Thanks to Twanza & Reamhar - my betas for this chapter.
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight or its characters - obviously.
It was January 2nd, 1969. Changes it seemed were ahead, but the Vietnam War was still in full swing. In just over two weeks, Richard Milhous Nixon would be sworn in to replace Lyndon Baines Johnson as President of the United States. No good can come from a man whose middle name is Milhous, that much I knew, but it wasn't up to me. I wasn't allowed to vote in the last presidential election, and Renee, my mother, the only person legally allowed to vote in our household, had given up on the election process after the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. And what do you get when people give up? You get Dick Nixon.
The bright California sun was shining through the window of the crappy little bungalow we'd spent the last eight months in, and Marvin Gaye's "I heard it through the Grapevine" was blaring on the radio, while my twin brother Jas and I packed up our measly belongings into our worn-out duffle bags. Another move was ahead, and we knew this one was different from the others in the past. The lyrics of the song seemed oddly poignant to me, as I stuffed the only dress I owned into the bag.
We were about to return to our father or, as we referred to him, Charlie - a man we hadn't seen in almost 16 years. What we knew about him was limited. He was the Chief of Police of a tiny town with almost no crime, he had never remarried, and he still called Renee every month. It started to dawn on me while packing and listening to the lyrics of the song that Charlie's love life mirrored the lines of the song. Yeah, he heard it through the grapevine that his wife had left him for another man and he sort of never got over it. Renee had dumped him, unceremoniously, all those years ago, without so much of a notice to where she was dragging his children off to.
Renee and Charlie had both grown up in Forks, Washington – a small, cloud-covered town in the Olympic Peninsula of the Pacific Northwest. They had known each other all their lives and had started dating during their senior year in high school. Renee barely ever talks about Charlie or why she started dating him. Unlike our father, our mother had always hated living in the small town in the middle of nowhere, but I think after we were born it got worse. When opportunity knocked, she decided to leave our father to run off with some wannabe beatnik named Jack and us in tow.
Jack promised Renee a new life and a one-way bus ticket out of Forks. The bus ticket represented for Renee an escape route away from our father, the little house they lived in and the daily monotony of a housewife's duties in the 1950's in the town she hated.
I know I make her sound like a bad person, but to be honest, I can't really say I blame her. She got married to Charlie at 18 when she found out she was pregnant with my sister Rosalie. Her choices were limited and society made most of them for her. Renee was a dreamer who always yearned for the day she would be able to leave her hometown. She had it all planned out. She had saved every penny she ever earned from all her jobs and, once she'd graduate high school, she would take the first bus out of town. Anywhere but here, she thought.
But then, three months before graduation, she found out she was three months into her first pregnancy. You could say teenage hormones had crushed my mother's dreams. Abortions, though legal in the state of Washington, were hard to come by and before she knew it, it was too late to have one. So there she was, 18 years old, knocked up by the son of a local cop and before she had any time to protest - married. Life wasn't pretty. She felt like the walls were closing in on her.
Still her ambition of leaving Forks could not be squelched and between cooking on a low budget, cleaning and taking care of the baby, Renee kept on searching for a way out. As if the universe hadn't conspired against her enough, she was pregnant again soon after Rose was born – this time with twins. Jasper and I were born in February of 1952. Now she was truly stuck. Nowhere to hide or run. Even her daydreaming and searching had seized. She said she never regretted having us, but it cannot have been easy for her. A small part of me feels guilty that maybe her life turned out the way it did because she decided to keep us.
Then she ran into Jack at the local diner. Jack thought he was a misunderstood poet, but really - he was probably simply a drunken dreamer who wanted to escape the uptight constraints of small town living just like Renee. He fantasized of a place where he would live off the air, write crappy poetry and just enjoy himself; no 9 to 5 rut, no traditional constraints of marriage, no mortgage and no bills to worry about. Incidentally Jack's dreams and Renee's seemed alike – or so she thought – for like five minutes, which was enough time for Renee to take Jack up on his offer to run away with him to a commune in Oregon. Sometimes I don't know whether I should be grateful for the fact that Renee was so attached to us that she wouldn't dream of leaving us with Charlie, or whether I should be mad at her for dragging us across the country for the next 16 years of our lives only to leave us to go back to the same place she'd fled so many years ago.
