Answer to DimkaRichard Diedrichs
Answer to Dimka
by Richard Diedrichs
Like vomit, it was all coming back up. I had not spoken to Dimka Babic in two decades, and there I was, in a single moment, right where I had been with the old bastard. It was as if our conversation never ended.
"Lucas, you are fool. Always were," Dimka said. "I ask you direction to your house, and you tell me turn right and get us lost."
"I told you to turn left, Dimka."
"We are in parking lot of Biggy's Taste of Soul. It is very dark over here."
When my brother and I stayed with Dimka and his wife, Rosa, I remembered being shocked, even at ten years old, at the horrible things he said about people different from him. He had dark skin himself and talked with an accent. It seemed mean and stupid.
Now, I had Dimka where I wanted him. "From there, head west on Mandela Parkway and turn south on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. That will take you around the bottom of the golf course and to the freeway again. Then, like I told you before, turn left at Grand. Not right, or you will be back where you are now."
There was a long silence of the other end. "Are you getting us out of here or no?"
"Dimka, it's the way to my house. I have been trying to tell you."
When I hung up, I walked into my living room. My brother, Alex, sat on the sofa, doing a Rodney Dangerfield yank on his clerical collar. His right foot jiggled, balanced on his left knee. Danilo Babic, Dimka and Rosa's son, hunched forward next to him in his dusty work boots, head bowed, palms sliding together between his knees.
"Are you intentionally getting Dimka lost?" Alex said.
"You know the man. It's impossible to tell him anything. They will be here before long."
"You didn't answer my question."
"Yes, I'm fucking with him. He hasn't changed a bit. He's getting what he deserves."
About a month before, I would not have imagined this group of people in the same room together, definitely not in my house. It was about that time that Rosa sent me a friend request on Facebook. I had not communicated with her or her husband in twenty years. I was curious, so I accepted. She messaged back that she saw in the news that I had sold my software company. It was synchronistic that just as I made my fortune, I heard from someone from the deep past. And also, that my experience with Rosa and Dimka had come up in my therapy sessions.
I walked to the front door. "Let's go over and sit on the bench by the lake. Kill some time and cool off."
Alex fell in behind me on the front steps. I waited until Danilo joined us. I led single file to the road, across, and down the grassy slope to the lake's edge.
The sky was overcast, reflecting steel gray on the calm water. Alex sat in the middle.
"Tell me again what you expect to happen today. What are your objectives?" Alex said.
"Spoken like a facilitator," I said.
Danilo sat hunched over, elbows resting on his knees. He looked out toward the lake.
"That's why you asked me here, right?" Alex said.
"You're part of this. Both of you are. My therapist thought this was a good idea. Get everyone in the same room."
"What did your therapist think would happen?"
Danilo sat up and said, "I can tell you what's going to happen." He looked over at us. "That crazy asshole is sadistic. You bring your shit up and start blaming him, he will kill everybody in the room.
I laughed. "What?"
Danilo had just spent three years at Walla Walla State Prison. I would have expected him to talk like that. And his father was a brutal man. Supposedly he had been a ranking officer in the Yugoslav People's Army in the homeland.
I was never clear what Dimka was to my brother and me, something like our grandfather's great nephew on somebody's side. Part of the extended family. I saw Dimka and Rosa at gatherings, and had visited their house the when I was really little, before our mother moved out. They had a lot of land, with a pond, barn, and animals--chickens, ducks, goats, a pig, horse, and four dogs. There might have even been a few llamas.
After our father died of brain cancer, my brother and I were orphans. Dad was our world. We had no idea how to get in touch with our mother. In his last days Dad arranged to have his sister, Sherry, take us in. She explained that it might be a little while before we could come live with her, her husband, and four kids. They didn't have room as it was, and were building a new house. I think that Sherry must have asked Dimka and Rosa to look after Alex and me until she and her family were ready. A few months at the most, Sherry assured us.
