Rating: R. Nothing graphic, but in terms of themes…well, to quote Cordelia, there’s not enough yuck in the world.
Characters: Tara and Clan Maclay
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters. That’s okay. Except for Tara, I wouldn’t want them, except maybe to kick their asses. Joss can have them.
Summary: After Family, Tara tells Willow the truth about her past.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one:
A young man from backwoods marries a young woman, and they go off on their honeymoon.
The next day, he’s back home, and his father asks what happened.
"Got a ‘nulment, Paw. She warn’t the right woman."
"Not the right woman? But son, she was beautiful!"
"That she was, Paw. But she warn’t the right woman."
"But son, she was hard-workin’!"
"She worked like an ox, Paw. But she still warn’t the right woman."
"But son, she was rich!"
"I know all that, Paw. But she was a virgin."
"Then you done the right thing, son. If she warn’t good ‘nuff for her own family, she ain’t good ‘nuff for our’n."
How about this one?
What do you call a ten-year-old girl from the backwoods who can run real fast?
Real knee-slappers, aren’t they? Let me tell you something: they’re not funny.
My mother started to get sick when I was about twelve.
"Get sick." Do you know how many years of lies and silence go into those two words? My mother started to get sick, all right. You can only take so many years’ worth of beatings before your body starts to break down. A body that’s wounded is vulnerable. A body that constantly has to heal itself is too exhausted to defend itself. A spirit that just can’t bring itself to fight anymore…that’ll kill you more quickly than anything else.
You may have seen movies where a wife-beater is some evil-tempered, roaring, drunken brute of a man who loses his temper on a regular basis and swats his woman around the room. Sometimes—less often nowadays—a basically decent leading man will lose his temper enough for one slap. Maybe some of them are actually like that, but my father wasn’t. He didn’t drink, and he only lost his temper when someone deliberately defied him. Maybe Donny has tried that since I left, but I doubt it—they seemed to be on good terms. If Donny had defied my father, it would have ended with one of them in the hospital. I never dared, not after he sent my mother to the emergency room for insisting that, in a rural area like ours, I needed to know how to drive a car.
I was so scared for Buffy when she told my father he’d have to go through her to get to me today. I know that she’s the Slayer, and I’ve seen her kill vampires and demons with her bare hands lots of times, and I know in my head that she can tear both Dad and Donny apart and put the parts back in the wrong places. But all I could see for that moment was a tiny girl lipping back to Mr. Ronald Maclay, Sr.
Generally, though, my father was very cold. Very methodical. It wasn’t a matter of temper to him, it was keeping his family in line. Discipline. He called it "Correction". He "Corrected" me more often than Donny, because he said daughters needed more correction than sons, especially a demon-child like me.
Usually, he corrected my mother just like he corrected us, with this big leather belt that I never actually saw him wear. Dinner was late? Five strokes with the belt. Dinner was burned? Ten.
Sometimes, though, he got creative. I remember one time, when I was eleven, my mother got a speeding ticket. I don’t remember why she was in such a hurry, but…
Every once in a while, I would hear soft cries coming from my parents’ room at night. Despite word around the schoolyard that said how much sex hurt, those cries never sounded like pain-cries.
Until that night.
The next morning, my father was in a very good mood. His shoulders were back, his chest was out, there was a grin on his face and a spring in his step.
My mother was…wilted in a way I’d never seen, not even right after a beating. And she winced when he kissed me goodbye on his way to the mill.
I think that night was a breakthrough for my father. He’d discovered a new, more effective way to control my mother, one that was enjoyable in its own right.
The cries in the night came much more often after that, but they were almost always the wrong kind of cries now. Don’t ask me how, but even at that age, I knew that the older cries were the right ones for whatever was happening in my parents’ room, and my father was doing something wrong to make my mother make these new cries.
It wasn’t long after that my mother started to get sick.
Even my father wouldn’t insist on his "Marital Rights" with a woman as sick as my mother was, though he sometimes accused her of faking her illness to get out of her "Duty."
It went on for about a year like that, and my father must have been getting more and more frustrated all the time.
