ground

A backdraft smacks him in the face when they open the door of the plane. Concentrated heat melts into him, causing his skin to crackle. He can hear it burn as he trudges along the jetway. By the time he makes it to his rented car, he is sweating, but before he can wipe his brow with the back of his hand, the welcome sensation of dewey wetness evaporates into the parched air.

He didn’t want to be here. In Arizona. The desert. At least, he’s come to say goodbye, if one can ever say goodbye to a person whose death won’t kill him. Parents, they live on within the landscape of our selves, even when they aren’t welcome there.

He surveys the terrain zipping past his windows. It matches his disrupted mood. The ground bakes under the relentless sun. Driving through the country is like visiting another planet. Strangled brush makes an otherworldy carpet on the dusty ground. Giant spines of cacti – would they become trees if it rained enough? Forests of them dot the rolling hillsides as far as he can see.

Water. He stops to buy a bottle. The hard ground scatters bowls of dust in the wake of his footsteps, the remnants of the runoff of the river of time. When he pours some water on it, the soil contracts like constricting pores, refusing to take the wetness in.

He stares, knows he’s stalling, delaying the inevitable, the possible rekindling of something within the core of his combusted soul. When he sees his father, he feels like the rocky, starved soil surrounding him. It’s mesmerizing. It goes on for miles.

Yet, there’s nothing there.

Connections can wither without a healthy dose of water, the proper amount of light and shade. Even predictable storms erode layers of feeling if they do nothing to relieve the harm of the aftermath they cause.

His father is dying in the desert. This wasted land will be a fitting place to say farewell to the man who withheld his care in a lifetime without rain.

 

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black man walking

After a whirlwind of activity, I pass solitary hours. Quiet chunks of Time. A ticking clock. A lonesome day stretches to two. To three. To a week.

Stay strong, Sister.

People are wells. Sometimes, water streams from my own cavity, excess for parched souls. Need a few drops? Sure, here you go. A whole glass? I can spare it. Here’s a bucket, because you’re clearly dehydrated. I’ll come back with more.

Stay strong, Sister.

Until I find myself, boring through rough granite, desperate for anything wet. A clock pulses while I claw at rock with bloody fingers. I suck those nubs, a pathetic attempt to quench my needy thirst.

Does anybody have water for me?

Stay strong, Sister.

Never mind. I’m always the strong one. The person with the bottomless well.

And so I walked through the silence. The vacancy. The desert of my own thirsty soul. A city park and sunlight. Repetition and Time would refill my well. I didn’t want any help.

I didn’t need anyone. Need was a wasteland, gutted by disappointment. In everyone.

In me.

Stay strong, Sister.

I noticed him when he ambled onto the park trail. A white shirt made whiter by his skin’s midnight hue. Baggy jeans. Shoes of the classic I’m in a gang variety. When he fell in behind me, his loose shoes thwacked against pavement, and his aura pushed into mine.

Stay strong, Sister.

Black thoughts knocked inside my skull. WhatamIdoingheredoIevenmatterwhatcanIdotofixthemessofmyowndecisions.

Stupid refrains. Self-pitying screeds. I picked up speed to run from them, not from him……..until I realized he matched my pace. Step for step. Breath for breath. He overtook me as I hurried through the scruffiest part of the park, trail obscured by ancient magnolias. Spanish moss. Rambling azaleas.

Stay strong, Sister.

I turned to accept my fate. Accosted in a public place teeming with racial tension. A landscape brimming with injustice, flung from the tip of a gun. Frothed into a frenzy by a non-existent bolt.

Stay strong, Sister.

I smiled. How fitting, really. For this to happen now, when my well may never again hold water. I scrolled through idiotic phrases as I smiled and awaited whatever the stranger had for me.

Stay strong, Sister.

I didn’t expect to see chipped front teeth when he smiled and ambled into step with me. “Been trying to let you set the pace, but damn, girl. You wearing me out.”

“You keep up pretty well.” What? He wants to talk first?

“You come here a lot? To walk, I mean?”

“I used to. Been gone a lot. But I need the exercise. It fills my tank. Keeps the demons at bay. Something like that.”

“I hear you. I come here most days after work. Today’s my day off.”

I looked sideways at his profile. Clean-shaven. Proud, even. “What’s work for you?”

“Construction. But I’m really a singer. My name’s Jason.” He held out an inky hand.

“Andra,” I said and clasped it.

“Yeah. You mighta heard of me. They call me Charleston’s best rocker. I got a record contract and everything.”

“Really.” Great. Now I’m going to be assaulted with somebody else’s impossible dreams. Just what I DON’T need. I kicked up my pace, but he cemented himself to my side. Kept talking.

“Yeah. Got a gig coming up at the Music Farm. New tracks releasing in a few weeks. All that stuff being put together in Nashville. Don’t understand much of it. Publicity and all that stuff. It’s a lot of work.”

“Don’t I know it. I’m a writer.”

“Okay, so you totally get what I mean.”

Yeah, and I’m out here trying not to think about that, you asshole. Sigh. “What’s your sound? I mean, if you’re Charleston’s best rocker, do you write your own music?”

