began to sing, “We’re sitting on Top of the World.” Just that phrase. And he was happy.
After a few weeks, Aron made trips back home, to visit what he knew would be his angry, disapproving parents. They were as angry as he expected.
“Where were you?”
“You disappeared. We were worried about you.”
He explained what he was doing.
“Are you crazy? A Citizen? Are you trying to get yourself killed?”
“I know what I’m doing.”
“Do you?” his mother said. “She has you pussy whipped. There’s plenty of other girls.”
“Mom, stop. I made my decision.”
“I have. And I would’ve told you earlier if I didn’t know how you’d react.
“But, and he hesitated, “You know, we’re going to need your help to get through the winter.”
“Of course. You can’t do it on your own! You have to get us involved. And what will the other people say?”
“They don’t have to know. We’re in an entirely different area. There’s no reason for them to know, or worry or become involved.”
“But they’ll find out. And they will worry. And they’ll become involved. And they won’t be happy.”
There was a pause, where no one said anything.
And then he said, “but will you help?”
His mother said, “I don’t know why but we will. We really shouldn’t. We should leave you to freeze and die from cold and hunger. But, we won’t do that, we’ll help you because you’re our son.”
A week later his parents made the journey to visit Kara and Aron, to take stock and see for themselves, what was going on, and what would be necessary before winter came.
Upon seeing Kara his mother said, “You really think she can survive the winter in the mountains?”
Both his parents spoke out loud about Kara, in front of her, as if she were not there. They made no attempt to keep their voices down.
“Why not what!”
“Why can’t she survive? You did.”
“It was different then. There was a war going on. We had no choice. And we were made of sterner stuff. We weren’t coddled Citizens.”
“I love her. She loves me. We want to be together. What’s the problem?”
“Are you sure? Are you sure she loves you, and isn’t just using you to see her father? Are you sure, that after she has met her father and been here a while and seen what winter in the mountains is really like, she won’t just go running home, as if this were just a winter escapade?”
“She said she’s gonna stay with me.”
“Did she? We’ll see.”
After Aron’s parents left there was a vacuum where nothing was said. And then when words returned, there was an explosion of anger and resentment over all that was said and remained unsaid, was implied and insinuated, over every slight, denigration and innuendo. Aron wandered outdoors. Kara started packing, she was leaving. But then she thought, that would only make his mother happy. She had nowhere to go. She wanted to stay, she did not want to leave.
Aron’s parents and family gave them all the help and support they needed to survive.
Aron already knew how to hunt and trap, how to cut, store and save a winter’s supply of firewood. And thus they lived through the winter’s cold.
And after the winter, in the Spring, before all the trees and bushes were budding, when the rivers were running and it was already becoming warmer, and long after Kara had met his own parents many times, Aron finally took her, she had been waiting for this, to meet and find her father.
My father, Jacob, was ecstatic to see me.
His wife, Serena was not. My father wanted to be with me my every moment, as if to make up for lost time. He wanted us to move in with him, to build a house and live next door. We did not do that. He promised to provide any and all assistance we might need, and he did so, in spite of our reservations about accepting, and his wife’s complaints. He provided much more that Aaron’s family ever had, even though their help had been enough.
I am very happy, glad, and pleased to meet my father, to finally know him. But it is also a big let down. It’s so very strange. Talking to him is almost like talking to an alien. My feelings are confusing. I don’t know what to make of them. He is odd, not me, not my mother, not a Citizen. He is a stranger. I clearly see and feel that. And yet invisibly, indescribably, I feel something indecipherable, not quite, similarity.
In the spring it is discovered, the Citizens, led by my mother Vera, have come into the mountains to rescue me. Vera, having lived in the mountains before, knows the way. My mother has persuaded people that I have been abducted. The Citizens have mounted a mission into the Mountains to recapture me. Because my mother has told everyone, “My daughter has been kidnapped by the Deleted.
“The Kidnapping is Revenge for what we did to Jacob.”
To the Citizens this was the most extraordinary, and absolute outrage. How dare the Deleted react or retaliate against Citizens, for what Citizens have done to them. The very precept of the Deleted’s continued existence is, “they do not create a disturbance”.
The laws stated, “If they create a Disturbance they can be Permanently Eliminated.”
In spite of Jacob, my father, being one of the Deleted, one of those, of whom it was Forbidden to remember or speak of, it turned out many people remembered him. There were those who were glad he had escaped, and those who were still angry after all these years, that they had not had the chance to kill and torment him.
