We hadn’t talked beyond “Are you hungry?” and “Do you need to go to the bathroom?” I was used to the quiet. It was the way I lived. Gramma was in shock. She had burst into tears at odd moments, given me queasy smiles, squeezed my hand tightly, but words were harder for her to come by.
When the food was gone, I was too tired to hold up my head, but I needed a shower. I needed to scrub the rain and the mud and the ugliness from my skin, and wished I could do the same to my brain. I’d rather forget everything than remember those minutes in the barn.
When I came out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel with my hair dripping down my back, Gramma took hold of my shoulders, stared at me with grief-stricken eyes and whispered, “Oh, baby girl. We can’t talk about this, okay? It didn’t happen. It’s always been just you and me, living together for as long as you can remember. No Mama, no Daddy. Just you and me.”
Then she wrapped her arms around me and cried, great heaving sobs of sorrow and guilt and anger and hate. She cried until only hiccups remained and then they disappeared, too.
Even at eleven, I understood her message. Life was filled with secrets, and the fewer people who knew your secrets, the safer you were. Telling secrets could get you in trouble, get you hurt.
Telling secrets could get you dead.
—Excerpt, The Unlucky Ones by Jane Gama
For years Mila had imagined what it would be like if any part of her background came out. She’d thought people would be horrified, and these four police officers were. She’d thought they would be disgusted by what an awful child she’d been. They weren’t, but the biggest secrets of all were still secrets.
She was horrified. She’d known the question of the message would come up this morning, and she’d figured she would explain it away the way she’d tried: that it scared her. She hadn’t discussed it with Gramma. In her wildest nightmares—or were they dreams?—she had never thought Gramma would be the one to answer truthfully. Secrets, she had so often reminded Mila.
But now, at least some of them were out there, and no one was looking at her with pity or disdain or blame. Sam and the other two men were frustrated and grim, like they wanted to hit something. They were protectors; they looked out for people who couldn’t protect themselves. God, she wished she’d had a protector back then.
Her gaze went sideways to Sam. She had one now. Could that have been part of Gramma’s reason for telling the truth? She thought Sam needed to know and didn’t believe Mila would tell him? The quaver in Gramma’s voice when she said my own daughter… Gramma had never gotten over the fact that the baby girl she’d birthed, the one she’d raised and loved and taught to be good, had turned out so evil. It had been as hard for her to talk about it as it had been for Mila. She must have thought this was the day for publicly breaking her own heart by telling them.
Fifteen years ago, not Mila’s first or even her sixth appointment with Dr. Fleischer, when she’d finally become resigned to the fact that she was going to see him every week whether she said anything or not, she’d thought she would shock him by telling some of the scarier stuff first. He had been shocked, scribbling notes furiously, stopping occasionally to absorb some particularly ugly incident, turning paler and tenser with each moment. She was watching the clock, and when the session ended, she stopped abruptly and just looked at him, and he’d looked back. Stared back.
Finally he put aside the notebook, clasped his trembling hands and leaned toward her. She had shrunk back even though six feet separated their chairs. “My heart breaks for you, Mila. I don’t even have the words to say…”
Everyone’s heart broke, and no one had the words to say. She did. She’d filled a book with nearly a hundred thousand of them. Until recent events, that book had been the story of her life. The beginning, the middle, the end.
But her heart was beating. She had Gramma and Poppy. She was learning people skills. She was learning woman-man skills. She had more living to do before she got to the real end.
It was Detective Little Bear who started the conversation again. “Did your parents have any close friends who knew about or took part in what they did to you?”