One night, I woke up to find my father sitting on the edge of my bed, stroking my hair. And he asked me the strangest thing. He asked "Are you a good girl, Tara?"
I knew I wasn’t. Wasn’t I part demon? So I just said, "I try to be, sir." At that moment, I was afraid to that he was going to tell me that Mama was dead—she was in the hospital again at the time. But he didn’t say anything.
I was only thirteen, but I’d started developing early. And I’d noticed this strange look in my father’s eyes whenever he looked at me—and a scared one in my mother’s when she saw it.
I was thirteen, not ten. But I couldn’t run very fast. Not that I would have tried.
That was when I found out why my mother cried in the night.
Of course it hurt. How did your first time with Oz feel?
Oh. You’re lucky, then. Maybe that’s because you were older.
Now, my school had those good-touch-bad-touch assemblies, just like everywhere else. But I didn’t think that applied to me. All along, my father told me that he had to be harder on me than most fathers were on their children. After all, I was part demon. Besides, he told me, fathers have rights over their daughters, just like husbands have over their wives.
About a year later, Donny started. He was thirteen, just coming into his manhood, and I was a convenient woman when he didn’t have a girlfriend. I don’t know if my father ever knew, but if he did, he’d probably write it off as "A young man has his needs." Donny wasn’t quite as bad as my father. It was usually over pretty quickly.
What? You didn’t know that Donny was a year younger than me? It didn’t really matter. He was the secondary Man of the House, and that put him higher up on the totem pole than me anyway, but when he came into his size he could enforce his own orders.
About a year after that, a man in our town was arrested for doing the very thing that my father was doing. The entire town, even people who had once been his friends, thought he was less than human. He was tried and put in jail, and I hear that he was beat up regularly on the Inside.
That was when I realized that my father didn’t have the right to do what he was doing. No one did. But I was afraid that if it came out, if my mother found out what was happening, that it would kill her. He told me it would.
It got even worse when they found out I was a lesbian. No, I didn’t come out to them. Beth told them after I made the mistake of confiding in her. All three of them said it was proof of just how unnatural I was. Both my father and Donny started making extra efforts to straighten me out, while warning me not to tell mama. This would kill her, too.
I spent two years like that, keeping my Mama alive by keeping my silence. Well, that, and being the best daughter I could possibly be. I knew it was impossible for me to be a good daughter. After all, I was part demon. But I thought that if I did all of her chores that I could, in addition to all of mine, she could rest. And if I did them right, then Pa would have no reason to Correct anyone. It seemed to work. A little.
And every time he…hurt me…I just thought: "At least it’s not Mama", and I hoped that if he hurt me instead of her, that she would get better. I was younger and stronger than she was, and I thought that I could take it better.
Then, when I was seventeen, she died anyway. I don’t know if the doctors ever did figure out which of her ailments was the one that killed her. Maybe none of them: Mama was a witch who’d given up on living. That might have been enough.
I don’t know why the doctors never put it together. She was much too young to have all the troubles that she did. She wasn’t even forty when she died. But then, they must have found old injuries and such when they were examining her…maybe they did figure it out, and just never said anything.
If life were a movie, I would have been there when she died, and her last words to me would have been something like "Get away while you can." But it isn’t. I just came home from school one day to find my father sitting at the kitchen table with a bottle of whiskey in front of him.
I was furious.
I know everyone gets angry. It’s one of the natural stages of grieving. But I’d done my Bargaining while Mama was alive, and when she died…
I had tried so hard. I had worked until just getting up every morning was an ordeal and going to bed didn’t bring any comfort, because I knew I wouldn’t get enough sleep. I had taken whatever had come my way, so Mama wouldn’t have to, and she’d still died. I was angry at her for being so weak—I’d taken on everything for her, and she still couldn’t find the strength to live? But even more, I was angry at the world. I had done my best. Didn’t that count for anything? I knew that I was a demon, but didn’t that make the fact that I tried so hard count more instead of less?
That was when I decided that I wasn’t going to become my mother. I wasn’t going to die before my fortieth birthday, beaten to death in slow motion by my husband. It may sound strange, but even then, even knowing that I was gay, I assumed that I would have a husband. In a small town, where everyone’s life follows the same path, some things just seem inevitable.