As it was, we stayed with Rosa and Dimka for three months. The moment we crawled out of their car on the gravel driveway, Dimka had us working. He jumped out, with a limp, suffering from a bad knee, and had me and Alex follow him to the barn. He pitched hay, gathered eggs, watered troughs, and scooped dung, virtually with one leg, and with us at his heels. He told us that besides all the work around the barn, and with the animals, it was our job to keep the weeds down in the vegetable garden and hand-mow the grass near the house. Dimka said his son, Danilo, had moved away, and he needed help keeping the place running. If that was the reason he agreed to take us in, as boys, he didn't say. Getting to know Dimka as I did, I understood that it was not from his abounding compassion and concern for us as children, or even to help out the family, that he had us there.
After Dimka showed us the land of the land, he led us into the house. He showed us where we would sleep, in Danilo's old room. Dimka had brought in bunk beds. We were to make the beds each morning before coming to breakfast, Dimka said, and keep our clothes and belongings picked up, folded and stored. We also had to keep the bathroom down the hall clean--the floor swept, wastebasket emptied, and toilet, sink, and tub scrubbed.
In the bedroom, Dimka stood by the bunks. He reached his hand into his pants pocket and pulled out a quarter. He bounced the coin high off the cover of the bottom bed. "This is my test. It is what I expect. If you fail test, you answer to me," he said. Dimka laid his large leathery hand on Alex's shoulder. "Do you boys understand?" Dimka said.
"Yes," I said, avoiding contact with his big cloudy brown eyes, the color of a mud puddle.
Alex looked from Dimka to me with terror on his face and started to cry.
"Don't worry, little one. you will get used to life here. It is simple. You work, you eat," Dimka said. "Or like my ungrateful piss ant son, you run away. Either way, your choice. All is same to me." Dimka stepped toward the door. "Now, go outside until dinner," he said.
Alex and I wandered from the house out to a stand of trees, in the far grass meadow, behind the barn. Alex grabbed a low branch and climbed into an elm.
"Where do we live?" Alex said.
"What do you mean, where do we live? We live here."
"What about our old house, where we lived with Dad?"
"Forget about it. That's gone. Just do what Dimka says and we'll be out of here in a little while. We're going to live with Aunt Sherry and Uncle Kip."
"Okay," Alex said.
"It will be fine," I said, as if I knew. But he seemed relieved.
"It will be fine," he said.
We quickly discovered what it meant to answer to Dimka. One Saturday, Alex and I cleaned the bathroom. I scrubbed the toilet while Alex swept the floor. As I leaned into the bowl, I felt a jab in my side. I reached out and grabbed Alex's broom handle. "Stop," I told him. Alex swung the broom around and swatted my butt with the bristles. I scooped water out of the toilet with both hands and tossed it in Alex's face, and all over his tee shirt. Alex's smile disappeared as his face reddened with fury. "I'm telling," he screamed, and ran from the bathroom.
I stood, wondering whom Alex would tell. Rosa was mean. That morning, she slapped me across the face for telling her no. Dimka's glare spelled doom.
I got them both. Rosa walked into the bathroom, followed by Dimka. Alex trailed behind. "You bully your brother?" Dimka said, stepping past his wife. He ringed the back of my neck with his massive calloused hand. "I had three older brothers who bully me."
"We were playing," I said. I glanced at Alex, whose face was drained of blood.
Dimka guided me over to the toilet. "On your knees," he said. He pushed me forward by the neck and I stiffened my body with all my strength. He pushed harder. "You do not want to resist me, Little Man," he said. "If I want, I snap your neck easy." Dimka kicked the back of my knee and my leg buckled. I kneeled in front of the toilet. He moved his hand up to the back of my head, pushed my face into the bowl, and flushed the toilet. "Next time, I piss in first," he said. When I pulled out, huffing, my hair sopped and dripping, I saw only Rosa standing by the door. She said, "Don't be a punk."
Alex finally got his. He and I played whiffle ball on the grass near the house. I pitched him a high softy. He swung and missed. "Fuck!" he yelled. Within seconds, Rosa stood at the door to the house. "Alex, now!" Alex marched to the house as if he were shackled, head and arms hanging, feet dragging. I
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