Shasta, at eighty-three, looked more like she was in her sixties. She had taken good care of herself. She had always been conscientious about what she ate and drank. She was moderate in all she did. She avoided fast food.
Even after four kids, she was still thin and elegant. Her brown hair was streaked with gray, but not completely without its original color. Like her mother, she was able to keep her beauty long after she aged. And she was still strong, her back straight and solid.
Matt admired her for her strength. He sat down next to her. “Aunty Shasta?”
She looked over at him. “Yes, Matthew?”
He smiled sadly. “Something has bothered me since I was thirteen. You told me that my dad was a good man. Who were you referring to? The one I was told was my father raped mama. She said that he was not a very good person.”
She looked over at him. “Matty, I was not referring to the sperm donor. Tobias French was never a good person. Neither was his father or mother. Greed ruled their every motive. What they could take, not what they could give. When Tobias raped your mother, he gave her more than he took away. For your first three or four years, you were all that kept your mama from falling apart.
“When I said that you looked like your father, I was referring to Trent Goodacre. Yes, I know you weren’t his biological father, but he was the man who was the closest to a father you ever had. He accepted you as his own. He treated your mother like a queen.
“When Tom Goldman refused her advances, that was when your mother really lost it. He took her to that hippie commune, and that was a mistake. I kind of blame him for how she ended up.”
He shook his head. “Don’t blame him. He tried to get her to leave the commune. He offered her a place to stay and everything. He even tried to set her up with a friend of his. Mama refused everything he tried to do for her. She decided that if she couldn’t have him, she wasn’t going to leave the commune.
“He wasn’t to blame for her going either. He told me everything before he died. He told me how he tried to persuade her to go with Cousins Danni and Marty after Selma and not follow him to the commune. She wouldn’t hear of it.
“But, if she hadn’t I would not be where I am. I would not have had the career I had. Tom was the one who got me out of the commune and into the studio. hell. He taught me how to play the piano. Well, him and half the commune.
Still. It was his home I went to after I turned thirteen. It was from there that I called you. And he uprooted his family to follow mama in order to keep an eye on me and be my ticket into the clubs and bars to play.
“I owe him for everything I am. And everything I am not. I thank him for the stability he brought to my life. I have never begrudged him for my lack of a childhood. It would have been no different if I had been left to the whims of the commune. No different, except I would not be the success I am and the girls would have died of AIDS by now.Or an overdose from some drug.”
She patted his leg. “I am sorry. I had no idea.”
He looked over at her. “It’s not your fault. I never fully explained Tom’s relationship with mama. He only wanted to be her friend, not the interest of her attentions. He was happily married and had children of his own. Mama didn’t care about that. She just kept making attempts to get into his bed with him. NO matter what he told her, she would not take no for an answer.
“It started in Selma, while he was covering the marches. Cousin Danni told me later that no matter what Tom tried, mama would not stop. He went to the communes trying to get away from her. It didn’t work. Instead, she got worse. Until she met Drake.
“When Drake beat the shit out of mama, Tom stepped in. He sent Drake to the hospital with more than just broken bones. Then mama took up with Roscoe. Tom left the commune shortly after that, and mama went full-tilt into her downward spiral. She had no one left to protect her except me. And even I had to leave.
“But by then, The communes had begun disappearing and mama moved back to L.A. Trey Bender got her into porn movies and that was where she ended up contracting HIV and then going into full blown AIDS. She wanted to Die, Aunty, and no one was going to stop her. Not even Tom.”
Shasta bowed her head. “God! I didn’t know. And all this time, I thought…”
He nodded. “It was the way he wanted it to be seen. He was ashamed of what he thought he had done to her. Even he detested himself for it. I let him know, before he died, what Danni had said. But it was too little, too late.”
She looked at Matt. “So he never got over it?”
Matt shook his head. “No. He died with a guilty conscience. And for no reason.”
She looked down. “And his wife?”
He looked away. “She knew the whole story as well. It had been her idea to set mama up with Tom’s old friend and take her into their home. She thought they could help her. She was sad when mama refused. She died shortly after Tom did. She couldn’t adjust to life without him. It was sad.”
Shasta finally saw the truth. “And one of the reasons you went into you nosedive.”
He nodded. “Yes.”