I wasn’t dead. It was the early morning hours after the night I’d sought to escape from it all, and no, I wasn’t dead, but I wasn’t far from it.
I’d never snuck a sip of Daddy’s Tennessee whiskey before. The smell of it on his breath alone had been enough to deter me. But seeing as how he was up at the state hospital in Marion getting rid of his demons and Mama had run off for the evening with that man, I had the perfect opportunity. So I took it.
The first swig from that cool amber bottle tasted like something that was surely concocted in the farthest reaches of Hell. It burned my throat and made my eyes water, and tasted worse than it smelled.
But when that feeling set in, after the burn had gone numb in my throat, I felt angel wings sprout from my back and every worry I’d ever had dissipated into the August humidity of the evening. I went out into the yard and switched on the radio in Daddy’s truck, turned the music loud enough to echo off the mountain, and danced on the grass barefoot, not a care in the world.
It was magic. I was an angel, wings and all. I put on one of Mama’s long church dresses, the ivory one with the beaded neckline, and I twirled around the yard. I didn’t care who saw. In those fleeting hours, I didn’t care about much at all. I forgot about what had happened the week before, when I’d been forced to save Mama’s life, and I forgot about how scared I was when the blood had poured from Daddy’s head.
I sipped from that bottle until I couldn’t half see, and yet I twirled some more, thinking that the more I took in, the higher I could go, and maybe, with my long pretty dress and bare feet, I could lift myself right off the ground and fly like a jenny wren.
Next thing I knew, the very Devil came out of that bottle and made me sicker than I’d ever been, and I commenced to throwing up behind the lilac bush right there in the yard. I couldn’t hardly make it up the porch steps into the house.
So I laid there in the dark, after the sickness had passed and my head pounded like hard rain on a tin roof, and I pretended to be dead. I stretched my body out long and thin, arms folded over my chest, eyes closed. I still had Mama’s dress on.
I was thirteen years old.
Now it was an iron skillet that I wielded that day to save Mama’s life. The very one she baked cornbread in every day. Daddy liked cornbread. I never cared much for it, especially after that day. I was an old thirteen. A sick and mad thirteen. I could barely stand to think of any of it at all.
I took off Mama’s pretty dress and pitched it across the room in the dark. I hated her. And that’s the truth. But hate is a curious creature. I knew that even then. Hate is a feeling reserved only for somebody we once loved. Oh, how cruel! Love and Hate are twin sisters. Identical down to their bones. And I did love Mama, too, despite my anger and prideful notions and being half dead in the dark.
I forced myself up and out of my sick bed and bounded into the kitchen. I found the amber bottle underneath the sink cupboard where I’d stashed it, and I turned it up and downed the last of its saving grace. I did not fly away. I was no jenny wren. And definitely not an angel. No wings sprouted from my back to carry me away. There on the kitchen floor in the moments before dawn, I passed clean out, and I had no memories of cornbread skillets or blood or the awful twin sisters.
And I didn’t come to until I was at least forty.
This is another quick excerpt from my book (yes, the same one I’ve been working on for over two years). It’s funny how our old memories can resurface beyond the constraints of time and distance. And death, too. I’ve heard it said that nothing lasts forever, but I disagree. Given words and a voice, everything lasts forever. Everything.
Thank you all for your support. I am always grateful.