Monthly Archives: June 2010

A Lead Balloon

There are moments that seem to last an eternity while you are in them, but in retrospect, they are but fleeting thoughts. It’s like running to your car in a rain storm. With every step it feels as if your body is being drenched, but when you make it to the safety of your car, the drops of water evaporate almost instantly, leaving you with nothing but a single shiver. I was surrounded by a sea of umbrellas when we laid my grandfather to rest, but all I remember is the flag draped over his coffin. Sometimes promises are broken more by circumstance than by intent. Bron-Yr-Aur plays and I find myself crawling around inside of my own head, picking up scraps of memories and taking a few nibbles before tossing them away to the side with hardly getting a taste. There was one that unintentionally broke me down only to unknowingly build me up decades later. He’d made promises that no one could keep, but in his imagination they were pure. The totality of all things spoken and words never uttered resulted in heart break that formed courage. The demise of our dreams was the foundation of my determination. I don’t think I ever thanked him; for my appreciation of Zeppelin, for teaching me to trust my instincts and for stripping me down to my very soul. Our lives are rarely what we plan, but it is the unexpected detours that often lead us to amazing destinations. We lay in bed discussing logic. I believed he could be the star he knew he was. We laughed and on occasion we cried. I promised to be home before the sun came up and I was true to my word. But somewhere between our dreams and reality, we ended up in our own lives – lives with more rewards than regrets. Carbon copies of ourselves now learn from our example. They are thankful for our missteps. Our failures gave them life. D’yer Mak’er begins to play and I close my eyes as I sway in my rickety chair. It’s funny to me that this song always makes me smile; like a happy anthem celebrating aspirations never realized; hopes that fell from the sky like a lead balloon. As I tap my fingers on the desk, keeping to the beat, those moments that seemed to last an eternity are now but a fleeting thought.

Feature Presentation

I sat in the quiet darkness of a house that was not my own. As I eased back into the chair, I leisurely rotated my thumb on the dial, inching up the volume on my iPod to drown out the subtle sounds of slumber that drifted down the hallway. The chords of Si Volvieras a Mi flooded my senses and for a moment took over my thoughts. I shifted my position and slowly closed my eyes. I’d had just enough alcohol to sharpen the edges of nostalgia.

My mind began to load unedited reels of memory to be shown on the screens of my eye lids. My nostrils were filled with the stale smell of hours old Benson & Hedges cigarettes mixed with the sweet musk of intoxicating skin. Although it was only a memory, I could smell it as fragrantly as if it were hydrangeas outside of an open summer window. It had been twenty years since I’d inhaled the bouquet of that skin, but it was a scent still so familiar that I could almost taste it. I still heard his voice from time to time; always steeped in humor. But when I played it back in my mind, it held the unmistakable tone of regret. It was a longing that I couldn’t comprehend. I knew the sorrow of dreams not realized and the pain of aspirations falling from my fingertips, but I had never simply denied myself as a result of fear or doubt or uncertainty only to awake one day and wonder what could have been. His happiness was never fully realized. That was the most painful part.

With a delicate puff of breath, I blew the hair from my forehead. I remembered blonde bangs that spilled into dancing eyes just above a playful, sideways smirk. His posture could only be described as a trouble-free, clumsy hover. He towered above me, ever relaxed yet seemingly expectant. I didn’t wonder how the years had shifted his stance. He had found his happiness and was far from my worries. I woke up just after a November dawn, his sister sleeping next to me under an antique, non-descript quilt. My lungs were straining as I opened my eyes, and I could see my breath in the beam of morning sun that poured through the window. I wondered if the tightness in my chest was from the bitter cold or from the deplorable discovery I’d found hidden away in his suitcase.

I lay like a pile of limp, wet clothes on the cold, rocky earth. The weight of a Toyota 4×4 held my body in place. All was dark and for a moment, silent; until screams of horror pierced my ears from the shortest of distance and ripped me from my euphoric state of suspension above the madness. Pain manifested itself in every crevice of my being, forcing me from consciousness. I forced my eyes open and the harsh, blue glow of the computer monitor stung my eyes.

I sat dazed for a moment before I noticed the writing in front of me. It was the familiar, easy penmanship of my father in the only letter I had ever kept. I could see the words before me on the yellowed paper as if it was actually in front of me and not just etched in my brain. It read, “Although I am a man and you are a woman, when I am gone and you remain, you will continue the person that we are.” I wondered about my own children. Would my boys carry on the person that I was? Could they ever even know the person that I was, considering I wasn’t sure I knew her myself? Would they ever read any of the thoughts I had plucked from my mind and transferred to paper?

There was so much missing time. Or perhaps it was just hidden. Laughter was lost. Stagnate tears pooled in a forgotten place. Stories and faces and sounds and smells, all trampled under useless trivia; buried under dates and lists and obligations. In these quiet lonely times they were pulled out and dusted off; ready for screening, but as soon as they were viewed, they were gone again, as quickly as you would swat a fly. It occurred to me that my iPod was no longer playing. Perhaps that was my cue to go to bed.

