A story of the peril of falling in love with someone unable to love even life itself.
THIS THING BETWEEN Bobbie Bilson and me had been brewing for years.
I'd known Bobbie since before kindergarten, and even then I couldn't stand anything about the girl. She'd cross over the railroad tracks and roam our neighborhood from morning to dark, while her mama entertained whatever male flavor-of-the-day was in her single-wide trailer bedroom. Bobbie always wore these knee-high, white cowboy boots and a dirty undersized plaid dress, the kind they made girls wear in those Jesus schools, and I swear I'm not kidding when I tell you her filthy hair was always stuck-out in different directions, so much so, her hair looked like Medusa or maybe as if a dump-rat had built a nest there.
All through elementary and middle school, I spared no mercy on Bobbie. I'd poke fun of her and humiliate her at every occasion bashing everything from her trashy mama down to her crooked teeth. In class she fared no better with the teachers, sometimes being dismissed for reasons of hygiene or poor dress, sometimes for fighting the girls bullying her in the bathroom.
All that hate changed on my seventeenth birthday. Bobbie was one class behind me, and she'd been absent from school my whole junior year. For reasons I can't fathom or even attempt to explain, I began to miss the girl.
Some of the townsfolk said Bobbie had become pregnant and was sent to her Aunt's in the mountains to have an abortion. Others said she was in Morganton at the state psychiatric hospital for cutting herself with single-edge razors and for standing in front of and taunting truckers barreling down Interstate 85. I'd grown up with her brother Tommy. We had bent each other's nose a few times over the years, but had never fought or had ill words over his sister. He'd told me his sister hadn't had a baby cut from her, but yes, she had indeed taken to stepping out in front of those Mack and Peterbuilt trucks, until a local judge took to the ear of a psychiatrist and committed her to an asylum.
Bobbie came back the first day of my senior year of high school. She walked past Tommy and me without a glance or a word. She stopped in the breezeway to talk with one of the teachers. At first I had no idea who the sexy girl was with her back to me. All I knew was I wanted to cup my hands in front of me and hope she'd pretty-as-you-please back her curvy rear right into them.
I nudged Tommy with my elbow, pointed at her, and said something I'm sure was rude (I dont' remember my exact words) about the shapely girl before us. I do remember Tommy telling me for the first time ever, "Shut the hell up 'bout my sister or I'll plant your ass to the floor."
Tommy's words triggered a spin-on-the-heel from that girl, and yes, it was Bobbie in a way I'd never seen her. Her body had grown both out and up, breasts pointing my way, hips rounded, and lips red with lipstick, plump and pouty as if swollen by poison. She had all those glorious female attributes that drive a young man crazy.
She cut a mean look at Tommy but spared me. She smiled at me with those big brown eyes and said, "You gonna show me to my first class, Danny?"
I nodded my head. I would've done anything that beautiful girl wanted in that moment. The look in her eyes pierced my skin, got in my bones, dug deep into my soul, so deep that if she'd said to kill somebody, I would've done it without protest or regret. I mean it. Crazy as it sounds, I would've destroyed the whole goddamned planet to stay in that girl's good graces.
It was the first time I'd ever fallen in love.
Bobbie and I were inseparable that school year and the summer after. We were the talk of not only other students but teachers and parents as well. And, if you think women can be mean to a man, you haven't seen or heard nothing until you get an eye or an ear full of how awful, how downright catty and sometimes cruel young women can be to each other. Those same girls that tried in years past to bash in Bobbie's brains in the bathroom were now suddenly trying to be her best friends. They'd come up, all friendly, want to chit-chat with her, tell her how good she looked and then turn around and conjure up some crap gossip, stirring the pot of meanness they'd been stewing for years. All their efforts were in vain though, because Bobbie didn't care about small talk, good or bad. She'd told me she was leaving for someplace soon where cruel words, sneers, and false hearts couldn't hurt her. And she wanted to take me with her.
Devil's Face is about a mile from my parents' house and rises some 75 feet above the Catawba River. From the water below, it looks like any old rock formation, but from the bridge that connects North and South Carolina that rock takes on a strange gnarly shape, like a gargoyle or some cast-from-heaven demon.
Nature blesses us at times, while at other times she curses us. It's as if she just wants to leave us with something frightening and hideous, something that'll burn into our brains from childhood, soak us with nightmares forever, and scare the daylights out of us. Yes, I was scared of Devil's Face. I had been my whole life.