Living in a commune didn't turn out to be what Renee had dreamed about after all. If she thought life was tough in a small house with electricity and running water, life had gotten a whole lot tougher at the commune. No electricity and no oil equaled no light, no radio and no heat in the winter. Assuming her share of farming duties was even worse than cooking and cleaning for Charlie with the aid of a gas stove and washing machine. When Jack got with the "free love" program of the commune and started sleeping around with other women, Renee realized that her dreams and his dreams had probably no common thread at all. She was stuck – yet again. No money and no place to run to. Finding a job and getting the hell out of there, didn't seem like a viable option with three small children in tow and no real work experience.
Before Renee had to contemplate in earnest how to leave the commune life behind, she was notified that both of her parents had tragically passed away in a car accident and had left her a small savings account and the deed to their ram shack in her hometown of Forks. Renee had no intention of ever returning to Forks. So she sold the house and collected the money quietly and, without bidding farewell to anyone in the commune, she packed up our stuff and bought four one-way bus tickets to San Francisco.
From that point on Renee, Rosalie, Jasper and I still moved around a lot depending on Renee's latest aspirations and ideas, but we stayed mainly in one state – California - and we stayed together. In an effort to escape the clouds that had overshadowed her old life, she picked a place where the sun was supposed to shine 350 days out of the year. For a short period when I was about 10 years old, Renee dated a banker and we all did a brief stint in New York City; but mostly we stayed in sunny California even though it turned out not to be the Promised Land Renee and, I guess countless other people before her, had envisioned.
We never owned much and we never stayed in one school system long enough to form friendships, but life was never dull or boring with Renee. Asides from following various movements and different gurus over the years, Renee held numerous jobs with not much success and countless men with equal success. Since the failure of her relationship with Jack though, she made sure never to entirely depend on men again and never to move in with them. And from my own observations at the time, I would say she made the right choice – at least in that learned not to get too attached to anything or anyone beside the four of us because before we knew we would have to move again anyway. My siblings and I survived by becoming mostly self-sufficient in the daily routines that were essential to get by. I sometimes cooked and made sure Renee enrolled us in school; Rosalie cleaned and made sure we were clothed and Jasper was the glue that held us women together.
Although we moved a lot, there was an odd continuity or pattern, if you want to call it that, to our life. We knew what to expect and we'd established a routine in dealing with Renee.
That was until last summer. We were living in Venice Beach at the time. Jas and I had found summer jobs at a local record store and Rose was dating a mechanic named Joe. When Jas and I were not busy working in the record store listening to The Doors, we spent our time at the beach smoking, people watching, pondering politics and trying to figure out why or what convinced our beauty queen sister to date average Joe, the mechanic. The guy had greasy hair, the vague outlines of a growing beer-belly and he wasn't exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. Rose on the other hand was smart, blond, blue-eyed, tall and thin – in short: every guy's dream girl. We later found out that he taught her how to fix cars – a skill that would came in handy soon after.
You had to give it to Rose; on the outside she appeared to be all shallow beauty queen and smiles, but behind the façade was a girl that planned ahead and anticipated Renee's follies better than Jas and I ever did. While the two of us were so wound up in our own little world that we didn't notice when this latest change happened, Rose did.
Renee had met someone. His name was Phil and he was a roadie with The Grateful Dead. According to Phil, they first met at some event in the summer of 1967 when we were living in San Francisco, though Renee's memory of that meeting, she declared, is slightly foggy and she can't remember ever meeting Phil that summer. At any event, they reconnected at a concert in L.A. a year later. He was ten years younger than Renee and, as the nature of his job suggested, he traveled a lot. His chosen profession, his appearance and his age made him prime Renee-dating material. Nothing out of the ordinary I thought when I first met him. He seemed nice enough in comparison to the various douchebags Renee had dated over the years and I only ran into him every now and then when he came to pick up Renee from our house.
I didn't give the guy any further thought, but I did notice little, subtle changes in Renee. For the first time in as long as we could remember she appeared to be genuinely happy. Jas and I however never managed to put two and two together to figure out that Renee's new found happiness seemed to coincide with the appearance of Phil. That I didn't fully recognize what was going on was really no surprise, since I lived mostly in the world of my books, away from reality, but Jas has a quasi-6th sense for people's emotions and how he didn't see the shit coming a mile away before it hit us, I still don't understand. Rose, however, had seen the writing on the wall and had set the wheels in motion to plan ahead for the inevitable.
