The realization hit her like a bag of bricks. And she wondered why it should be so. The answer was there, in plain sight. She wondered why she forgot it. But it had been so forgettable. So ordinary. But it had made such a huge impact on her life.
Her hands trembled when she remembered now.
It was after the war.
Suellen and Careen had the insatiable hunger of typhoid convalescents.
Wade whined about his dislike for yams.
The servants wanted more food.
Melanie was weak and thin and twitched in pain even in her sleep.
Gerald had lost his mind.
Ellen was dead.
Tara was blackened and covered with Yankee footprints.
Twelve Oaks was in ruins.
And she remembered the words she had spoken when hunger gnawed at her empty stomach, "As God as my witness, the Yankees aren't going to lick me. I'm going to live through this, and when it's over, I'm never going to be hungry again. No, nor any of my folks. If I have to steal or kill- as God as my witness, I'm never going to be hungry again."
Scarlett's knees wobbled and she felt as if she were about to faint when she caught the most unexpected sight on the outskirts of Tara. Just at the entrance by the Oak trees, a coach had stopped and a figure was alighting with a spring in its steps.
"Great balls of fire! It's Rhett!"
It was all Scarlett could do to keep herself from fainting as she half ran across the wooden floor and through the garden, down the path to Rhett. Her pace slackened abruptly as she neared him. He did not say a word. He merely stared at her.
The awkward expression in his eyes told her that he had come quite reluctantly after reading the contents of her letter. There was something close to fear in his eyes. Yet the rest of him seemed to exude self-confidence as usual. But for once, Scarlett didn't care.
"Rhett!" she said, gasping for breath. "Rhett.." She put out an unsteady hand and gripped Rhett's brown arm. Her chest heaved in ragged breaths. Her eyes scanned his face and detected the same look of waiting.
"Rhett, you always said, that I didn't care for the feelings of others. That I'm like a hungry cat and I bullied people to get my way. You always said that. You said I like holding the whip hand.. that I use people's feelings against them-" Scarlett took a deep breath to calm herself. "Rhett, you were right. You were absolutely right. But you don't know how I got that way. It was after the war. I came here to Tara and Mother was dead, Pa was crazy, Suellen and Careen - they were just recovering from typhoid, Melanie was weak from childbirth and the servants were all depressed and confused- Tara was wasted and Twelve Oaks was burnt to the ground. Rhett! Rhett, listen.." Scarlett's face twisted in pain. "These two lines, I told you.. I kept repeating them to myself, I tortured myself- I kept repeating until I believed that everyone around me was useless and helpless and that it was up to me. I used to cry- I didn't like it at all. I swear I didn't like it at all! I swear it! But you see, I couldn't face the truth. I couldn't face it. "
"And what is the truth?" asked Rhett, softly.
"That this was not the way-" Scarlett's voice faltered. "People need time to cope with death and everything. Not everyone is as sensible as..as.. And some might never." Her voice echoed. "Some might never- Rhett, what is it that is so terrible about having feelings? Why does it hurt so much? Did God give them to us to punish us?! I bullied people into ignoring their own feelings because I didn't want to them to lose everything - their energy, happiness.. They were all losing it, Rhett. I could see it, right before my eyes. My family, looking so helpless and hopeless. Just standing around and looking blank. I couldn't stand it. I couldn't stand letting them slip from reality. And I lived in the reality of it. I saw things for what they were. I knew our whole world was gone. But I just rode over people's feelings. But its the feelings that cause a person to slip out of reality, isn't it? My own Mother-"
Scarlett's hands were growing cold and clammy. Her face looked drained of blood. "I could never let that happen." she whispered. "Mother never recovered from her feelings to her cousin. I knew it when I was a child. I don't know why I forgot later on. But I know it when I see it. Pa never recovered. When I saw him, I was astonished. Pa! Of all people! That's what feelings did to a person. When you have feelings, and something or someone takes it away, you lose everything. I couldn't let them.. I couldn't face it, Rhett. What happened to people. What happened to Mother. I couldn't. So, when I forced myself to see how helpless and weak they were because of their feelings, I started experiencing life like I wanted to- right from the start. I could see that the whole problem was hunger and not anything else. I went hunting for food, I made people work in the cotton fields, I gathered the crops, I worked hard with my own two hands and I loved it. This was the way things were meant to be for me. I know I don't make much sense but-"
"No I follow you-"
"That must be because we are so alike" said Scarlett, with an uneasy smile but she could detect no answering emotion.
"Rhett, you were right about everything. I am a bully, a dreadful bully and I've lived selfishly and unscrupulously. But it wasn't done deliberately. I didn't want to be this way. Why do you think I cried from my nightmares or drank from a bottle. It wasn't done.. all right, perhaps deliberately but not happily. Mother never appreciated me for anything that was truly me. And I wanted so much to be appreciated. I wanted so much to be loved for who I was. And I really needed her protection because I was always so spontaneous. But she never did. I don't even know if she knew I was so different from her. And if no one else cared, then I had to care for myself. I had to protect myself. And I did the only thing I could. I just turned down how I felt. And I tuned into what everyone else was feeling. I became very good at reading others. Their feelings. And I used their feelings, I abused them to get my own way. And I did it all to be loved. I... I knew a lot actually. I knew Ashley was passionate for me, I just couldn't believe it wasn't noble because I didn't believe Ashley could be anything but noble. I knew Frank loved me too.. For all his prattle about Suellen, he liked the way I looked. I preyed on that. I knew Suellen didn't really love Frank. I knew Melanie prided herself in loving me and wanting to be like me. I used that as a shield to hunt for Ashley. But I never could catch you because you hid your feelings so well. That is not until that night.. when I knew you loved me. That you could love me so fully and so bitterly.. I couldn't get angry with you or bully you into submission. I couldn't be angry anymore. And I had been so angry.. ever since the war. I was so angry and so unhappy.. "
Scarlett stared at Rhett, once again completely astonished that he could actually love her and actually demanded feeling"s from her. "Rhett-" she said, in sudden tenderness.
"Don't!" said Rhett, instantly. " I don't want to know."
"But I must tell you."
"Then why did you come here?"
"I came here to do just what I did now. To listen. Because I am the only one who would ever listen to you. And you could never be frank like this to anyone but me."
"All right, I'm not asking for love or security or anything. But I do love you and that person you are looking for is still here. The person I once was. I'll prove it to you. I'll prove it to you."