But there is one other path to follow in a small town, and that’s the path out. Ask Riley, he’ll tell you. The only choice for the people who don’t want to spend their lives in the mill is to leave. Get out, get somewhere, get anywhere that there are more choices than housewife or waitress at the diner.
So that was the path I decided to take. I was through just taking what came to me. I was going to go out and get something for myself.
It was hard. Really hard. My father let me take the SAT’s. It would have looked strange if I hadn’t. But he never intended to let me apply for colleges. What was the point? It was an awful lot of money to spend on an education that—trust me—would never be put to use. College was for Donny.
Applying to colleges costs money, too, so I could only apply to three. Even that was a lot of money for me to scrape together. I don’t know how I did it.
No, I didn’t sell drugs. Or sell any organs. Thank you for trying, but I don’t think anything could make me laugh right now. I think…I think I just need to finish this.
I had all my college mail—college applications, scholarship applications, things like that—delivered to me through my school’s guidance office. I don’t know if the guidance counselor ever figured out that I didn’t want my father to know I was applying to colleges. Or maybe she did, and just never said anything. People in our town didn’t mess with Mr. Ronald Maclay, Sr. If he didn’t want his daughter to go to college, then no one would say otherwise. Maybe she thought she was doing me a favor by not raising a fuss and letting him know what was happening. Maybe she was.
I’ll never forget the night that I left. I snuck out after my father had fallen asleep and ran all the way to the bus station. It was a clear, warm night. I looked up at the sky, and I could see the stars forever, and for the first time in my life I had an idea what it felt like to be free. Funny how you can miss something that you’ve never had. But I guess some deep-down part of us knows that we’re supposed to be free.
I know it sounds silly, but I looked at the stars and I started thinking about that Barbara Streisand song, "Papa Can You Hear Me?". Of course, I substituted "Mama" for "Papa".
The rest you know, mostly. I came here to UC Sunnydale and I was lonely, and I was always afraid that they would find me, but I was free. Then I met you, and I wasn’t lonely anymore. But I was still afraid. Afraid they’d come for me, and—once I found out that you knew about real magic and demons—afraid that you’d find out the truth about me.
Then, today, they showed up in the magic shop, and all of my fears came true. I didn’t want to go back with them. Oh, Goddess, you can’t imagine how much. I knew what was waiting for me there…especially considering that neither my father nor Donny brought ladyfriends with them.
But what could I do? My father or Donny could make me come with them. I couldn’t ask for help, or else they’d tell why they’d come for me, why they had to take me home. Even if someone was willing to interfere in a family matter, who would protect a demon?
And I didn’t want you to know that. Not ever. I didn’t want you to know that I was really a monster. Better that it just end, than to have you know that I’m something evil and disgusting.
I know that now. But when you’ve been told something your whole life, you tend to believe it
My nose still hurts, you know. Chip or not, Spike is strong. Still, I never thought anyone could be so happy to find out that one of the central facts of her life is a lie.
But do you know what made me even happier? Happier than I ever imagined a person could feel? You all stood up for me before you knew. They told you I was a demon, and all you did was ask "what kind?"
Does it make sense that I was still afraid until Giles and Xander stepped in? I know Buffy could crush all four of them put together, and you could throw them out the door without even touching them, and in any other fight I’d feel confident in that. But against my father and Donny…it felt better to have Giles and Xander’s—I don’t know, weight?—on our side. Knowing what I know about them, I think my father and my brother would have both gotten hurt if they tried to take me. Badly. And I think they both knew that. They must have, because I’ve never seen them back down from anyone before. Why do you think Donny was so surprised? Nobody in our hometown messes with them. Ever. Unless they just made sure it never happened when the womenfolk were watching, but I don’t think so. They had our entire town intimidated. But today they finally met someone they couldn’t bully.
I’m finally part of a real family now. I have three sisters, a father and a brother who will protect me instead of hurt me, and I have you. I’m free for real this time, and for the first time in my life, I’m not afraid. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite this happy.
There’s just one more thing to make it all complete.
I still don’t know how to drive a car. Will you teach me?