There had not been any fighting for some time. And therefore, an expedition was mounted to rescue me, exact their revenge and exterminate the Deleted once and for all. Several bloody skirmishes occurred.
Eight Citizens and six Deleted were killed.
Many blamed me. Even though Aron and I live in an entirely different valley, and Vera did not know with whom or where I had gone. Technically, I might have gone anywhere, even another Village, my mother didn’t know. Still it was My Mother, Vera, who was looking for me, who led the Citizens to the valley, where she had lived with Jacob.
The result of the skirmishes was: Citizens don’t like dying either. And they withdrew.
They didn’t find me. They still didn’t know for certain if I was in the mountains. But there were dead, and the Citizens did invade, just as people had warned and Aron and I were held responsible.
There was much anger and hostility towards our continued presence in the mountains, and many of the Deleted want to chase us out.
But Jacob, my father, would not have it. He raised his rifle and his shotgun and said, “I’ll kill anyone who interferes with my daughter. Jacob was well respected within the community. He was known to be a man of great determination and a very good shot. No one wanted to challenge him.
And Aron’s family also stood behind us.
There was still grumbling, disquiet and discontent, especially from the families who had dead. They continued to see it as I was to blame.
And they were not entirely wrong.
But really it started long before that. In a war and a peace, and “Liberation” and “Freedom” and “Justice” movements, and a “Just” Declaration of The Rights of Citizens, and the Absence of Rights for the Deleted, and my mother, a Citizen, and Jacob a Deleted, meeting.
But I had nothing to do with any of that. It happened before I was born.
And then my mother having met Jacob and become pregnant, fled back to the Citizens to give birth. And still I have not been born yet.
And the Citizens tried to kill my father. And then lied to me about it my entire life.
I did not start this. My ancestors did.
We stayed in the mountains, in our own valley. Aaron refuses to be intimidated or take me away. Jacob and Aron’s families refuse to let us be bullied. I remain an outsider. My father aggressively challenges anyone who has anything to say against me.
It feels good to have a father who will fight for me and defend me. I have never had that before. Even though, I sometimes feel, I hardly know him.
Through the years, that follow I remain in the mountains and have 3 children. I become a mountain woman.
When asked by my own children, “Are you glad you left? Are you happy here?”
I answer, “I am. I love my husband. I love my children. And I love my home. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
And then I add, “How could I go? I couldn’t leave all you behind. And I certainly couldn’t bring you with me.”
But sometimes I do miss my mother, and I often wish I could get word to her, and even go and visit. But I know Aron would not trust that, after the incidents with Vera and my own father.
I have no idea what has been happening in the village back home, but I often think about it, especially as the years pass, and I am sometimes homesick and lonely.
Vera’s husband dies.
Several months after the funeral, Vera makes a decision. She is going to leave everything behind. She is going to go looking for her daughter. She still believes Kara left to find her father.
Vera walks into the mountains alone. She is not afraid. She has lived there before.
She is not afraid, even though she knows perhaps she should be afraid. The Deleted have reason to hate her. She led the mission into the mountains. But in Vera’s reasoning she thinks thinks, “What else have I to live for?”
Vera is captured invading.
After some discussion, and deliberation, amongst the community who found her – some want to kill her, some are afraid of Jacob, Aron and Aron’s family – she is taken to her daughter’s, because it is in another valley, and that is where she stays.
Not long afterwards, Vera meets Jacob again. She also meets Jacob’s wife and family. Jake, as she calls him, is happy to see her.
Jake’s wife, Selena, is hostile and unfriendly, protecting her territory, her turf, her man. What she sees as hers.
Selena is especially concerned that Vera has settled in with her daughter and appears to be staying, she could tempt Jacob.
Vera has told her daughter, “I am staying. If you will let me. As you may know, Larry has died. I have has no reason to go back.”
After a few years, Vera, meets a single widowed, “Deletion”, that’s what they call themselves now, man. (she imagines one day it will be Delasian) She likes him. And He likes her.
“There’s nothing for me back home,” she tells him.
“My daughter and my children are all here in the mountains.”
And when Kara questions her about her intentions, Vera says, “I’m old enough, and too old to wait. I know how to fend for myself here. I have done it before.”
Vera moves from her daughter’s house and lives with her new “husband”.
Though, at least for years, there is no ceremony, there is much happiness. Not everything is perfect. But it is as good as it gets.