Fried Chicken

I fried chicken for dinner.

Me: “Now, Boys, ya’ll be careful. This is super hot.”

Scout: “I’ll tell you what’s super hot…You are, Mama!”

I grin.

Dozier: “Butt-kisser!”

Me: “Dozier, don’t call people butt-kisser.”

Dozier: “Oh, please, don’t tell me you’re buying this crap.”

Me: “Be quiet and eat your scalding hot chicken.”

Driving Home

Each of us has our own sorrow; our private losses that will never be shared. Others so easily solve our problems, but never really understand them. My friends can’t comprehend why I like to travel home late at night instead of sleeping in their guest room and making a fresh start in the morning. But there is something about driving home under the moon that I love. There is solace in the darkness. I know the route so well that I could maneuver it with my eyes closed. Driving with the music blaring and the windows down gives me comfort. The night air reaches into the cab of my truck and runs its cold fingers through my hair. I inhale deeply and allow the smoke to slowly seep out of my mouth; watching it briefly dance as it begins to dissipate in front of me before it is grabbed out of the safety of the truck and tossed into the darkness.

I’m sitting on my grandfather’s lap. He gingerly strokes my fingernails as he hums a tune in his loud, gruff voice. The melody rattles around his chest beneath my ear as it is pressed to his heart. A deer looks up from the grass and quickly looks away. The wind gently plucks out a single strand of my hair and quietly places it on my hand. I shake it off just before it starts to tickle.

I leave Lee County and enter Russell. The caution light flashes at the stop sign and a large truck flies by shaking my vehicle. I’m in the passenger seat of a Camaro. The driver holds my hand as we roll over the snowy hills of North Alabama, our fingers intertwined as if they were made for each other. The closeness of his body warms mine, but my heart feels cold. I know the end is near.

The harvest moon hovers over me as I sit in a lifeguard stand. The white beaches of Gulf Shores appear eerie as deafening waves crash on the shore. A new chapter begins, but it will not be a long one. The yellow reflective lights down the center of the road twinkle like the eyes of my child. Scout holds my hand and positions his body on mine so that if I try to escape after he falls asleep, surely I will wake him. The injustices of the day melt away beneath my fingertips as they slowly rub his back.

The cries of a baby with colic drown out the sobs of my own pain as we sit in an attorney’s office. I have no idea where I am going. This is an adventure for which I had not planned. I light another cigarette. I turn on to Highway 431 and wish that I had windshield wiper fluid. I catch a glimpse of a black dog running on the side of the road and I find myself on the banks of Lake Eufaula, standing in the October leaves. I watch a dog and his master as the crisp, fallen leaves crunch beneath my boot.

I’m only 30 miles from Eufaula. I see my sister sitting by a table, holding her beer bottle in the most awkward way. My brother sits with his legs crossed in the easy, relaxed fashion that is his manner. They don’t understand what holds me to this place, this family, this land. I don’t understand it myself. It is my Tara. I am bound to it and by it. The land holds me still.

Four lanes merge into two and the orange and white traffic cylinders fly by like reflective pieces of candy corn. I’m that much closer to home. I toss out my cigarette and it dances around the bed of my truck like a firefly before it spills over the back and onto the road, soon to be crushed by tires and time and the bright sun. Arcade Fire plays Neighborhood #1 and I still hear the grumble of my grandfather’s humming. I’m almost to Mott Farms. I sit on Kristi’s bed. We hold hands and cry. I’m consumed with sadness for her now empty womb. I’m covered in guilt for the life that still grows in mine.

More candy corn. I’m back on four lanes. I’m lying under the trees just outside of Auburn. In the darkness, a man I hardly know tells me he loves me and I convince myself that I love him also. Twenty years ago there would be a billboard right about here. He would make a joke as we pass it and I would know that our love was not meant to be. Roseland is on the left up ahead. I wonder about my dad growing up there. I wonder if he was a happy child. I’m just a kid sitting at my great-grandmother’s house. Death hangs in the air like the smell of fried chicken. I think I was happy then, but I’m not sure. It seems too long ago to remember.

My grandmother sits at a desk next to a lonely lamp. She writes yet another letter. I can see her handwriting that is now so scratchy, smoothed away with the weight of sixty-eight years. The ink flows from her pen onto the paper and then to New Orleans where my grandfather will soak up every word about his wife and family as he lays on a cot hundreds of miles away, buried under the burden of war. I think I may have time for one more cigarette. There is always time for one more cigarette.

I turn on my blinker and turn down the stereo to an acceptable level. I’ve only three more turns and I will be home. I’ll be home to my own bed, home to my comfort, home to my completion. I turn in the drive and take the last sip of soda. The songs have ended with an uncanny timing and the headlights turn off. My key opens the lock and I am greeted by silence. The longing to be lonely by myself instead of with others has been fulfilled. I suppose I should feed the cat.