If you stood up top Devil's Face and looked below, you'd see boulders the size of a car, a kind of natural-looking yet dynamited mess of rocks at the bottom. To hit the water and not those big rocks, you'd have to squat and then sling-shot your body out real hard, real fast, a good ten feet or more from the edge of the cliff. If you didn't make the water and God wasn't quite ready to take you home, he'd have mercy and spare you a visit to the embalmer, but you'd surely end up on life-support somewhere, piss'n a diaper for the rest of your brain-busted, comatose life.
No one, at least no one that I or my friends had known, had been killed at Devil's Face. Sure, some daredevils had been hurt smacking the water with their stomachs, and one boy in particular a few summers back had got high on something wicked and decided he was going to scale that hideous face to have a talk with Satan himself. Unfortunately, that foolish endeavor was short lived. He slipped and fell on the jagged rocks fifteen feet below him. He broke both his legs, his pelvis, and some ribs, and had a split collarbone body-pierce him from the inside, sticking out as if to take a look at the bloody mess the boy made of himself.
I picked up Bobbie in my daddy's '74 Plymouth Fury that afternoon, just as she had asked, with no idea of where we were going or what we were doing for the day. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, except for maybe the way she wore her hair that day, all pig-tailed and hanging back behind her ears. I told her she looked great. She turned to me, threw her head back, laughed, and said, "You wanna have some fun today, Danny Boy? Do you?"
"Sure, Baby. Wa'cha got in mind?"
Bobbie slid herself close to me, put her lip next to my ear and whispered, "Take me to the Devil's Face and jump off that big fuck'n rock with me. Huh, Danny Boy, can you do that with me?"
My mouth and throat went dry. I couldn't speak, so I nodded yes to Bobbie. She squealed out a laugh like some wild bird of prey and said, "What, we ain't there yet?" I knew the girl next to me, the one hanging onto me, the one with her hand between my legs, could get anything she wanted from any man, but I wanted that man to be me--forever. I hit the gas, busted out her mama's drive, headed as fast as I could to the Devil and the river he watched over. It was the last day of summer of 1978, one day before the start of Bobbie's senior year, and I was getting ready to help her kill herself. I just didn't know it.
Bobbie and I stood together at the edge of the Devil's granite forehead. She was to my right, her eyes closed, arms overhead, back arched, taking in a deep breath. She held it for just a few seconds and then exhaled. With her eyes still closed, she asked me, "You love me, Danny?"
My mouth went dry again. Bobbie was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen or had my life graced by, and there she was trying to take in something from life in those few seconds, and there I was, standing next to her, speechless and absolutely clueless as to where her mind really was. All I really wanted at that moment was for us to just turn around and climb back into my daddy's Plymouth, the same one we had made love in so many times. That's where I really wanted to be. Inside Bobbie. Feeling her heat, her fire.
"Come on, Baby," I said. "Let's get in the car, turn on the air, and just make love, Okay?"
"But I want you to really love me," she said. "Huh, Danny? Do you really love me?"
"You know I love you, Baby."
Bobbie smiled and said, "Good." She held out her left hand to me. "Hold it, Danny, hold it tight."
And for some odd reason that goes well beyond a simple explanation or a fear of heights, I wouldn't hold her hand. Something in my gut, I guess, because in that moment I feared for not only for Bobbie but for myself as well. I stepped back from the edge of the cliff, held my arms out to her and said, "Please, Bobbie, please, back away from the edge. Just come to me, okay?"
Bobbie just stood there, quiet, caught up in the silence, her moment. I still had no clue where her mind was. She finally looked over her left shoulder at me, smiled, and said, "Don't forget me, Danny," and then leaped into one of the most magnificent swan-dives I'd ever seen. Her body seemed to float for just a second before finally dropping out of sight below Devil's Face.
The river was there to welcome her, but it was the rocks that caught her. There was no scream or cry for help. I bolted down the trail toward the water, knowing in my heart she was probably beyond any help from me. When I got to her, she was on her back, her body broken at the waist at an odd angle, the back of her skull shattered, her right arm twisted behind the shoulder, the other broken at the elbow, both arm bones poking through.
Her eyelids were closed, and it was only when I reached out to touch her that she opened them and gave me this wild-eyed look, like maybe she knew she shouldn't have done this to herself. She tried to speak but couldn't. There was another look that came into her eyes, though. It was the dark, terrifying stare one gives just before the moment death takes them, a stare I knew all too well. I remembered it from my Grandmother's stay in hospice.
I also recalled that hearing is the last of the senses to go after death. So I leaned in close to Bobbie's ear and told her in the most reassuring, sweetest voice I could, "Baby, that was awesome. A perfect dive for sure. No one will ever top that. You were fabulous, Sweetheart."
I propped Bobbie up and held her close to my heart...until hers stopped.