“Uh-huh.” He leaned his steel-wool head my way. Whispered to nobody but me. “I got this song I been working on. Hadn’t laid it down yet or nothing. Only one left to mix and master for my debut. Wanna hear it?”

“Okay.” I awaited an assault on my eardrums.

Through finger snaps and chest taps, he built his own percussion section. Pushed sound through sable lips.

Stay strong, Sister. Stay strong, Sister. Stay strong, Sister. Somebody’s there for you. Stay strong, Sister. Stay strong, Sister. Stay strong, Sister. You’re gonna make it through.

I don’t know whether Jason had a recording contract. Or if he worked construction. Hell, I’m not even sure his name was Jason. He stayed with me until I finished my last lap, though. Dreams and ambition. Possibility and promise.

“This is me. I head off here.”

He pulled me to him. Kissed my cheek. “Stay strong, Sister.”

I fled the park. Pounded my feet into the concrete sidewalk, distance a barrier between human kindness and my tears. A dividing line between what I expected and what I was given.

I forgot to thank him.

But when I turned back to wave, I almost tumbled over my own gobsmacked feet.

The park was empty.

Jason, my black accoster-turned-savior, vanished into Nowhere. Into some other soul, crying out for a drink.

**********

L. Marie is giving away a copy of my new photography collection, Natchez Trace: Tracks in Time. Head over there to comment. Your comment might make you a winner! Click HERE.

Natchez Trace Tracks in Time

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#1000speak

It had to be the appearance of the gun that sent her to the divorce attorney, because, let’s face it, guns were never her kind of thing. Even though he waved it in her face, pointed it at her, touched the muzzle to her chest, and threatened to shoot himself with it, too, she survived that night.

It’s just as likely he killed her anyway.

How does one ever recover from knowing she could’ve died? From seeing fleeting television images of those scary crimes of passion, the ones where multiple black body bags are carried from some bland ranch structure or ritzy mansion while the reporter drones on in the foreground, wondering how it all happened, pointing the camera in stricken faces and asking the extended family how they feel? She knew how it happened, in a freak series of rash actions and shouted words that culminated in something final.

For a while, she forgot to feel anything.

Marriage was supposed to be…..what exactly? The ultimate state of bliss? The natural order of things? The rest of one’s life with a good, caring person? The best path to have children? The thing she was expected to do next? She was still too young to really define it for herself, but her little-girl fantasies and teenage dreams never included hell on earth.

Hell wasn’t what graced her eyes the first time she saw him. The One. He was everything – EVERYTHING – she had been trained to seek in a mate. She still had her list, the one she made when she was sixteen or seventeen, taped between the pages of her Bible. When she pulled out the worn paper and held it up next to him, she thought she’d drawn his picture. Marrying him was the most natural thing she’d ever done.

The natural things were the things she tried to remember when he called her a tumbling fury of Very Bad Words, when maybe all she said was I don’t want to have that for supper or  I’m not ready to have people over or it’s too soon to have children. She never knew what might unleash the barrage of words she never really knew before she said I do. Through the haze of comment boxes that poured forth, obscuring his face, she tried to imagine the natural things, the secret smiles, the thrill of falling in love. Those comment boxes were pointy, though. They had gouging tips and sharp edges, could hack away pieces of her spirit until she recognized nothing but smoke and air, fog and mist, all things with no form, no surface, no shape of self to which to cling.

Sometimes, she thought it
might be better if he just hit her.

Shoving and screaming and driving the car really fast while pulling her hair didn’t seem to give him the release he craved. She locked herself in the bathroom, stared at herself in the mirror, made empty deals with herself. He said that was the last time. He promised not to do it again. Who are you?

How did you ever wind up here?

A child was the ultimate weapon, the thing he knew would irrevocably control her, filaments that would snake from the tips of its fingers and toes. Those invisible fibers would wrap around her, consume her, while he watched from above, holding the wooden paddles attached to the strings. Succumbing would’ve been so easy, especially since she couldn’t remember all the little pieces of herself he’d already sheared away, scattered rubble that no longer fit together.

Guns and children. Children and guns. An explosive combination she recalled just in the knick of time. Tick. Tick. Tick…..

 

***************

#1000Speak is an online initiative to incite compassion for people who are blindsided by unfortunate circumstances, prickly outcomes and untenable situations.

Today, thousands of people worldwide are writing about bullying. We hope to stick a face to the term, a countenance readers recognize, because these stories are shared by people you know.

Because maybe……sometimes……knowing someone who’s experienced something horrific humanizes it. The victims are no longer reality television stars, shouted questions and sirens on the evening news, vacant eyes staring through pixels on a computer screen.

And seeing people who’ve navigated bullying and survived?

Well.

May we inspire other victims to take charge, to flee, to seek help.

Just like a twenty-six-year-old girl did years ago when she stared down the barrel of a gun and finally said

ENOUGH.

That girl was me.

To find out more about 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion, click HERE.

To submit your own story for the Building from Bullying theme, read Lizzi’s post HERE.

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