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“What Nettie Knew” by Tonja Lanette Blizzard

What Nettie Knew

Tonja Lanette Blizzard

Trudy and Gail with their teased up high blonde hair, high-waist Levis, and red-painted lips, stopped their nearly over flowing shopping buggies for an update on any new gossip floating around town; never noticing taking up the entire aisle at a discount department store which was located in the middle of the small town of Archdale.

“Can you believe she left him after all those years of being married? She just walked out!” As Trudy spilled out the report, Gail opened her mouth wide like a baby bird being fed every word.

Nettie was thrilled the day her father-in-law called to say the car was hers if she wanted it. His daughter refused to be seen in the old bucket of bolts as she called it and would wait until something fitting came along. She usually got what she wanted if she held out long enough. But Nettie could not be happier. The olive green 1971 Ford station wagon was just what she and her babies needed to go grocery shopping and church on Sundays.

People in town and at the First Church of the Southern Baptist became familiar with seeing Nettie and her babies in that station wagon. It did kind of stick out being so much older than what other people drove, Nettie knew. But the title was in her name and that’s all that mattered to Nettie. She taught her children to like the station wagon by giving it a name—Olive. Olive was an answer to Nettie’s prayers. It took every bit of 45 minutes to drive down the old curvy dirt road Nettie lived on to get to the main road and another 35 minutes into town. Very inconvenient to live out that far.

Nettie never knew where her husband was or how to contact him in case one of the children became real sick. She did everything her husband wanted. She prayed; called out to God for peace, comfort, guidance, wisdom, and even staying past service one Sunday to ask Pastor Porter if he thought a wife had to stay married while her husband had sex with other women.

“Yes you do Nettie, and keep on praying for him. And one more thing. Never let him see you with curlers in your hair.”

Nettie found that disheartening but obeyed.

Nettie kept her hair bleached blonde just the way her husband liked it. She made sure after giving birth she could fit easily into a size five. Because her husband called Nettie a fat ass each time she was pregnant, she knew losing the baby weight was must do. Nettie’s Mama told her a good wife will make her man happy. As long as she did what pleased him Nettie’s husband would take care of her.

Nettie was born and raised in the South. As a Southern girl, to not have a husband is as shameful as breaking one of the Ten Commandments. So Nettie was married and pregnant as early as sixteen to get that expectation of her out of the way.

The whole marriage thing was a bit more disappointing than Nettie was led to believe. It seemed to her the only satisfaction was in loving on her babies. Nettie is a loving soul, tender and sweet. She had enough love in her for many more babies. Sex was so very seldom since her husband stayed gone. Nettie poured her young life into her children. She was married to a man but she had no husband. Nettie was always ready and willing to cater to her husband when he showed up. On the holidays she would cook all his favorites and tell the children to go give Daddy a hug.

She gave birth to her first born not knowing where her husband was. It was a difficult labor because the baby was too large for Nettie’s first birth. There wasn’t time for a C-section because the baby’s head was crowning but got stuck. Determined, Nettie pushed hard as she knew how, tearing herself badly even past the doctor’s cuts. But the 8 ½ pound baby girl was born and crying taking to Nettie’s breast as if she had done it before!

The birth of Elizabeth went much smoother. She was a smaller baby weighing 7 pounds, 11 ounces. Nettie reached for her, calling her beautiful, as she slipped from her body into the doctor’s steady hands. Her husband angrily walked out saying “Damn, another girl!” Nettie answered her concerned doctor’s question, “Yes, I am alright. May I have my baby?” Elizabeth had a full head of dark hair and darker skin than her sister. She was sweet and calm nursing gently from Nettie’s milky nipples.

After nearly a year had passed, the two girls were crazy over one another. Elizabeth was laughing when Chloe peeked out at her from the couch pillow. She still managed to keep Nettie’s nipple in her mouth loosening her suction while she laughed. As Nettie wiped the corner of Elizabeth’s mouth the front door flew open, giving Nettie and the girls a scare.

It was Nettie’s husband; home and stinky drunk. With dirty clothes and staggering walk he lunged for Nettie slurring “C’mere you!” Nettie tried to hold Chloe along with nursing Elizabeth because everyone was alarmed and afraid. With Elizabeth still at Nettie’s breast but now crying and Chloe screaming pulled in close by Nettie’s free arm, her husband forced himself down onto Nettie, tearing her nightgown and raped her there and then on the living room couch where just a few minutes earlier Chloe and Elizabeth were playing and laughing.

