Life Through Me is a series of autobiographical vignettes, featuring various people and experiences I’ve encountered. The first section, Life With Billy was about my relationship with my favorite uncle. The second section Billy’s Girlfriend and Shara’s Song explored his turbulent relationship with his ex. Grapevine is the three part conclusion to this segment. Hope you’ve enjoyed the series!
Because my life had always been interwoven with Billy’s, I would periodically make trips back to North End to visit. My main reason for returning was because I was curious about his new girlfriend, Deana. On the surface, I had grown indifferent about my quest for Shara, partly because Billy stopped mentioning her and also because I was almost certain it was her I had seen the last time I was in town.
If that was truly Shara I had seen, when had she become someone who would deny who she was? I was disappointed in her. But another part of me was still perplexed about how she had come to be. Why was she so different from her siblings? What was the source of all her rage? Would I ever solve these mysteries?
I don’t quite remember the first time I had actually met Deana but I do remember my reaction to her. I was as befuddled about Deana’s arrival as I was about Shara’s departure. Staring at her standing slightly behind Billy that day, I tried hard to find something about her that appealed to him. Billy always liked flashy women who seemed to live life in the fast lane. Deana was as plain as Shara was ornate. She held her head down as if she was waiting for some type of approval. Meeting Deana caused me to reminisce about the day I first laid eyes on Shara.
I couldn’t have been any more than four years old, but I remember the day I stood there looking at this bejeweled woman and listening to Billy announce her name with pride. There was something strange about her, perhaps it was the full cast she had on her left leg. I think the story behind that was that she had gotten in a fight with some man and her leg was broken in the process. She strutted around in the cast almost like she did in high heels; acting as if she had known us for ages. Nothing hindered her. I remember wondering why would someone want a girlfriend with a broken leg. It was like having a damaged doll. Why won’t Billy take her back and get another one? my four year old mind wondered.
Looking at Deana the day I met her, I could see brokenness but not in her limbs. Something seemed to be broken in her spirit making her appear disjointed. It was as if she had to heal on her own. There was a shyness about her, you could tell that by the way she cocked her head to the side. Still there was something in her stance that let you know she was the gatekeeper of her soul. I could tell that Deana was a perfect blend of raw city grit and southern charm. She had created this persona and she seemed determined to hold it together.
Deana was the color of coffee beans roasted in the blistering Hawaiian sun. You got the impression that your experience with her would be strong and bitter. However, it didn’t take long to realize that she was guarded with her true personage. She reserved it like fine dark chocolate you keep for special guests. As time went on her demeanor lightened her eyes and her smile sweetened, and before long, like a great cup of coffee, she’d warm and stimulate you.
Deana and I became fast friends. I liked watching her cater to Billy. It was nice to finally see someone caring for him. He was 16 years older than her. He became the father she needed; she was the daughter he wanted. She had a girly cackle that he loved. I realized it the day she told me he had sent a clown with balloons to her job on her last birthday.
“Tahamee, you should have seen it, right? That clown came inside there and just started singin’,” she chuckled as Billy stood beside her, smirking.
Deana had a funny way of talking. She would always use unnecessary words in her sentences. It was as if she thought by doing so she’d add strong emotions to her statements.
Theirs was a love that we all watched unfold over time. Even though their relationship was being perfected, they both seemed to be self medicating something. She was a shopaholic; he was a drinker, and they both were chain smokers. Still they were steadily becoming one of my favorite couples.
Billy was starting to lose that worried look he had when he was with Shara. Our family adored her and I liked to see my grandmother purse her lips and relax her shoulders when she’d announce to the family they would soon be visiting. She seemed pleased that her oldest son managed to find a woman who had her domestic abilities.
It didn’t take long for my friendship with Deana to progress to sisterhood. I was honored, knowing that this had only happened because she allowed it. It was through her I learned how to truly love and care for a man. Some things she told me, some I learned through observation, eventually watching Billy decide to stop drinking and marry her.
As with any bond, Deana and I shared take-to-your-grave secrets and had days of strife. If you were someone she had newly trusted, she would sulk over an offense and give you the silent treatment. She could ignore you for hours or days, periodically glancing at you, making sure you were still nearby.
Our relationship was on the mend when Deana entered treatment for a terminal illness. When I first heard the news, it was as if someone had placed a huge bowling ball on my chest. It was a crushing pain.
Soon as I heard she had started daily treatments at the hospital, I rushed backed to North End to be by her side. Though she was always a woman of faith, there was a sadness about her now. It was difficult listening to her conversations. They were always worded in a way that let you know that she had accepted her condition and was just sitting around waiting for her day to die.
I tried to do everything I could to boost the morale in their household. I would take Billy out for long drives. Billy and Deana had moved to the suburbs so we’d ride down our old street to look at 105, which was now overgrown by weeds and had a huge sign with cement blocks, threatening trespassers.
I would get out and talk to those who still lived in the the old neighborhood. He would stay in the car with his arms folded saying, “Tam, these young thugs don’t care about us old timers anymore.” I thought visiting the old neighborhood would cheer him up, as he liked to recall his days of street life.
On the days that Deana went to the hospital for treatment, I would accompany her. After her appointments, we would take the long route home. She liked seeing her old landmarks, recounting stories of her first apartment or her childhood home. Even though it was brief, it was great to see her smile again. I tried to think of ways to keep the smiles coming, so one day I asked her, “Deana, how did you meet Billy?”
She threw her head back, let out a nervous chuckle and said, “Well, you remember Shara, right?”