OYM Day 42: Poor Girl, Rising Sun — Finale
It’s funny how your whole world can expire after the loss of everything you ever knew. Like bad milk, or a bus ticket, or your mother. Even funnier how a person can be forgotten after a heavy news day. A fireworks warehouse had gone up in a cloud of confetti and explosions. A real who-done-it. A granny shot an intruder in her home and was declared a hero for protecting her fat terriers. A train derailed and plowed right into a field of cows. And just like that, everyone seemed to forget about the missing woman. By everyone, I mean the police department. They barely lifted a stick. They questioned a few people, including Daryl, but they let him go. They said he had an alibi. Of course he did.
Grandpa said it was because of her record, but he wouldn’t give me the details at that time. A couple prostitution charges, a possession of an illegal substance charge, all acquired during a stint of homelessness before I was born. Grandpa refused to help her much, because he said she broke his heart. Of course, he softened once I was born. Grandpa was a sucker for babies.
Mom said she was going to give me a better life. To this day, I don’t really know the difference between a good life and a better life. Life just is…and I’m fairly certain it isn’t easy for most. It would have been better if she was still around, but then I’d still have to get the shit kicked out of me by Daryl. If she were still around I’d get to listen to her sing songs on the stoop over Cokes, but if she were still around I’d probably be packing our rusted out hatchback to move counties again. If she were still around, I’d feel like I belonged to someone and that’s all I’ve ever wanted. If she were still around, she would continue to show me that I came second to him and what he gave her. Good. Better. Whatever people have to tell themselves to try.
It was late. I turned the radio up loud in the dark kitchen of Grandpa’s apartment. Nothing. His bedroom light stayed dim and his wheezing continued. He was asleep, which meant his hearing aids were on the nightstand.
I left a note and closed the last door to my past. I headed for the ravine. It was only a short walk to the thin line of elm trees, but wet and rugged once you climbed down into it. I wore my good boots, although they were 2 sizes too big. Mom said I’d grow into them. I didn’t pack anything. I wasn’t running away. I couldn’t think that far ahead. I was about to turn 10 years old and at that age I figured I could run off with a circus or hop a train to California after what I was about to do. I had a flashlight and scissors. I wore dark denim jeans and my mom’s old denim jacket. It still smelled like her and it made my mouth fill with spit. Whenever I could sense her, smell her, or feel her hand scratch the back of my head, I would fight the urge to heave. I was slipping through time and having a hard time distinguishing what was real and what was not.
I could see the red gas can reflecting in the moonlight. It was just about full and I had to use 2 hands and all my might to carry it down there. The gaping hole that sucked up all the light and heat lay just ahead. There were a few wooden beams keeping the walls of heavy soil from collapsing, along with a dozen empty beer bottles and a rotted card table at the bottom. It was deeper and wider than my small bedroom in our white house. You couldn’t see it now, but I had seen in the daylight and figured a squatter or a junkie must have built it. Someone with a secret and a lot of energy. Whoever they were, they were long gone and it was my turn to make of it what I needed.
When I first discovered the hole, I stared at it for at least an hour. Cool air floated out of its stomach and the smell of worms and rain hung in the air. It was almost humming, beckoning me to feed it, and close it up tight so the sounds of birds and rustling leaves could resume. I could feel mother there, even though she wasn’t. She spoke to me as I stared into that hole. She cried to me and told me that he did it, but she didn’t need to tell me that, did she? I knew already. We were bonded, after all. She told me to bring him here, to this hole, and let the Earth swallow him up, just like he had swallowed up the only person I ever loved. If I did this for her, she could come back, maybe. She told me this.
I took the scissors from my back pocket and with smooth motions; I cut my amber braid of hair up to the nape of my neck. The weight of it surprised me and it hung like a dead rat from my hand. I threw it in the hole. I tucked what was left of it into Grandpa’s hat and pulled it down tight. I continued walking, my kneecaps bobbing up and down between steps, until I could see the lights of the tavern. Moths swarmed the blinking sign, as if to say, “he’s in here!” I climbed up the steep ravine wall and crouched in the tall grass. I could smell stale beer and cigarettes. I could see his red and white pickup. I heard a ringing in my ears and my legs started walking. I went right to his truck and found it open. I took everything I could fit in my pockets. A knife, cash, his keys. He wouldn’t need these things anymore and I certainly didn’t want him escaping.
I opened the screened door to the tavern and walked in, expecting someone to shout that children weren’t allowed inside. But no one saw me. Mom made me invisible. Poker machines glowed from the bar and jackets hung from stools like animal skins. I heard him before I saw him. That stupid laugh. That stupid, stupid laugh. My body tensed, starting with my feet and slowly moving up the rest of my body, like a deep freeze. I started to shake. I became an animal. Sounds wretched from my mouth that I had never heard before and my face twisted in a way to bare my teeth, the whole of my eyes, and my bones. I ran at him without knowing what I would do next. I scratched and pulled at anything. Hair, cotton, leather, and glass. My feet were off the ground. I hooked my fingers into the small front pocket of his pants and the cellophane packet skated on the floor. His face was white and he recoiled from me. He took in a sharp breath, and still, he didn’t recognize his own daughter. I grabbed the cellophane and ran. He would follow.
She loved him more than me when she was living. But that’s changed now. He told her he couldn’t live without her, but he could. But not for long. Mom made sure of that. He was a junkie and mom made him feel better than he was. Mom was a junkie, too, which is why she couldn’t ever be rid of him. She was almost rid of him forever.
She dug that hole. I know she did. She had been digging it her whole life.
I lit the match and plugged my ears with my hair to deafen the screams. I could feel the thud of fists tearing at dirt as I walked away. Wood cracked and the Earth shifted to swallow what it had once made. She was free, and finally, so was I.