Nettie could only hold her girls as her husband said, “I want a son this time you hear me! It better be a son!”

It was quick. It was violent. Once he had stood and fastened his jeans, Nettie got up slowly with legs shaking and with her two girls, went to the bathroom. She ran a bath, placed Chloe in the tub, stepped in carefully with Elizabeth in her arms. Just sitting, softly praying, “Please God let this be a boy.”

Nettie brought her third baby into the world barely arriving to the hospital in time. She named him Charlie, a 10 pound baby boy.

That was it Nettie thought. I gave my husband what he wanted. She thought for sure her husband would stay home with a newly born son in the house. The day Nettie and baby boy Charlie came home from their stay in the hospital his sisters admired their brother curiously like he was a present under the Christmas tree. Nettie watched as her husband held Charlie and kissed him on the nose. She pumped her breast milk into a bottle so his Daddy could feed him. “Naw, I ain’t doing that.” He said and walked out the house. Nettie put Charlie to her swollen breast and heard the truck drive away.

Four days later, when Nettie picked Charlie up for his 6:00am feeding she heard her husband’s truck door close. She could smell the alcohol and cigarettes long before he came into view. Nettie’s husband was home drunk, sex filthy, and crab infested like usual. Having a newly born son in the house changed nothing.

Nettie was thankful for so many things. Her children were healthy and strong. They gave her joy when she felt low. As they grew Nettie would take them out in Olive to explore new places. The library was a happy place. Nettie enjoyed reading to her children as their faces glowed looking at the pictures. She made gingerbread people-cookies with her children standing in chairs they had pushed up to the counter to get their tiny hands into the dough.

Nettie’s house was smack dab in the middle of a cow pasture on 10 acres of country land. There as a barbwire fence that divided off an acre which the two-story four bedroom house stood. The master bedroom took up the entire second floor and had French doors that opened to a balcony that overlooked all the rest of the land and cows. The balcony rail was wide enough she could set potted plants on for the children to water and watch grow. Even though each child had their own bedroom downstairs, somehow Chloe, Elizabeth, and Charlie ended up all sleeping in the same bedroom together or else upstairs with Nettie. This is how they grew up. Nettie’s children were her life.

Then to everyone’s surprise Nettie’s husband took her to Buddies. Buddies was Archdale’s hotspot. No other place like it for hanging out with the drinking and partying locals. Her husband was a regular at Buddies but this was Nettie’s first time. People were sitting in booths along the wall with tables covered with glasses—some empty, some full. There were round tables and chairs in the middle of the dimly lit smoke-filled room. There was a DJ over in the corner with a mirrored lighted ball spinning colors on the ceiling, walls, and floor. There were more women there than Nettie had ever seen gathered together, more even than church or the grocery store. Many women smiled and waved at Nettie’s husband like they knew all about him.

The DJ began telling everyone that this was a special night—singing karaoke. People cheered and clapped. Directly across from where Nettie was seated a man whistled louder than ever should be done in a closed space, causing Nettie to cover her ears.

What a lively place this is, Nettie thought as her husband handed her a margarita.

On a crowded dance floor she moved to the music twisting those hips of hers turning round and round, singing karaoke like her childhood days singing to her Daddy’s guitar playing. That’s the way Nettie’s husband liked her. That’s the way he wanted her to be, with three conditions. She only went out with him. She only drank with him. He returned her to her housekeeping, church going, and motherly self the next day. What Nettie knew was one day she was going to leave.

Nettie knew that God did not expect her to live a loveless life. Somehow Nettie knew God would give her a way out. A path to travel on and a better life. This is what Nettie knew.

On her 42nd birthday, her babies—adults now, Nettie drove Olive out of Archdale. She no longer blamed herself for a husband who didn’t love her. And to Nettie he was never a husband. He was now the ex. Looking in her rearview mirror at the town getting smaller as she drove away, Nettie drove past all that was. Nettie was driving to her future. No matter how late in life, everything felt fresh and new.

© 2015 Tonja Lanette Blizzard


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