Renee started spending all her free time with Phil when he was in L.A. and when he left she sulked. I didn't recognize Renee's strange melancholy as lovesick moping - Rose did. Jas later on told me he noticed it, but thought it was just a phase and eventually it would blow over. Worst-case scenario we would move, he thought. No such luck.
By Christmas 1968, we were all stuck in Phoenix where Phil had invited us to a visit with his folks for the holidays. That's when we received the announcement. It was clear when we got to Phoenix that Phil's parents really didn't care for Renee or her baggage, but they were polite until Christmas dinner. In retrospect I should have known in the weeks leading up to the holidays that some major change was about to occur, because her odd mood swings were getting way out of control. When Phil was around, Renee was bouncing around like she was on happy pills, when he was gone she acted like a manic depressive. But I hadn't. I was too busy busy studying and getting stoned with Jas. So of course I was entirely unprepared for the reality that was about to hit us during this fateful Christmas dinner.
Blissfully holding hands and smiling like two idiotic teenagers in love, Renee and Phil announced their engagement. Incidentally, that's when I recognized it looking at them. Considering all the shitty romance novels I had read over the years from Austen to the Brontës, I should have come to this realization much earlier; Renee was in LOVE.
You could hear the crickets chirping for the next ten minutes while everyone digested the doomsday news of their engagement. Everybody kept on eating and pretending they hadn't heard the announcement. I kept quiet because frankly - I didn't know what to say. Phil's parents were clearly still in denial that their only son had taken up with an older woman with almost grown kids and we didn't know where Renee's latest decision would leave us.
Nobody said anything until Jas held up his glass and yelled, "Well, I think Congratulations are in order!" Stiffly Phil's parents held up their glasses and toasted to the newly engaged couple, but you could tell they were just putting on a show and the true confrontation would follow later. Nothing further was discussed at the dinner table, but later on that night Rose, Jas and I had a long overdue chat and the current plan was set in motion.
Living with sulking Renee or traveling the country as deadheads were not options we were willing to live with we decided quickly and Rose, ever the pragmatist, suggested that we hit the road and settle with Charlie for our remaining high school careers.
Other than the telephone calls and gift packages we all received for our birthdays and the holidays, we had basically lost touch with Charlie, but as Rose explained to us, living with Charlie would provide us probably with enough stability to finish high school, a goal that seemed unrealistic if we spend the next year traveling around the country with Renee.
Rose had it all planned out and even if Jas and I had the slight inkling that this wouldn't necessarily work out so well for us, we were just too dumbfounded by the latest turn of events to fully protest. Dear Joe from last summer apparently had gifted Rose an old, red Chevy truck hoping that she would never figure out how to fix the clunker and that seeing her try would offer him ample opportunity to convince her to permanently move in with him after she finished High School. He clearly didn't know what Rose was all about. Not only did she have the truck running in no time, but she also had no intention to ever hang around him again once that thing was fixed.
We sat down the next day with Renee and told her our plan to live with Charlie so that she could travel with Phil. To my amazement she not only agreed to our plan quickly, but also seemed to be kind of pleased about it. Upon our return to L.A., Phil and Renee wasted no time and got married in a small ceremony three days later. They were just so freaking cheery and happy that I couldn't even be mad at them. All that was left for us to do now was to start gathering our belongings for the move ahead. After all the drama of the last 16 years traveling around with Renee, I felt a small pinch of pain that she let us go so easily.
Which brings us to this fateful January morning when we are about to leave sunny California for dreary, rainy Forks, Washington. Renee hated that place with a passion, but apparently she saw nothing wrong with our plan of moving there. There wasn't much to pack – a couple of ratty t-shirts, some jeans, my books, Jas's record collection, the record player and we were done. While Jas and I had spent our summer job earnings on pot, records and cigarettes, Rose in her never ending wisdom had saved up money from various jobs, so that we had some extra spending cash and possible money for winter clothes, which we would definitely need. We packed the truck bed late that afternoon and started driving up the coast; an old Dylan tune was playing in the background on the car radio - "for the times they are a-changin." Oh, and we knew they were changin, although in ways that we never expected.
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